The Center’s collections first won international acclaim in 1926 when the personal collection of the distinguished Black scholar and bibliophile, Arthur A, Schomburg, was added to the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints of the 135th Street Branch of The New York Public Library Schomburg’s collection included over 5,000 volumes, 3,000 manuscripts, 2,000 etchings and paintings and several thousand pamphlets, and he served as its curator in the Negro Division from 1932 until his death in 1938. Renamed in his honor in 1940, the collection grew steadily through the years. In 1972 it was designated as one of the Research Libraries of The New York Public Library and became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Today, the Schomburg Center is the guardian of collections including over 5,000,000 items and provides services and programs for constituents from the United States and abroad. Contemporary technology and cooperative services give readers access to complementary resources in other institutions throughout the world. While adapting to meet the needs of the 21st century, the Schomburg Center remains firmly committed to the primary tenets of its mission: to collect, preserve and provide access to materials documenting Black life and to promote the study of interpretation of Black history and culture.
The General Research and Reference Collections service users with holdings of more than 125,000 volumes and 85,000 microforms. Although weighted heavily in the humanities, representative titles are available in law, medicine and the natural sciences. Most titles are in English and others are in the respective languages of areas in the world with sizable populations including Africa and various parts of the Caribbean and South America. Approximately 15 to 20 percent of the book collection deals with Afro-Hispanic and Afro-Caribbean history and culture.
The collection offers readers more than 400 Black newspapers and over 1,000 periodicals from around the world. Information contained in flyers, newspaper and magazine clippings, pamphlets and ephemera is available in the Vertical File, a reference tool with nearly 7,000 subject headings. Material through 1974 is on microfiche; subsequent information is in the original state. One of the Schomburg Center’s most unique finding aids is the Ernest D. Kaiser Index to Black Resources, a file of over 179,000 citations to articles in thousands of issues of Black magazines and newspapers, some of which ceased publication decades ago. The Index is available in five hardbound volumes and also as a computerized database.
With the opening of the new Schomburg Center Complex in April 1991, the Center stands poised to meet the 21st-century challenges confronting it as the national research library on Black history and culture. The Special Collections have been strengthened through acquisitions and conservation efforts. Improvements have been made in reference and cooperative services, catalog systems and technology. Imperative programming has been expanded, including public and scholarly programs, publications and exhibitions.
The user friendly environment created by the new Schomburg Center Complex increased the Center’s space for research services and public programs by 50 percent. The General Research and Reference Division and the four Special Collection Divisions are housed in individual state-of-the-art areas. The current facility also included the 350-seat Langston Hughes Auditorium, the refurbished American Negro Theatre, an exhibition hall, the Latimer/Edison Gallery and a gift shop. Rounding out the complex is the recently renovated Countee Cullen Regional Branch Library, adjacent to the Center on West 136th Street.
The General Research and Reference Collections are available to readers eighteen years and older upon presentation of identification listing permanent address. Admission procedures for the Special Collections are available from each section on request. Access to Schomburg Center resources is through card catalogs for items acquired before 1972 and through book catalogs for materials acquired subsequently. CATNYP, the online public access catalog of The New York Public Library, gives Schomburg Center readers access to the Library’s entire database for works catalogued since 1972.
Individuals, organizations, institutions and corporations are invited to help ensure the preservation of precious materials documenting Black history and culture through annual membership contributions to the Schomburg Society for the Preservation of Black Culture. Society members are entitled to receive special benefits and privileges from the Schomburg Center. For information about membership or programs and services, write or call:
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Boulevard
New York, NY 10037-1801