In 1895, the Astor Library and the Lenox Library were consolidated with the Tilden Trust to form the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. The Astor Library was a public reference library begun in 1839 and incorporated ten years later under the will of John Jacob Astor (1763-1848). The Lenox Library, founded in 1870, was made up of the collections of rare books and manuscripts, especially Bibles, early printing, Americana, and voyages and travels formed by James Lenox (1800-1880). To this was added a $2 million endowment and 15,000 volumes from the trust of political leader Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886). While the New York Public Library is a private corporation its charter stipulates it to be both free and open to all. The Library is organized into 4 groups: the Board of Trustees, Central Administration, Research Libraries, and Branch Libraries. The directors of both the Research and Branch Libraries report to the Central Administration which is headed by the Director of the Library who reports to the President and the Board of Trustees. After consolidation, both the Astor and Lenox Libraries continued to operate separately until the opening of the Central Building in 1911. Initially, John Shaw Billings (the Library's first Director) handled many of the functions which would become the responsibility of the director of the Research Libraries. Between 1901 and 1906, 14 already extant free circulating libraries (including the Aguilar Free Library, Cathedral Library, and the New York Free Circulating Library) were united to form the nucleus of the branch libraries. Andrew Carnegie's 1901 gift established the financial foundation of the branch system which serves three of the five New York City Boroughs: the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island.
NYPL Archives Record Group 12 contains artifacts and memorabilia that document NYPL activities, programs and special events. Materials include Library signage, promotional buttons, artifacts of the construction of The Library's Central Building and a variety of commemorative objects such as medals and plaques.