Former owner of Wittenborn Art Book Store
I first used The New York Society Library in 1971 to help in cataloguing a collection of Riche family papers of the 17th-century (mostly on the explorations and colonization of Bermuda). The Library had the Public Records Office papers, which were of great help, as well as older books of U.S. history to help in identifying persons and places. Many of these have been used to pulp in the larger libraries.
About five years ago, I was looking up Jefferson's letters to one of the promoters of French lithography and, discovering that he had been made a member of the American Philosophical Society, found their proceedings at the Library. A year ago, I was checking on Sarah Bernhardt and the Paris of her time. For my project of a list of French book-sale catalogues, I had been noting significant happenings in Paris that might have affected the auctions; not only revolutions but also floods, cold snaps, and plagues. To those who have not done precise work of this kind, it seems that there must be something already written. Alas, it is not the case. The wonderful collection of memoirs in the Library is a great help. For one who might wish to get a handle on what was really going on politically in Paris from the turn of the century to 1940, for example, Richard Hale's Democratic France is an excellent book. Hale knew many of the politicians and was aware of the rivalries. It is much like trying to explain to a foreigner just why the head of the Appropriations Committee is among the top five most powerful people in U.S. politics.
Lately I have been looking into Eugene Delacroix's visit to Morocco in 1832. The Library's collection of memoirs and travels to Morocco is most helpful. It is a matter not only of histories of the period but of biographies of such as Louis Phillippe, whose son was involved in the French incursion into Algeria. The 42nd Street Library (my alma mater) has become mired in technology as well as in the demands of academics and their term-paper-producing students. One might almost say that it attempts to have too much information and ends by losing the pertinent information.