City Readers Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society Library

New York Society Library Institutional Archives

Collection Overview

Collection Title: New York Society Library Institutional Archives
Date(s) of record-keeping activity: 1754-2000
Extent: 143.4 linear feet

Scope & Content

The Institutional Archive records the founding and administration of the New York Society Library from 1754 through the present. Types of materials include correspondence, financial and legal documents, minutes, circulation legers, ephemera and printed materials, architectural records, and membership records. The collection also contains a small number of photographs and audio visual materials. The majority of records were created by Library staff and Trustees, with some materials produced by members, vendors, and related organizations. Records of note include 18th and 19th century bookseller receipts and correspondence, as well as circulation legers detailing the borrowing history of several founding fathers and prominent early New Yorkers. Several types of records, such Trustees minutes, feature a continuous set from the post-Revolutionary War era to the present, tracing more than two centuries of the development of libraries, librarianship, reading culture, and the City of New York.

Historical Note

The New York Society Library was founded in 1754 by a group of six civic-minded individuals. Originally housed in the old City Hall on Wall Street, it was the first library in the city open to the public. It has operated continuously as a subscription library for more than 250 years, excepting an interruption during city’s occupation during the Revolutionary War. After a series of moves uptown (including 80 years at University Place), the Library moved into its current location at 79th Street in 1937.

Processing Note

Organization of the Library's archives as historical records largely began after the Library’s move to its current 79th street location in 1937. Some formal processing efforts (inventories and basic arrangement) took place in the late 20th century, and the archive was maintained by volunteer Edmée Reit through 2015. The full collection was processed and described by Alexanne Levengood, 2015-2017.

Given the Library’s long history and many building moves, original order for many materials cannot be determined, as older items have often been removed from their initial context. 

Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access:
Access to materials in the Institutional Archive is granted at the discretion of New York Society Library staff. Generally, records are closed for 30 years, but some materials involving living staff, Trustees, or Library members may hold additional restrictions. You do not have to be a member of the Library to consult our special collections holdings, but we do require that you have an appointment to view materials from the archive.

Conditions Governing Reproduction:
Items in the collection may be restricted. Requests for permission to publish New York Society Library archival material should go to the Special Collections department.


Libraries--New York (State)--New York
New York (N.Y.)--Intellectual life--20th century
New York (State)
New York Society Library
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The New York
Society Library

53 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075

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Sun, 3/31.

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