Sheet music is one of the State Library's largest special collections: there are approximately 35,000 musical scores, dating from the 1790s to the 1970s, including a major collection of 20th-century scores. The range of subjects is very broad, although the principal emphasis of the collection is on New York State history and imprints.
Although New York City is often considered to be the heart of the music industry, the Library's collection shows that, for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, music publishing also flourished in Buffalo, Syracuse, Utica, Albany, and Troy, as well as in many smaller cities or towns in upstate New York. Included in the collection, for example, are scores from the early 1900s that were published by the Koninsky Music Company of Troy. There is also a rare copy of Please Say You Will, Scott Joplin's first published composition, which was printed in Syracuse in 1895, when Joplin visited the city as part of a musical touring group.
The State Library is still adding to its sheet music collection. The Theodore Roosevelt memorabilia collection, acquired in 1998, included some musical scores, and the Library has also been acquiring music relating to African-American history. Unusual New York State imprints are also of interest to the Library.
The library also collects 18th and 19th century sacred and secular singing books and instrumental preceptors, as well as songsters and opera librettos. Related manuscript materials include:
- music copy books;
- letters and papers of musicians, instrument makers and organizations;
- Shaker manuscript hymnals;
- the archives of the Meneely Bell Company of Watervliet, New York;
- Players of the Century: the extra-illustrated 1880 edition of Henry Phelps' history of the Albany, New York stage
- ephemera, such as posters, concert programs, and tickets, including the George Severance Collection of Theater and Concert Programs (1890-1950)