New York Public Library

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library, free library supported by private endowments and gifts and by the city and state of New York. It is the one of largest libraries in the world. The library was created by a 1895 law consolidating older reference libraries established by bequests of John Jacob Astor (1848) and James Lenox (1876), with the Tilden Trust. In 1897 New York City agreed to build and equip a central building on the site of the Croton reservoir on Fifth Ave. between 40th and 42d St. The building, designed by J. M. Carrère and Thomas Hastings, was completed in 1911. The branch system absorbed several independently endowed circulating libraries, and 39 branches were built with money donated by Andrew Carnegie in 1901.

In addition to the main building, collections are also housed at a second midtown branch, an annex for newspapers and patents, and 82 branch libraries. A circulating and reference branch devoted entirely to the performing arts is located at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, and the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the finest collections of its kind in the world. The enormous and fully computerized Science, Industry, and Business Library, located at Madison Avenue and 34th Street in midtown, opened in 1996. The largest project undertaken by the library since 1911, it features a variety of traditional and ultramodern facilities and resources. In 1999 the library opened its Center for Scholars and Writers in a suite at the main building. Directed by historian Peter Gay, the Center draws on library collections to foster creative writing and thinking, advance scholarship, and sponsor public events, and appoints 15 participating fellows annually.

The research library contains more than 10,000,000 volumes. The library has especially fine collections on Americana, art, economics, folklore, music, black history and literature, New York City, Jewish history, and Semitic languages. It has an excellent newspaper collection and is an important collector and holder of prints, manuscripts, first editions, and rare books, including the Berg collection of English and American literature.

See histories by H. M. Lydenberg (1923, repr. 1972) and P. Dain (1972); documentary by F. Wiseman (2017).

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