Free Circulating Libraries records

Collection Data

Description
NYPL Archives Record Group 4 consists of the records of the various independent circulating libraries that consolidated with The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. 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, the Aguilar Free Library and the Webster Free Library. There are also a few items from Cathedral, Harlem, Maimonides, New York Free Circulating Library for the Blind, and Tottenville Libraries.
Names
Free Circulating Libraries (Creator)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1880 - 1905
Library locations
New York Public Library Archives
Shelf locator: MssArc RG4 4858
Topics
Libraries -- New York (State) -- New York -- Branches, delivery stations, etc
Manhattan (New York, N.Y.)
Staten Island (New York, N.Y.)
Aguilar Free Library (New York, N.Y.)
New York Free Circulating Library
Genres
Records (Documents)
Annual reports
Scrapbooks
Notes
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 (NYFCL). Formed in 1878 for a church sponsored sewing class, the NYFCL grew throughout Manhattan to a system of 11 branches in 1899. Eventually there were 14 such independent libraries in the three boroughs of the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island. Among the most important were the Aguilar Free Library Society and the Webster Free Library. On November 15, 1886, the Aguilar Free Library Society incorporated as a free public library "interested in Jewish communal affairs" and in providing "reading matter for a portion of the city and for classes of its population unreached by any of the existing libraries." It was named after Grace Aguilar (1816-1847) a Sephardic Jewish author. Judge Samuel Greenbaum was the first president of a 15 member Board of Directors which also included offices of Treasurer, Secretary, and Library & Building Committees. Also in 1886, a city law was passed authorizing city aid to free circulating libraries with at least 10,000 volumes, real estate worth $20,000, and an annual circulation of at least 75,000 volumes. To qualify for this aid, the libraries of the Young Mens Hebrew Association at 721 Lexington Ave (at 57th St.) and the Hebrew Free School at 624 East 5th St. and 206 East Broadway, were merged at the 206 East Broadway building which was purchased by the new Aguilar corporation. The Lexington Avenue location was continued as a branch. In 1893, Everett P. Wheeler the President of East Side Settlement House (founded in 1891) asked the New York Free Circulating Library (NYFCL) to operate a library in a building to be erected on the Settlement's property. The NYFCL declined to participate in the project because of the cost involved. The Settlement House, however, decided to proceed on its own. Charles B. Webster gave $10,000 to construct the building, and others donated an additional $5,000. In addition, Edward Clarence Spofford donated 4,000 volumes to get the library started. The Webster Free Library opened in January 1894 in a building designed by Mr. D.N.B. Sturgis. The East Side Settlement House appointed a Library Committee to oversee the operations of the new library. The Webster Free Library flourished under the direction of Edwin White Gaillard (1872-1928). The collection grew from 7,000 to 12,000 volumes despite financial constraints on new acquisitions. Gaillard was especially successful in increasing the Library's membership nearly fourfold while circulation rose two-and-a-half times between 1897 and 1903. Gaillard realized that the neighborhood had a growing Czechoslovak community and in April 1897 placed the first Bohemian books on the shelves to meet their needs. By 1899, this growing collection was known as the Bohemian Department of the WFL. This collection continued to serve the Czechoslovak community into the mid-1950s long after the WFL became a branch of the New York Public Library. Edwin Gaillard is also noted for his pioneering work with schools. As early as 1898 he began to concentrate on this new effort and noted in October 1898 that "[w]ork with schools is now giving returns." Gaillard sought contacts with teachers and principals in order to promote cooperation between the schools and the library and to enlist their aid in having pupils join the library. Among his efforts were class visits to the library, providing pupils with assistance with their school assignments, special exhibits, and providing services to teachers. Gaillard had success with these efforts, but he also wanted a greater investment from the Settlement House to build the collection. In February 1901 Gaillard asked that $6000 be raised to buy new books, but this was regarded as unfeasible by the Settlement House. In October 1902 Gaillard announced that he would resign unless he received a salary increase, was excused from living as a resident at the Settlement House, and the Settlement House committed to improve the WFL building and collections. The Library Committee agreed to Gaillard's terms and he stayed on. Outside events however made it impossible to carry through with the improvement plans. Andrew Carnegie's 1901 gift of $5.2 million to the City of New York had spurred creation of a branch system at the New York Public Library (NYPL). In 1902 the New York City Comptroller announced that the City's private libraries would not receive an increase in City subsidies for 1903 and that no monies would be provided in 1904. Bowing to this pressure from the City, the East Side Settlement House voted on December 18, 1903 to give its books to the NYPL if the NYPL would operate the existing site until a new Carnegie branch opened in the neighborhood. The consolidation with NYPL became effective on January 1, 1904, and the new Carnegie building, named the Webster Branch, opened on October 24, 1906. As popular as such libraries as Aguilar and Webster 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 and research library. But from the very beginning, its trustees left open the possibility that it could establish "such libraries as it deemed advisable." In 1900, due to financial pressures, 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. The following are the dates of existence of the independent free circulating libraries that became part of NYPL: Aguilar Free Library, 1886-1903 (with four branches at time of consolidation with NYPL: 197 East Broadway, 106 Avenue C, 111-113 East 59th Street, 174 East 110th Street); Bronx Free Library, 1901-ca.1905; Cathedral Library, 1887-1905 (with five large branches -- Amsterdam Avenue, Cathedral, St. Raphael's, Sacred Heart and Epiphany -- and seven smaller branches or stations at time of consolidation with NYPL); Harlem Library Association, 1825-1903; High Bridge Free Library, 1901-1906; Inwood Public Library, 1921-1922; Kingsbridge Free Library, 1894-ca.1905; Maimonides Free Library, 1850-1906; New York Free Circulating Library, 1878-1900 (with 11 branches at time of consolidation with NYPL: Bloomingdale, Bond Street, Chatham Square, George Bruce, Harlem, Jackson Square, Muhlenberg, Ottendorfer, Riverside, 34th Street, Yorkville); New York Free Circulating Library for the Blind, 1895-1903; Riverdale Library Association, 1942-1952; St. Agnes Free Library, 1893-1901; Tottenville Library, 1899-1903; University Settlement Library, 1887-1903; Washington Heights Library, 1868-1901; Webster Free Library, 1892-1903.
Content: The Free Circulating Libraries Records consist of the records of the various independent circulating libraries that consolidated with The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations. These records cover the period prior to each library's consolidation with NYPL. The majority of the records in this collection are from the New York Free Circulating Library, the Aguilar Free Library and the Webster Free Library. There are also a few items from Cathedral, Harlem, Maimonides, New York Free Circulating Library for the Blind, and Tottenville Libraries.
Content: Unpublished finding aid available at repository.
Content: Forms part of the records of the New York Public Library which are described separately.
Physical Description
Extent: 25 linear feet (32 boxes)
Arranged alphabetically by name of library.
Type of Resource
Text
Identifiers
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b11524054
MSS Unit ID: 4858
Archives collections id: archives_collections_4858
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): ae0b3490-7477-0139-54f3-0242ac110002
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