The library holds thousands of rare books and pamphlets in criminal justice and other related subjects. Our Collections are particularly strong in rare and unique titles on Crime, Criminals, Policing , Corrections, Criminal Trials, Criminal Anthropology and Medical Jurisprudence. We also hold significant early modern volumes still bound in the original vellum on European Criminal Law and Jurisprudence.
Other resources for finding books in English printed before 1801 at John Jay and other collections include the ESTC (English Short Title Catalog) freely available from the British Library. These titles are also digitally available [with a CUNY log-in] in Early English Books Online (EEBO) or Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO). For information on these and other digital collections of rare books see below.
Over 2000 titles comprise the Fraud and Swindles Collection. As of 2011 half of the collection can be found by searching the term "Fraud and Swindles Collection" CUNY+ and the original collector's inventory of the collection is available upon request. These titles are available for study by appointment in the Special Collections Room.
This collection was featured in the New York Times: Lost Manuscript Unmasks Details of Original Ponzi And in the CUNY publication Salute to Scholars A Priceless Collection of Skullduggery There's also a podcast about this collection featuring chief librarian Larry Sullivan Books on Crooks
Transferred to John Jay from the Library of New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. For more on this library please see p. 15 of the Fall 2012 Classified Information [library newsletter]. All of the rare books in this collection are now cataloged in CUNY+ and available for consultation in the Special Collections Room by appointment.
The following artists' books are part of our Special Collections, and may be seen by appointment:
The Brownsville boys: Jewish gangsters of Murder, Inc. / conceived and written by Larry E. Sullivan ; etchings by D.R. Wakefield. Special Collections Room - HV6795 .N5 S87 2013  leaves : col. ill. ; 46 cm. Loose sheets, most printed with a color etching portrait positioned above letterpress shaped text. "... The presswork was executed by Art Larson at Horton Tank Graphics ... The box and chemise were created by Claudia Cohen..."--Colophon. Edition limited to 50 numbered copies and 10 hors d’commerce, each signed by the author and the artist. Issued unbound in a stiff portfolio, housed in a clamshell case with paste paper lining. Library has copy no. 16/50.
FREEDOM OF CHOICE (2009) Three Poems of Love and Death by Lucie Brock-Broido. Richard Minsky. Note: we have copy 1 which is chained to a replica of an electric chair. Special Collections Room.
Voices From Outside. (2008) by Just Seeds artist collective. A portfolio project in association with the Critical Resistance ten year anniversary conference in Oakland, California Special Collections Room.
Sum of our Parts: An Examination of Death Rituals in America. (2014) by Jennaway Pearson Washington D.C. Special Collections Room.
Some of these books will now show up as EBooks in a One Search search for books.
The Internet Archive offers open and free access to books, contributed mainly from American and Canadian libraries. There are various reader interfaces to use, I recommend the 'flip-book' reader interface that allows you to "turn" the pages by clicking on them. While the search function doesn't always work well for subjects, author and title searches work well. Many Google Books scanned in American libraries that are partially available on the web are available here in fully downloadable form.
HathiTrust is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future. There are more than fifty partners in HathiTrust, and membership is open to institutions worldwide. CUNY is not presently a member, so some of the books are not freely available.
Gallica offers millions of documents, recordings, and books from La Bibliothèque nationale de France. If the book you are looking for was published in France, it could be here. You can also browse the books here.
The Digital Old Books Project / Collections partimoniales des bibliotheque from the Universities of Strasbourg offers much more than its humble name implies. Browsing the titles available there reveal amazing scholarly riches of truly rare titles, most from the 16th-19th century available free and in full color. Searching and browsing is available from the homepage.
Digitized books from the Rare Book Division at the Library of Congress (Washington, DC) including a link the American Memory Project
Project Gutenberg was the first producer of free electronic books (ebooks). You can download over 30,000 free ebooks to read on your PC, iPhone, Kindle, Sony Reader or other portable device. Book catalog · Bookshelves by topic · Book search · Top downloads · Recently added you can also volunteer to proofread recently digitized books here.
Google books offers searchable and hyperlinked texts of millions of books in black and white. Often you may only be allowed to read 20% of the book and there is no possiblity to print. However, you can try to copy/paste text into other programs such as word processing programs. Many of these same books are available on the Internet Archive in full versions, often in color and with your choice of reading interfaces.