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The Library's Suggestion Book, 1840-1855
The Library's Suggestion Book, 1840-1855

Reporting from Stack 8: Processing the Library's Institutional Archive

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Special Collections Department is excited to announce a new project to expand access to our historic records to both our membership and the general public. With support from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation, the Library has hired a project archivist to describe and arrange our institutional archive, a collection of over 100 cubic feet of materials in the Library's Stack 8. Documents in the archive date back to our founding in 1754, and extend up to the present day, including print and manuscript materials like promotional mailings, catalogs, and registers of members and committee meeting minutes.

John Romeyn Brodhead's Library Share, recto

The Library's project archivist, Alexanne Brown, started with us early last month. Since then, she has surveyed the collection to determine an appropriate thematic arrangement based on the contents of the records themselves. The Library has documented its activities since its founding in 1754, and our acquisitions, membership, and circulation activity (up to 1909; today we do not retain circulation records for any of our readers as per the privacy guidelines set by the American Library Association) are currently some of the most popular materials of interest for those in the know. On the most basic level, our records can tell us about who used the Library, what books the Library supplied, and how the Society Librarians built our collection throughout our 260 year history. But the Library's archive provides some more broad insights, too. Minutes from Trustee and Library committee meetings, readers' requests, records of events, and documentation about buildings and staff tell complex stories about how members and Library staff helped the institution grow, and how the Library has fit into with the larger social, cultural, and economic contexts in New York City from 1754 to 2015.John Romeyn Brodhead's Library Share, verso

After deciding how to group the diverse materials in our archive, Alexanne will physically arrange archival materials in acid-free folders and document boxes. The published result of her work will be a finding aid, available online through our Digital Collections Portal, which we hope to release in early 2016. Just as the Library's online catalog provides title, author, and subject access to books in the Library through thousands of carefully edited bibliographic records, finding aids describe the contents of archival collections in search-friendly terms. For the first time ever, the Library will have an industry-standard description of its institutional archive that members and outside researchers can access for free online, anytime. Thanks to the Early Circulation Records Project (1789-1792) and the efforts of Edmée Reit, the Library's historic readership has already been the subject of studies in the history of libraries in New York City and America in the long eighteenth century, forgotten writers of the nineteenth century, and antebellum readers. We hope that by expanding access to our historic records, Library members, scholars, family researchers and genealogists, students of all ages, and the general public will make new discoveries and bring new perspectives on the books, readers, and literary culture of New York City to life.

Alexanne and I will be updating the Library's blog with discoveries from the archive in the months to come, so please stay tuned!  For a sneak peak of some of our holdings in Stack 8, take a look at the images below.


Receipt from Leggat Brothers Bookstore, 81 Chambers Street, 1887


Cornelius V. Roosevelt transferred a share to Theodore Roosevelt, 1874


Records of Library Events, 1840s and 1850s

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