New York University and the New-York Historical Society have announced an agreement to preserve vital historical documents about the history of New York as well as 18th and 19th century America and give the public greater access to these treasures. The vast, priceless materials in the Historical Society’s Collection include correspondence leading to the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, the terms of surrender presented by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to Gen. Robert E. Lee, and original photos documenting the construction of the city’s subway system.
NYU President L. Jay Oliva said, “This undertaking by NYU and the Historical Society is a solemn trust: to safeguard and make more accessible these treasures of New York and U.S. history. As an historian, I believe it will benefit scholarship in general and New York history in particular. Our two institutions are a good match for this enterprise.”
Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of the New-York Historical Society, said, “I look forward to having the great collections of the N-YHS Library fully cataloged and made more accessible to the community.”
Public access to the New York-Historical Society Library will be greatly increased because of the agreement. The Library’s hours will be extended to five days a week, restoring easy access for researchers and making the Society’s distinctive collections more fully available.
The agreement was made possible by a $2.85 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a $300,000 gift from Madeline and Kevin Brine.
NYU Dean of Libraries Carlton Rochell said, ” I am pleased at the prospect of a collaboration which will allow two of the city’s preeminent educational institutions to be strengthened through the sharing of resources, technologies and expertise. It will, for the first time in its history, allow the remarkable Library of the New-York Historical Society to be fully and universally accessible for study and research.”
William G. Bowen, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, said, “Having supported both the New-York Historical Society and the NYU Library over many years, those of us at the Foundation are delighted to be able to assist in bringing this promising new collaboration to fruition. The city of New York and scholars world-wide will benefit greatly from the alliance of these two pre-eminent institutions. I congratulate Jay Oliva, Betsy Gotbaum and Carlton Rochell on this achievement.”
The agreement has also led the University and the Historical Society to begin discussing future collaborative opportunities, including a Center for the Study of American History and course offerings at the N-YHS by NYU’s School of Continuing Education.
NYU’s Dean Rochell will manage the Library of the New-York Historical Society, which is overseen on a daily basis by the Historical Society’s library director. Rochell will oversee efforts to catalog and preserve the Society’s library collections, consisting of hundreds of thousands of monographs, manuscripts, prints, photographs and architectural documents. These collections encompass an extraordinary range of uniquely valuable material. In addition to the Hamilton/Burr correspondence, the subway photos, and the terms of surrender ending the Civil War, the collections include: letters and papers from every U.S. President from George Washington to Franklin Delano Roosevelt; 130,000 early photographic prints, including many by Matthew Brady; and the papers of NYU’s founder, Albert Gallatin. “Accessibility to these collections, together with the strong 19th and 20th century collections of NYU, represents a remarkable resource for the study of American history,” Rochell said.
Under the plan, all collections will remain the property of the New-York Historical Society. All work will be done on the Society’s premises at 2 West 77th Street, and all collections will remain permanently located there. The plan calls for the collections of prints, photographs and architecture, which are now administered by the Museum, to be managed as part of the Library collection and to be relocated to an area adjacent to the Library to facilitate public access and service. The New-York Historical Society will continue to be responsible for the Library’s operating budget and plant costs.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will provide a $2.85 million grant to support the first three years of an overall five-year project. The Mellon grant will also allow the Library to increase its public service hours from three to five days per week. Catalog records describing collections will be included in NYU’s Internet-based online catalog, BobCatPlus, which also includes the holdings of the libraries of Cooper Union, the New School, Parsons School of Design and the Mannes College of Music. The gift of Madeline and Kevin Brine will make it possible to begin digitizing noteworthy collections from NYU’s Library and that of the N-YHS.
In addition to the library cataloging and preservation project - which will organize hundreds of thousands of books, manuscripts, prints, photographs and architectural drawings - the Historical Society will create a museum collections database through its recently established Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture. The project will create and assemble digitized images intended to make museum holdings more widely and readily accessible. The Library’s online catalog and the Luce Center’s collection management system will ultimately be interoperable so that researchers will be able to search across book collections, visual materials and museum objects simultaneously and actually view many items from computers in their homes and offices. Luce Funds on the museum side and Brine funds on the Library side will allow coordinated digitization of museum objects and library research materials.
Overall policy for the Library including Mellon Foundation-funded projects will be overseen by a six-member Standing Committee on the Library. Three members will be appointed by the Historical Society, and three by NYU. The Chair of the Standing Committee will be Colin Campbell, a member of the N-YHS Board of Trustees. Dean Rochell and Betsy Gotbaum will be ex-officio members.