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A Trip to the New York Public Library

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take a genealogy stay-cation, particularly to do those “little things” I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while. One of those things was to visit the Milstein Division of the New York Public Library, which houses their amazing US History, Local History and Genealogy resources (in other words, “paradise”). The NYPL has a ton of stuff online, but I wanted to see what offline resources they have. I had the perfect opportunity when I found out that they held some books that I couldn’t access elsewhere.

Preparing to Go

I originally found my books via Google Books, which sometimes shows a snippet view, just to tease you! (Actually, it is very helpful, or else I wouldn’t know if the book is relevant or not.) Clicking on the “Find in a Library” link brings you to WorldCat.org, which lists the libraries where the books are available. And did you know that you can sign up for a free WordCat account, where you can create your own lists that are annotatable? That’s exactly what I did — I made a “NYPL” list to capture each book. Then I looked up the call number in the NYPL (just by clicking the book’s NYPL link in WorldCat) and noted it under each book on my list. I just printed the list to take with me; I suppose I could have saved the list as a pdf into Evernote as well.

Another way I prepared for the trip was obtain a temporary NYPL card, which is necessary for any pull requests. If you are not a New York City resident, then you can get a temporary card that is good for three months. First I registered on the website, which set me up with a patron account. When I arrived at the NYPL, I had to go to a room on the second floor (Customer Service? Customer Relations?) to finish the process. If you’ve already started the process, all the staff has to do is look you up and issue your card!

A Few Words About the Library

First, the library is so convenient to get to — just two blocks from Grand Central Station! And there is a Starbucks right between the two, which I hit afterwards.

I’ve walked past the library before, but I’ve never stopped just to look. It is gorgeous! Too many architectural details to take in at once, inside and out; I probably could have spent days doing so. (In fact, there are tours of the library.)

Welcome to the New York Public Library!  Author's collection.

Welcome to the New York Public Library! Author’s collection.

After going through a well-moving security line, I was in! After finding out where to complete my library card process and taking care of that, I checked the big map in the lobby and found out where the Milstein Division was — Room 121. (Meanwhile, I was still ogling over all the beautiful details inside the building…)

The Best Room

You are about to enter the Genealogy Zone... Author's collection.

You are about to enter the Genealogy Zone… Author’s collection.

First let me describe just what is here. This room holds books and boxed papers. Some of the papers seem to be donated collections, which probably need to go through the request process (I just skimmed through the box titles). The variety of books amazed me. There are years’ worth of publications from NEHGS, NYG&B and more. There are directories, ship manifests and civil war indexes. There are sections on African-American, Latino and other ethnic genealogies. And of course, there are books on history.

What interested me most, however, were the surname books, which were on my list. Unlike the other books mentioned above, they needed to be requested to be pulled by a librarian. For each book, I had to fill out a little faux-carbon form with the book information and call number (thank you, WorldCat list!), and the librarian gave me the yellow copy as she pulled the books.

I soon had all the books I wanted and identified what I wanted to copy from them. You need to ask permission to copy each book; basically the librarian just assesses the age and condition of the book. (Mine were all good to go.)

The Worst Part

If I were to win Powerball, I would buy the NYPL Milstein Division a brand-new copier with a new credit card reader. Although the copier made fine copies, the cover was almost falling off and the card reader kept timing out on me so often that my credit card stopped working. (It’s supposed to make up to $5 worth of copies, but I never got that far.) Fortunately my debit card worked and the librarian helped me out a little (with plenty of empathy…and by the way, the library staff was SO helpful at every juncture in the process). Once I hit my stride, I stopped timing out so often.

There is a note on the copier that says it does take USBs and digital copies are free (I didn’t think to bring a USB beforehand), but it doesn’t accept all USBs. Either way, I’m glad I made hardcopies so I could write notations for myself.

Other Parts of the Library

There is actually a very nice book store on-site that sells all kinds of books and gift-type things like mugs and tote bags. And there happened to be an exhibit about Alexander Hamilton that included original documents in his own handwriting; I figured since I was there, I’d take advantage of the opportunity.

There are so many other departments at the NYPL: the Microform Room, the Manuscript and Archives Division, the Rare Book Division and the Map Division, to name a few. Someday I may get to visit these as well!


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