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Free Circulating Libraries records

Collection Data

The records of the various independent circulating libraries have been brought together to form Record Group 4, Free Circulating Libraries. These records cover the period prior to each library's consolidation with NYPL. The majority of the records in this collection are for the New York Free Circulating Library and the Aguilar Free Library. Only a few items exist for Cathedral, Harlem, Maimonides, New York Free Circulating Library for the Blind, and Tottenville Libraries.
Free Circulating Libraries (Creator)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1880 - 1905
Library locations
New York Public Library Archives
Shelf locator: MssArc RG4 4858
Aguilar Free Library.
New York Free Circulating Library
Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)
Staten Island (New York, N.Y.)
Acquisition: ARC
Acquisition: Records
Biographical/historical: During the last quarter of the 19th century a number of separate and independent libraries, formed mostly by private charitable or religious organizations - but generally free and open to the public - were established throughout New York City. The largest of these free, circulating libraries was the New York Free Circulating Library. Formed in 1878 for a church sponsored sewing class, the NYFCL grew throughout Manhattan to a system of 11 branches in 1899. The Aguilar Free Library was begun in 1886 to serve a mostly immigrant, Jewish and working class public on the East Side of Manhattan. It consisted of 4 branches at the time of its consolidation with the New York Public Library in 1903.
Biographical/historical: Eventually there were 14 such independent libraries in the three boroughs of the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. As popular as these libraries became with a book-starved public, they suffered from both a lack of coordination and cut-backs of municipal support. The New York Free Circulating Library had discussed the idea of consolidation as early as 1886. In 1895, the newly incorporated New York Public Library (NYPL) was established as a noncirculating reference/research library. But from the very beginning, its trustees left open the possibility that it could establish "such libraries as it deemed advisable."
Biographical/historical: In 1900, due to the financial pressures mentioned above, a formal consolidation between NYPL and NYFCL took place. But it was not until Andrew Carnegie's 1901 offer of $5.2 million to construct 65 library branches in greater New York that the consolidation movement gained momentum. Between Carnegie's gift, the persuasiveness of Arthur Bostwick (NYPL's first Chief of Circulation), and the City's financial pressures, by 1906 all consolidations were complete.
Action: Records Inventoried 10/--/1989 good to brittle MCM
Unpublished finding aid available at repository.
Forms part of the records of the New York Public Library which are described separately.
Physical Description
24 linear feet (30 boxes)
Arranged alphabetically by name of library.
Type of Resource
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b11524054
MSS Unit ID: 4858
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): d428bb30-e84d-0131-4837-58d385a7bbd0
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