During its early years, New York University, in the urban tradition, drew upon the library resources of the community to provide the best research tools for students and faculty alike. Close working relationships were established with the New York Society Library and many other specialized libraries throughout New York City, while the University’s own collection grew slowly, chiefly by donations of books, and was concentrated in the professional fields of law and medicine. The first official University library was assembled in 1835—281 volumes worth $620.75. Housed on the third floor of the University Building, the new gothic structure at Washington Square, it was by no means a central collection. With the movement of the University center to University Heights in 1894, the Gould Memorial Library was established to provide the University the level of library service necessary to support the curriculum. The Gould Library was designed by Stanford White as a tribute to Jeffersonian educational and architectural ideals. The schools at Washington Square continued at first to rely on the library resources available in the city, but in 1921 began assembling a library in the Main Building.
After World War II, the growth of public higher education and the overwhelming demands placed upon the traditional urban sources of academic library research within New York City led the University to embark on a bold new program to create research library resources to be devoted primarily to the University community. Attention was first turned to the professional schools, where the need for expanded facilities had become most pressing. The completion of Vanderbilt Hall in 1951 provided excellent facilities for the Law Library. In 1957 the Medical Library expanded into a new building to ensure its ability to meet the needs of the advanced programs of the School of Medicine. The Meyer Gold Library at Trinity Place (the business collection, now a part of Bobst Library) and the Institute of Fine Arts Library, One East 78th Street, closely followed.
By the early 1960s, the University recognized that its future success required the establishment of a new central library building at the Square. Book collections and library personnel were scattered in 28 separate locations, many ill-suited for storage or study. With the aid of an $11 million gift from Elmer Holmes Bobst, pharmaceutical entrepreneur and philanthropist, the University’s new main library, the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, opened in 1973. Designed by architects Philip Johnson and Richard Foster, the 12-story Longmeadow redstone building (with two more floors below ground level) covers a full city block at the southeast corner of Washington Square and houses a collection of over 3 million volumes.
The extraordinary growth of the University’s academic programs in recent years, along with the rapid expansion of electronic information resources, has provided an impetus for new development in NYU’s libraries, and they continue to enhance their services for NYU students and faculty and to strengthen research collections.