The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives: About Our Logo

About the
Collections List
/ Finding-Aids
Research Guides
Online Exhibits
/ Public History



Collection Development Policy Statement for the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives Bobst Library, New York University

Mission and History

The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University form a unique, internationally-known center for the study of the history of Labor and the Left. Tamiment traces its origins to the library of the Rand School for Social Science, a pioneering workers' education program with strong ties to the Socialist Party that was founded in 1906. From the beginning, the Rand School Library sought to build collections relating to the history of radical politics, Marxism, labor and progressive social movements. The Rand School Library (by this time known as the Tamiment Library) was donated to New York University in 1963 and was incorporated into the Division Libraries' Special Collections. In the four decades that Tamiment has been part of NYU, it has continued to build its collections in ways that reflect the ongoing scholarship in Labor History, and the history of the Left. In recent years this has meant an increasing emphasis on the history of work, the working classes, race, class, gender, and immigration history.

Tamiment's archival collections, manuscripts, oral histories, photographs, films, videotapes, books, serials, and pamphlets document the history of labor, socialism, communism, anarchism, utopian experiments, the New Left, and the post-New Left as well as the social and cultural contexts in which these movements functioned. Traditionally, the Library's primary focus has been on the complex and changing relationships between Left-politics and the labor movement. For much of its history, Tamiment's collecting policies were centered on the historical relationship between the class-based labor movement and the Left that was the dominant paradigm from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. In more recent years, as movements for progressive social and political change became less associated with class and increasingly focused on the struggle for civil rights, women's rights, immigrant rights, gay rights, civil liberties, academic freedom, environmentalism, the struggle for affordable housing, health care, and consumer rights, Tamiment's policies have been re-evaluated in order to assure that the Library continues to document the changing nature of the American Left. In keeping with its historical mission, Tamiment seeks to preserve the history of the Left and the social aspects of the multi-faceted movements for social change, rather than identity politics.


Since the Tamiment Library came to New York University in 1963, five new programs have been established: (1) the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives to preserve the history of organized labor in New York; (2) the Archives of Irish America; (3) the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives; (4) the Center for the United States and the Cold War; and (5) The Center for Academic Freedom. Library collecting initiatives support all these programs.

Our Public

The Tamiment Library serves four overlapping user populations: (1) students and faculty at New York University; (2) scholars from all over the world -- some of whom are supported by fellowships and travel grants awarded by our two research centers; (3) organizations and individuals whose historical memories the Library preserves; and (4) the general public interested in the history of Labor and the Left including many of the activists who are associated with the movements whose history the Library preserves.

According to the terms of the original agreement that brought the Library to NYU, Tamiment is open to the public free of charge.

Collecting Scope

As a special collection, the Tamiment Library main mission is the acquisition of primary research materials in all formats (archives, manuscript, printed, non-print, and audio visual) and secondary publications that are not widely available. The Library also collects current publications and reference materials that contextualize its core collections.

Printed Materials

The Tamiment Library seeks to develop a conspectus level five collection in its core subject areas -- Labor and the Left. The Library acquires monographs, serials, pamphlets, ephemera, and on a selective basis government documents. In order to achieve this goal, Tamiment works in close collaboration with the selectors responsible for NYU's general library collections and with the Librarian for the Fales Library.

The Tamiment Library acquires printed materials documenting the history of the Left and the men and women who built the labor and progressive movements in America, as well as their connections to world-wide movements for progressive social and political change. As the old organizational synthesis has broken down, and the new labor, political, and social histories have come to dominate the scholarly literature, Tamiment's collecting policies have broadened to reflect the expanding boundaries of the Library's core disciplines. In addition to collecting publications documenting the history of the organized left and labor movements, the Library acquires research materials describing the history of work and working people in all its varied dimensions with an emphasis on class, race, gender, ethnicity, immigration and migration history, the workplace, class and community, labor market participation, the cultural left, work and technology. While the United States is the Library's core collecting area, Tamiment also seeks to document the increasingly transnational aspects of the struggle for progressive social change and the connections between the American Left and the global movement.

In most cases Tamiment will not seek to duplicate the holdings in other departments in the Division of Libraries. However, there is a core group of monographs and reference works that are central to Tamiment's collections. These will be acquired even when they duplicate the holdings in the general library collections. Tamiment is not primarily a rare book library. For the most part, we do not seek to acquire every available edition of a monograph. Important editions and those that represent significant changes will be collected on a selective basis. Only publications of unusual historical significance will be collected in all editions.

Tamiment comprehensively collects the publication of radical publishers including Charles Kerr, AK, International, Pioneer, Marzani & Munsell, Vanguard, and Monthly Review.

In general Tamiment does not document the Liberal Tradition or the history of the Right. The Library also does not document the history of industrial relations and personnel management.

Serial Collections

The Tamiment Library houses more than 7,000 serial titles, about 10% of these are currently received. Periodicals published by the American Left and the trade union movement are collected as comprehensively as possible. Periodicals indexed in Work Related Abstracts (before it ceased publication in 1996) are also acquired. Non-U.S. periodicals are acquired selectively. Whenever possible the Library acquires individual issues of periodicals when the Library has incomplete runs. As budgets allow, periodicals on microfilm are acquired when the Library has fragmentary holdings or the paper issues are brittle. Tamiment also acquires academic journals that offer a distinct radical perspective on their disciplines.

Pamphlets and Ephemera

Tamiment has always made a particular effort to collect pamphlets, broadsides, and ephemera documenting the ways in which labor and progressive organizations recruited new members, communicated with the larger society, and built support for their ideologies and public policies. Continuing to build this archive in both paper and electronic format is an important priority. Today, much of this political communication is taking place on the world wide web. The Tamiment Library is now part of a consortium led by the California Digital Library and funded by the Library of Congress’ National Digital Information and Infrastructure Preservation Program that is developing the curatorial and technical tools to preserve at-risk political websites .

Government Documents

For labor and social historians government documents (both state and federal) often contain extremely valuable primary materials describing labor market participation, labor relations, immigration, the changing nature of the work force, gender, ethnic, and race relations. Tamiment acquires government documents that relate to its core collecting areas on a highly selective basis. These documents are selected on the basis of research potential. The acquisition of government documents is coordinated with the government documents department of the Bobst Library.

Archives and Manuscripts

Tamiment seeks to acquire archival collections from organizations and individuals that document important aspects of the history of organized labor, working class history, and the history of the Left. The Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives Program was established in 1979 to preserve the history of organized labor in New York City and State. It has been designated by the New York City Central Labor Council as the preferred repository for the historical records of its member organizations. The Library seeks to document the history of the New York's trade union movement and working class New York in a comprehensive fashion. Records of international unions will be acquired on a selective basis when they have strong connections to the labor movement in New York.

Whenever possible Tamiment/Wagner will adopt a strategic approach to archival collecting based on the documentation strategy model. Acquisition decisions are made after a careful assessment of research value, the scholarly literature, the relationship between the archive and the Library's mission, and the collecting priorities of other repositories. Preference will be given to the records of organizations and movements that are under documented as well as those that have strong connections to the Tamiment's existing collections.

In order to support the writing of new labor history, social history, and political history, Tamiment makes a particular effort to document the changing nature of work, the workplace, relationships between mangers and workers, the social history of working class neighborhoods, working class culture, work culture, the relationship between class and community, the role of race, ethnicity, and gender, the struggle for equality in the workplace, and the immigrant experience.

Tamiment has always sought to document the relationship between the labor movement and the larger movement for social and political change. As part of this focus the Library collects research materials relating to the history civil liberties, civil rights, women's rights, immigrant rights, workers' education, and labor law.

In order to serve the research needs of students and scholars who come to the Library in association with our Center for the United States and the Cold War, Tamiment collects research materials relating to the Cold War and its origins in World War I and the post-war red scare. Other core collecting areas include: academic freedom, the Spanish Civil War (including its continuing impact on world politics), the Asian American and Irish immigrant experience. The Archives of Irish America documents the ongoing relationship between the Irish in America, the Republican movement, organized labor, and progressive politics. A particular effort is being made to capture the transnational relationship between the Irish people in Ireland and the American Diaspora as well as the ways in which the continuing Irish immigration has shaped the Irish community in America and its relationship to American politics and society.

Oral History

The Tamiment Library has long been known for its pioneering work in oral history, most notably the Oral History of the American Left and New Yorkers at Work. Nearly forty years ago, these collections broke new ground as they departed from the traditional model that concentrated on elites and leadership and instead concentrated on the rank-and-file and mid-level activists. Tamiment/Wagner has always sought to document the work experiences and lives of ordinary workers, community people, activists, and mid-level leaders. The library continues to develop these collections by acquiring oral history interviews from trade unions, progressive organizations as well as researchers who conducted oral histories that relate to our mission. As staffing and funding permits Tamiment/Wagner staff will do oral history interviews on a strategic basis when they strengthen the existing collections.

Non-Print Collections

The Tamiment/Wagner's non-print collections include still photographs, video, film, and poster collections. The Library collects non-print materials that depict labor and working class organizations, left politics, the history of socialism, Communism, and anarchism, men and women at work, the changing nature of work, working class neighborhoods, activities of trade unions, left political organizations, ethnic societies, tenant, neighborhood, cooperative and fraternal associations. The Library also seeks materials that capture the struggle for racial, class, and gender equality.

The Jacob and Bessye Blaufarb Endowment has made it possible for the Tamiment to acquire a significant collection of radical and labor video. The emphasis of the Blaufarb Videotape Library is on independently produced films that provide visually significant depictions of important historical events, individuals, social movements, and social conditions.

Tamiment does not have the resources to administer film archives. Normally, Tamiment will not acquire archival collections from filmmakers unless there is a strong and compelling oral history component to the collections. In these cases collections will be appraised in an effort to identify their oral history components. The Library will usually not to retain outtakes, assemblages and rough cuts unless there is a compelling oral history component to these materials.

The Tamiment Library does not collect three-dimensional artifacts or artwork unless there is an extremely strong connection to its research collections and these artifacts have unusual informational content.

Chronology and Geography

The Tamiment Library collects materials from the 18th century to the present. Its core collections are from the late 19th century to the present.

For the most part, the Tamiment Library's collections are United States-focused. However, many of the movements whose histories the library documents are explicitly international. As a result, Tamiment does have important research collections relating to the Soviet Union, Cuba, Canada, Latin America, and Spain. The Library will seek to continue to develop these transnational aspects of its collections with a particular emphasis on the Western Hemisphere.


The de-accessioning of materials in special collections is governed by different principles than those for general research collections. In order to reduce the need for de-accessioning, Tamiment will carefully appraise all materials before acquiring them. In general, duplicate books, serials, and pamphlets will be sold and the proceeds will go into an acquisition fund. Archival collections will be appraised according to standard professional practices. Materials that have no research or archival value will be offered back to the Donor. If the Donor does not want them returned, they will be de-accessioned according to guidelines outlined in Standards for Ethical Conduct for Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections (RBMS, 1992). During the de-accessioning process all legal restrictions, the necessity for possession of valid title, and the donor's intent will be considered.

Michael Nash
Head, Tamiment Library
November 2006


Updated 3/15/11

  home | about the library | collections overview | research guides | collections list/finding aids | programs | online exhibits & public history | NYU Libraries | New York University