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Articles About the Library

A Lecture on the Past, the Present and the Future of the New York Society Library

John MacMullen (1856)
I have taken the liberty of inviting you, to listen to a lecture this evening on the subject of our Library, in order that we might be better acquainted. There is a story told of two Londoners, who met at a watering-place, and found each other particularly agreeable. While expressing their mutual regret at parting, they found, on exchanging their addresses, that they had been living next door to one another for the previous twenty years, without either of them being at all aware of the other's existence. Read More >

A Visit with Irving Kahn

Mark Bartlett | From the Library Notes Newsletter, Saturday, March 1, 2008
"Look ahead and don't be pessimistic" is Irving Kahn's advice for a long life. At age 102, Mr. Kahn is the Library's oldest member, and he continues to keep our Circulation and Acquisition departments on their feet with his lively curiosity and love of learning. Read More >

Who Are Those People in the Stairwells?

From the Library Notes Newsletter, Sunday, June 1, 2003
In 1917, the Library, then located on University Place, received a major bequest from Sarah Parker Goodhue which later allowed the purchase of the current building. The bequest included books, furniture, china (now in the Members' Room) and twelve portraits of the family of Mrs. Goodhue's husband. The portraits, giving us a glimpse of seven generations of New York lives, can be found throughout the building. A sampling: Read More >

A Library Tale

Alice Gore King | From the Library Notes Newsletter, Wednesday, October 1, 1997
In 1937, the year I graduated from college, my family moved from 11th Street to 86th Street, and the Library moved from University Place to 79th Street—in that order in my mind. My concerns of the summer were centered on myself and my fun-filled days in Woods Hole. It was only years later that I realized and appreciated the enormous work my mother, Marion King, was doing as an assistant librarian at the Library. Read More >

The Many Catalogs of the New York Society Library

Matthew Haugen | From the Library Notes Newsletter, Thursday, December 1, 2011
Though the Library now uses an online catalog, many of us fondly remember flipping through drawer after drawer of typed catalog cards in the Reference Room on the first floor. But cards were not always the method of cataloging this or any library's collection. For the first century of its history, the Library issued its catalog as a printed book. Read More >

Remarks by the Chairman of the Board

Charles Berry
I am pleased to welcome you today on the happy occasion of the gift to our Library of a book borrowed by the first President of the United States but never returned. Our library is the oldest in New York City. We were founded in 1754, just before the French and Indian War, when the city was mostly located south of Wall Street and had only 15,000 people. George Washington was 22. We received our charter from another George—King George III of England. Read More >

From Old Buildings of New York City

Brentano's (1907)
In the year 1700 the Public Library of New York was founded under the administration of the Earl of Bellomont, and seems to have progressed as the city grew, being aided from time to time by gifts from interested persons on the other side, several folio volumes now in the Society Library having been presented by friends in London in 1712, and in 1729 the Rev. Dr. Millington, rector of Newington, England, having bequeathed his library to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, it was presented to the New York Public Library. Read More >

Blowing the Dust off the Repository of History

Christopher Hawtree
The Reverend John Sharpe had been Chaplaine to His Majesty's Garrison in the province of New York, where he was dismayed to find that no libraries existed. He left behind a collection of books to start one that would "advance learning and piety." Some 30 years later after his death, half-a-dozen of the great and good brought it into being in 1754 (a year after the British Museum)... Read More >

Book Selections of Founding Fathers

William J. Dean (2007)
On April 30, 1789, from the balcony of Federal Hall, George Washington took the oath of office as President of the United States. The president and Congress shared space in Federal Hall with the New York Society Library. Read More >

From a Twenty-Seven Year Perspective

Jacques Barzun | From the Library Notes Newsletter, Thursday, June 1, 1995
I am deeply touched and thank the Board of Trustees—especially Shirley Hazzard—for their generous opinion, which has led to this award. My time on the Board falls into two sharply contrasting periods. When I first joined, the chairman was Mr. Arnold Whitridge, the grandson of Matthew Arnold. He was a polished gentleman with a classical English education, who taught at Columbia. Read More >

Excerpts From "The New York Society Library: 250 Years"

Edited by Henry S.F. Cooper Jr. and Jenny Lawrence; afterword by Mark Piel (2004)
The New York Society Library: 250 years is a spirited record both of great moments and modest happenings. One of these great moments occurred in 1754, when an idealistic and energetic group of citizens created its first "Publick Library [that] would be very useful, as well as ornamental to this city." Read More >

New York: Past, Present and Future

E. Porter Belden (1849)
The New-York Society Library is the oldest public library of the kind in the United States. It originated in an institution, founded in 1700, during the administration of the Earl of Bellamont, and denominated "The Public Library of New-York." Various records occur on the minutes of the Common Council relative to this library; the most important of which is the mention of the bequest of the Rev. Dr. Millington, Rector of Newington, England, who gave 1000 volumes to "the society for the promotion of Christian knowledge," "for the use of the clergy and gentlemen of New-York and the neighboring providences." Read More >

N.Y. Society Library Centennial Address

Thomas Ward (1872)
The Charter of our Corporation, vouchsafed to us by His Most Gracious Majesty—our then constitutional ruler—George the Third, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and so forth, is the interesting document that furnishes the motive of this friendly gathering, the theme of our present discourse, the text of what I hope may prove no tedious nor unprofitable sermon; for it was the planting of the goodly tree of knowledge that was destined to bear such precious fruit to after generations. Read More >

Beware the Library Gods!

William J. Dean | From the Library Notes Newsletter, Saturday, June 1, 2002
In 1754, the year of the Library's founding, the trustees drew up a set of rules to be "strictly observed by the Librarian." "Reg. I" provided "That no Book whatsoever belonging to this Library, shall be detained in the hands of any Subscriber, longer than the space of One Month..." Throughout the 1800s the following circulation admonishments were affixed to our books: Read More >

The Best Seat in the House: A Brief History of the Green Art Alcove

Christopher Gray | From the Library Notes Newsletter, Friday, June 1, 2007
According to the 2000 membership survey, less than a third of our members have even heard of it, so surely no more than a few hundred compete for the best seat in the house: the Green Art Alcove. But that's enough to place its single chair in maddeningly constant use. The cognoscenti amble down the aisle toward the strange little quarter-staircase, gently peer around the corner, and nearly always find their hopes dashed—someone else has gotten there first. The competition is a testimony to the enduring charm of the odd little room hidden among the art and architecture books on Stack 12. Read More >

The New York Society Library: A Comparison

Arnold Whitridge
Machiavelli had the right idea about libraries. Whenever he planned to spend the evening in his own library he invariably put on his best clothes since, as he said, he was going to consort with the best company. Today anyone visiting the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Redwood Library of Newport, the Charleston Library Society, or the New York Society Library, would be well advised for more reasons than one to follow Machiavelli's example. Read More >

The Library's First Bookplate: 1758

From the Library Notes Newsletter, Wednesday, June 1, 1994
This plate is armorial in form, but presents no real arms. The central frame, of Chippendale design, contains four quarterings that represent: Astronomy; Navigation, Geography and Mathematics; Literature; and Religion. Mercury and Minerva support the frame, standing on the ribbon which bears the Library's name; above the frame sits Apollo with his broad back to the full-shining sun; clouds which resemble toy balloons rise about him. Read More >

The Library's Five Homes

From the Library Notes Newsletter, Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Archival images of the five buildings that have housed the New York Society Library. Read More >

The John S. Rogers House

A Brief Literature Search by Christopher Gray
Given here are the results of a limited literature search on the John S. and Catherine Rogers house at 53 East 79th Street, designed in 1916 by Trowbridge & Livingston and purchased and remodeled in 1936-1937 as the fourth home of the New York Society Library. Read More >

My Manhattan: Where the Third 'R' Stands for Repose

David Halberstam
For years I would walk past it on 79th Street without even knowing that it was a library. It seemed, I suppose, just another elegant Upper East Side brownstone on an unusually handsome block between Madison and Park Avenues, perhaps a little grander than most. Then one day someone told me about it, this old-fashioned, private but egalitarian library. I went in and joined that day, and I've used it faithfully ever since. Read More >

Books About the Library

America’s Membership Libraries

Edited by Richard Wendorf
The New York Society Library is one of the sixteen membership libraries in the U.S whose history and holdings are described in this well-illustrated volume. Find Book >

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace
The authors of this comprehensive history of New York City to 1898 did much of their research at the New York Society Library and mention the Library throughout their narrative. Find Book >

New York Society Library: 250 Years

Edited by Henry S.F. Cooper Jr. and Jenny Lawrence; afterword by Mark Piel.
Published in commemoration of the library’s 250th birthday, this book contains descriptions of each of the Library’s five locations since 1754, interspersed with tributes from members and excerpts from letters, minutes, and other documents in the Library’s archives. Find Book >

History of the New York Society Library

Austin Baxter Keep
A somewhat dry but exhaustive history of the Library from its inception to 1908. Find Book >

Books and People: Five Decades of New York's Oldest Library

Marion King
A livelier and more anecdotal history of the Library than Keep’s, covering the first half of the twentieth century. Marion King devoted almost half a century to the New York Society Library. Find Book >

Special Collections from the New York Society Library: Selections from the Green, Hammond and Winthrop Collections

Harriet Shapiro
Produced in connection with an exhibition held at the Library in 2001-2002, this pamphlet highlights some of the volumes in the Winthrop, Hammond, and Green Art Collections. Find Book >

Samuel Jones and the New York Society Library: Reflections in the National Bicentennial Year

Harvey Simmonds
A biographical sketch of the Library’s treasurer from 1771 to 1796, who was instrumental in helping to build its collection. Find Book >

A Fictive People: Antebellum Economic Development and the American Reading Public

Ronald J. Zboray
The author made extensive use of the NYSL’s charging ledgers in his research for this scholarly study of American reading interests in the early 19th century. Find Book >

The Shelf: From LEQ to LES

Phyllis Rose
Looking to explore literature, the author chose a shelf of books from The New York Society Library's fiction stacks and read her way through it. Find Book >

Reading Publics: New York City's Public Libraries, 1754-1911

Tom Glynn
Glynn investigates the reading lives of historic New Yorkers through the libraries that thrived prior to the New York Public Library system. Find Book >