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New York Public Lib, 2-16-1925

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HISTORICAL NOTICE OF THE LIBRARY.

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The history of the New York Society Library commences in the year 1700. At that time “ The Public Library” of New York, was founded during the administration of the Earl of Bellamont. (Grahame's History of the United States, vol. 2, page 256, Philadelphia Ed., 1845.)

The library thus organized, appears to have gone on increasing, and to have acquired considerable importance. In 1729, the Rev. Dr. Millington, Rector of Newington, England, bequeathed his library to the society for the Propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts, and by this society it was presented to the Public Library of New York.

The whole collection of books was placed in charge of the Corporation of the City, and seems to have suffered from want of proper attention and management until the year 1754, when an association of individuals was formed for the purpose of carrying on such an institution more efficiently. On the application of these gentlemen the books they had collected were incorporated with the Public Library, and the whole placed under the care of the trustees chosen by them.

The institution was known at that time as The City Library,” a name by which it has been commonly designated ever since. The collection appears, from the minutes of the trustees, to have been largely and constantly increased by purchases of books from 1754 down to the breaking out of the revolution. A charter was obtained in 1772, and the official style of “ The New York Society Library” adopted. The events of the war not only prevented any meeting of the trustees for many years, but nearly destroyed the library.

In December, 1788, a meeting of the proprietors was summoned, an election for trustees held, and the society resumed its operations.

In 1789, an Act of the Legislature of the State of New York was passed confirming the charter.

Until 1795 the library was deposited in the City Hall. The early sessions of Congress were held in New York, and the City Library formed at that time the Library of Congress.

The growing importance of the establishment now demanded more extensive accommodations. Accordingly additional subscribers were obtained, land was purchased in Nassau street, opposite to the Middle Dutch Church (now used as a Post Office), and a building erected expressly for the use of the library. To this building, which was of considerable size and one of the most conspicuous public edifices of that day, the library was removed in 1795, and here it continued until 1836, when the increasing commerce of the city compelled the trustees to seek

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Historical Notice of the Society.

another situation, when the property now occupied by the library, at the corner of Broadway and Leonard street, was purchased, and the present edifice of the Society was erected.

We have no record of the number of volumes when it was dispersed by the revolution. The minutes of the trustees and other documents in our possession warrant us, however, in estimating that it must, at that period, have contained several thousand volumes. In 1793, the date of the first catalogue printed after the revolution, it is stated to have possessed at that time, five thousand volumes ; in 1813 the number was thirteen thousand ; in 1825 sixteen thousand ; in 1838 it had reached twenty-five thousand ; and the present number amounts to thirty-five thousand volumes.

Printed catalogues of the library are known to have existed before the revolution, but the dates of their publication are not accurately ascertained. The earliest after the war was that of 1793; the next of any importance appeared in 1813, and was followed by a supplement in 1825. In 1838 a new one was made, as complete as possible, containing both an Alphabetical and an Analytical arrangement of the titles. In 1841 a supplement on the same plan was published, and a second supplement in 1843. The catalogue now issued has been prepared with great care and expense. It is arranged on the plan of the former one of 1838, which is admitted to be the best adapted for convenience in use, and now generally followed.

Many books have from time to time been presented to the library; it has, however, received but one pecuniary donation. In the year 1849, Miss Jane Demilt, by her last will, in which various valuable legacies were given to other charitable and literary institutions of the city of New York, bequeathed the sum of five thousand dollars to the library.

In recording her munificence, it seems not inappropriate to express the hope that it may prove an incentive to the liberality of others, and that her example may induce our richer citizens to spare a portion of their wealth thus to erect to their memories monuments the most useful, the most honorable, the most durable. Whilst the resources of the society have been limited almost entirely to the small annual subscription payable by the members, it should be borne in mind that the institution, besides procuring expensive works of reference, has been called on to supply both standard and current literature, and its books have in many instances been worn out and replaced by other copies.

The number of members, in 1793, was 900 ; having been reduced from time to time, and again increased by renewed efforts, the present number is 1100.

It will thus be seen that while the number of its supporters has remained almost stationary in the midst of an unparalleled growth of population, the Society Library has continued to increase and to extend its resources for usefulness. It has erected two large and conspicuous public edifices, ornamental to the city; and in redeeming the city from the imputation of indifference to such institutions, it has surmounted every obstacle connected with its great outlays for building, and by strict economy has been enabled largely to increase its supplies of valuable books, of which the volume now offered will, it is hoped, afford satisfactory evidence.

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