Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

New York Public Library Online -- Part One

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is one of the largest repositories of genealogical information in the United States as well as being one of the nation's largest libraries and is often listed as the fourth largest library in the country. The NYPL also has 92 separate locations spread all over The Bronx, Manhatten, and Long Island. All of the very large libraries will have millions of books and other items that could assist your genealogical research. A common mistake made by researchers is assuming that because they do not have any relatives from the physical area served by a large library that visiting the library would be a waste of time. It is true that some libraries maintain regional or local collections, but the really large libraries are used by researchers from all over the world. Here is a brief description of the NYPL from its website.
Serving more than 17 million patrons a year, and millions more online, the Library holds more than 51 million items, from books, e-books, and DVDs to renowned research collections used by scholars from around the world. Housed in the iconic 42nd Street library and three other research centers, NYPL’s historical collections hold such treasures as Columbus’s 1493 letter announcing his discovery of the New World, George Washington’s original Farewell Address, and John Coltrane’s handwritten score of “Lover Man.”
The reality is that once a library gets this large, it will take a great deal of time and effort to determine what is and what is not in the library's vast collections. Although the NYPL's online collections are significant, there is no substitute for traveling to the library and doing research onsite. For this reason alone, genealogists should never conclude that they have "looked everywhere" for information about their ancestors.

For a genealogist who does not live in or near New York City, the library's online collections are a valuable and, in many cases, accessible resource. As is the case with most libraries in the United States, you need to either live in the library district, county or state where the library is located or pay a fee for a library card as a non-resident. Access to the large university libraries, for example, are sometimes limited to registered researchers, students, staff or professors. Many of the online resources of the NYPL are limited to those who have a library card. Likewise, the NYPL's collections are available to residents of the City and of New York State. Here are the requirements for a visiting researcher:
Researchers Visiting the Library from Outside of New York State 
  • If you do not live, work, attend school or pay property tax in New York state and are visiting the library and seeking temporary cardholder privileges, apply online and validate and pick up your card in person. Privileges will be granted for a period of 3 days or 3 months, depending on the length of your stay.
  • You may also visit any library location and fill out a paper application form.
The NYPL catalog is always available online and anyone can search the catalog, but as is the case with using library resources in person, you may need a library card or researcher's permission or be physically present in the library to access some or even all of the online offerings.

Fortunately for the genealogical researcher, the NYPL has extensive and accessible digital collections.

An interesting an innovative new feature is the "Spotlight on the Public Domain." Out of the 708,450 items online, apparently, about 180,000 of those items are considered to be in the "public domain." Those items that are not in the public domain are very likely subject to enforceable copyright claims and permission from the copyright holder would be necessary for their use. However, there is no need for genealogists to copy entire copyright protected documents. They can be used for research and then cited as sources. However, those documents and items in the public domain can be freely used by anyone for any purpose.

This approach by the NYPL is rather an exception to the general rule for online collections. Many libraries and archives fail to make a distinction between the items in their collections that are validly subject to copyright and those that are in the public domain, leaving the decision about the use of the items entirely up to the researcher.

Stay tuned for more.

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