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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

New York City: Research and History: Researching NYC

Guide for Library Research on NYC and its Neighborhoods

Introduction to NYC Resources

Taxi cab

No city has been written about more than New York. The city’s history and character have been examined from every angle, and still the subject attracts fresh interpretations. Whether the question is economics or culture, politics or sport, crime or transportation, New York offers unique and almost always intriguing answers. Wall Street has long symbolized America’s economic power, just as Broadway represents show business and Madison Avenue advertising. No other sports venues can rival Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium. And no other city produced a Robert Moses.

Any researcher tackling a New York City topic faces an embarrassment of riches, and the Lloyd Sealy Library provides a solid stepping off point. Our collection has several standard reference works, including the Encyclopedia of New York City, and volumes on specific historical, sociological, or political topics, not to mention criminal justice. The Library of Congress call number for New York City history is F128. Researchers should check Onesearch or the entire CUNY+ catalog, however, since other campuses have additional titles, and CUNY students can request books from any CUNY college.

Beyond CUNY, researchers have access to several of the finest libraries and archives to be found anywhere. All the collections listed here are generally open to the public, though several require a fee. While the hours are listed, it is a good idea to call ahead to confirm the details. It is often possible to speak with a librarian or archivist about specific research needs in advance of a visit. Quite often the library will have the requested materials waiting when you arrive.

Finally, there are many resources available for researchers investigating the contemporary metropolis. New York City maintains its own web site, and while much of the information is more public relations than rich content, several city agencies publish very good data online. The Landmarks Preservation Commission, for example, provides the current calendar as well as some designation reports; the Board of Elections has the results of recent elections.

Several current publications have web sites that address issues of the moment. Gotham Gazette, a publication of Citizens Union, collects recent newspaper articles and provides original essays and commentary. The Manhattan Institute publishes City Journal and offers a conservative perspective on urban affairs, while the Center for an Urban Future provides reports from a progressive perspective. The city’s daily newspapers are available online, and members of the John Jay community have access to recent articles in the Daily News, Newsday, and the Times through Lexis-Nexis. In addition the entire New York Times is available from 1851 through 2003 through the library’s home page.

NYC Call Numbers


Fire Box


For anyone interested in just heading to the shelves to find books on NYC, the call number you need to look for is F128; look also in Onesearch to find volumes in other CUNY libraries.

Libraries and Archives

NY Public Library

New York Public Library 42nd Street

Each of the following institutions is customarily open to the public, though some charge admission, and others require an appointment.

New York Public Library
This is one of the great collections in the world, and the holding on New York City extend from the colonial era to the present, including published works, prints and photographs, and newspapers. The Map Division has many one of a kind and specialty maps of New York going back to the 17th century, as well as real estate atlases and published maps, both historic and contemporary. The Local History and Genealogy division contains one-of-a-kind materials, books and pamphlets, and photographs.

Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
New York, NY 10018

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
The city’s premier collection of materials on African American history and culture, with manuscripts, prints,photographs, movies, recordings, artifacts, and published works.

515 Malcolm X Boulevard (at 135th Street)
New York, NY 10037-1081

The New York State Library
The New York Online Virtual Electronic Library (NOVEL) offers access to subscription-based newspapers, magazines, and full-text scholarly articles through local libraries and is available to state residents using a driver’s license or nondriver ID card number.

New York City Municipal Archives
The Municipal Archives (Room 103) holds the city’s records, including maps, photographs, official publications, city directories, and vital records, as well as census data; the City Hall Library (Room 112) is the official repository for reports and studies issued by city agencies

Surrogate’s Court Building
31 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007

The New-York Historical Society
Founded in 1804, this is the oldest museum in the city (with a renowned collection of paintings from the Hudson River School); the library has materials from the colonial era into the twentieth century, including documents relating to construction of the subway.

170 Central Park West (at 77th Street)
New York, NY 10024

The Bronx County Historical Society
Primary and secondary materials, including photographs, memorabilia, and a complete run of their publication, The Bronx County Historical Society Journal.

3309 Bainbridge Avenue
The Bronx, NY 10467

Brooklyn Historical Society
Founded as the Long Island Historical Society in 1863, the Brooklyn Historical Society holds published works, newspapers, and maps, as well as manuscript collections from prominent Brooklynites and baseball memorabilia from the 19th century.

Othmer Library
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Brooklyn Public Library
The Brooklyn Collection has books, pamphlets, and maps, mostly from the 20th century.

The Brooklyn Collection
Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Queens Borough Public Library
Photographs, maps, postcards, newspapers (on microfilm), clipping files, and published works on the history of Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Suffolk.

The Long Island Division
89-11 Merrick Blvd.
Jamaica, NY 11432

La Guardia and Wagner Archives
Primary materials relating to mayors Fiorello La Guardia, Robert F. Wagner, Abe Beame, and Ed Koch, including oral histories; the papers of the New York City Council; the New York City Housing Authority; the Steinway Piano Company; Queens history collection.

LaGuardia Community College, CUNY
31-10 Thomson Avenue
Long Island City, NY 11101

1970s NYC Subway

1970s Subway Car

Voted "Worst Cars" in 1978, this train of graffiti-scarred R-10s rests at Rockaway Park Yard, September 1978. Photo by Bernard Chatreau. (LINK)

1970s Subway Car

Spray Painted Train May 1973 National Archives (Link)

NYC Reference Works

Reference Definition

Burnham, Alan. New York City, the development of the metropolis: an annotated bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1988   Ref F128.3 .B94 1988 

Burrows, Edward, and Mike Wallace. Gotham: a history of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Ref F128.3 B96 1998 (also stacks)

Cantwell, Anne-Marie E., and Diana diZerega Wall. Unearthing Gotham : the archaeology of New York City. New Haven : Yale University Press, 2001. Stacks F 128.39 .C39 2001

Diamondstein, Barbaralee. The Landmarks of New York. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1988. Ref F128.7 .D55 1988

Goldstone, Harmon, and Martha Dalrymple. History Preserved: a guide to New York City landmarks and historic districts. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974. Ref F128.7 G64

Jackson, Kenneth T. Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995. Ref F128.3 .E75 1995

Kouwenhoven, John A. The Columbia Portrait of New York, an essay in graphic history. New York: Harper & Row, 1972 (1953). Ref F128.3 K6 1972

Kroessler, Jeffrey A. New York, Year by Year: a chronology of the great metropolis. New York: NYU Press. 2002. Ref F128.3 .K76 2002

New York City Dept. of City Planning. The Newest New Yorkers 2000. New York: 2004. Ref F128.9 .A1 N49 2004

Wells, James L., Louis F. Haffen, and Josiah A. Briggs, editors. The Bronx and Its People, a History, 1609-1927. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., 1927. F128.68 .B8 W4 1927 (Special Collections)

Willensky, Elliot, and Norval White. The AIA Guide to New York City. Ref NA735 .N5 A78 1988



The University Settlement Society of New York City. Papers.
22 reels microfilm
Madison, WI: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1972.

This filmed archive shows the role of the University Settlement Society in the movement to improve the quality of tenement life through social and recreational programs plus legislative reforms. It documents the Society's organization, development and activities from 1886 to 1945, as well as its participation in the international settlement house movement. The most extensive series in the collection contains the "headworkers" subject files and correspondence with public officials and notables. Their concerns vary from control of prostitution to abuse of child labor, from funding the Society's public bath attendants to keeping abreast of the Russian Revolution. Substantial biographical material on residents, staff and volunteers can be found through the collection. Special Collections, HV 4196.N6 U54. Published guide.

William H. Bell, (New York City Police Officer, 1850-1851). Diary
Microfilmed from the original in The New York Historical Society. 1 reel

The diary of this New York City police officer and Inspector of second-hand dealers and junk shops chronicles his activities which centered on inspecting junk shops and dealers in second-hand goods. He has an intimate knowledge of the city's slum districts, and of crime and poverty. The text is a straight-forward stream-of-consciousness reporting of his activities and impressions. An accompanied article by Sean Wilentz from the History Workshop Journal discusses the diary.

Historic NYC Newspapers


Newspaper Titles

Accessed through the library’s home page under Shortcuts to Popular Databases, Lexis-Nexis provides full text newspaper articles from across the English-speaking world from the 1980s to the present, including the New York Times, the Daily News, and Newsday. (LINK)

Brooklyn Eagle

Published from 1841 to 1955, and revived from 1960 to 1963, the Eagle was Brooklyn’s paper of record, with coverage also extending to Queens and Long Island. The Brooklyn Public Library has made the paper available online from October 26, 1841 to December 31, 1902; it is searchable by date or subject. (LINK)

New York Times
The Times is accessible via a link on the Lloyd Sealy Library home page, under Shortcuts to Popular Databases. Online searching is available from 1851 through 2003. For articles from 2004 to the present search
Lexis-Nexis. (LINK)

NYC Affairs

1964 Worlds Fair

NYC Worlds Fair 1964 Unisphere

City of New York
A portal to city agencies and elected officials, including the office of the mayor and the city council.

Board of Elections
This site provides election returns and maps of all election districts for federal, state and local offices.

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
The Landmarks Commission designates and regulates historic buildings, interiors, districts, and parks. Many designation reports, describing individual landmarks and historic districts, are available.

Department of Parks and Recreation
The Parks Department cite provides information on individual parks and upcoming events, maps, and some historical information. 

Center for an Urban Future
A liberal think tank employing journalistic reporting techniques with traditional policy analysis to produce reports on critical urban issues.

Citizens Budget Commission
Founded in 1932, the CBC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic organization devoted to influencing constructive change in the finances and services in the city and state. This watchdog group conducts research and issues reports on budgetary matters and municipal performance.

Gotham Gazette
The Citizens Union Foundation of the City of New York publishes daily this site about the issues facing New York City. Gotham Gazette features original articles on politics, education, planning, and other municipal issues. There are also links to government sites, history sites, and articles in daily newspapers and magazines.

The Manhattan Institute
Founded as a conservative think tank to address urban affairs, the Manhattan Institute publishes the City Journal. Articles in current and past issues are available, together with links to other articles of interest.