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Manuscripts and Special Collections Collection Development Policy

General Guidelines

A general description of the materials found in Manuscripts and Special Collections and their use for research is found in the flyers, Research Directions: Description of the Collections and Research Directions: Information about Policies. The collection development policy of the section attempts to generally follow the principles found in the State Library Collection Development Policy. Some collections may not fit the current policy of the State Library because they were acquired earlier in the history of the library. The general principles followed by Manuscripts and Special Collections are described below.


The archives, manuscripts, records and papers of persons, organizations, businesses, and private institutions of New York State that document the culture, society, life, physical and human environment of the state, 1600 to the present, are collected. Because some New York State persons and organizations have not limited their activities to New York State, the papers that are integral to those activities and that are necessary for the documentation of the person or organization are collected whether or not they are directly related to the state.

Special Collections

Rare books, cartographic materials, visual materials, musical scores, ephemera and microforms related to the history of New York State or to existing collection strengths in manuscripts and archives are collected. Depository maps are collected as part of the State Library's Regional Depository Library status, but are managed by the Collection Acquisition and Processing Unit and Core Reference Services.


While autographic, monetary, artifactual or aesthetic value is important, the chief criterion for acquisition is the research value of collections.

Official Records

The official records of state and local government are not collected. The New York State Archives and Records Administration appraises and acquires the records of state government and local government offices are responsible for the records of their community. Manuscripts and Special Collections does collect manuscripts and other special collections that supplement and complement the official government records of the state. In addition, there are small groups or often single items of local government archives found in the collection that were acquired many years ago and remain in the collection unless the local government entity requests the return of those records.

Collection Levels

Acquisition of all formats of material generally follows the collection levels of the State Library Collection Development Policy. Manuscripts and other special collections formats are collected that document various aspects of New York history. Acquisitions are made for topics ranging from those that have strengths in the collections to those that are currently under-documented in the collections.

Non-New York State Materials

Materials concerned with other geographic regions or states are purchased rarely, and gifts of such items are accepted only if the storage, cataloging and preservation costs are modest and do not exceed the research value of the collection.

Costs Criteria

The evaluation of all potential acquisitions in whatever format includes a consideration of the likely and potential costs to the State Library for acquisition, cataloging, storage, preservation, and reference services.

Current Strengths

The following briefly describes general strengths that are found in various formats in Manuscripts and Special Collections.


There are a number of strengths that make the manuscripts and archives collection an important and heavily used resource for historical and other research.

Some of the topics are in-depth resources in all the formats collected by the unit. The major criteria for collecting has always been geographic, i.e. New York State. The geographic region covered by the collection is the entire State, but in general there are larger amounts of manuscript and archival material for the Hudson-Mohawk Valley region and the Adirondack region. The collection illuminates the history of the State and the United States because of the national importance of New York. Traditional historical topics predominated in past collecting policies and the resulting resources are strong in Dutch New Netherland and colonial history; transportation history, including canal, turnpike and railroad history; Protestant church history; legal history; and the history of agriculture and specific industries, particularly iron manufacture. There are also strong resources in the history of the Civil War and growing collections of material in the areas of New York folklore and the history of environmentalism.

Rare Books

Current rare books collecting policy follows the same geographic criteria as manuscripts, that is, emphasizing New York State. However, because of past collecting policies, the subject range is much broader. In addition, because of regular transfers of books from the general collection because of rarity, the subject is more diverse. For example, there are a substantial number of works in various languages about New York State from the 17th century to the present; over one hundred incunabula; many significant works of natural history, particularly English botany; illustrated books and fine printing; a major collection of works about fire fighting and fire prevention; a major collection of early 20th century radical literature; a major collection of zines from the decade of the 1980s; rare legal and medical works from the 16th to the 20th century; several large pamphlet collections; thousands of almanacs; a Fourth of July Oration collection; and hundreds of trade catalogs.


The cartographic resources are diverse in subject and geographic range for both historical and modern maps. Maps in the collection date from the 17th century to the present. The strongest component is the historical collection of New York State atlases and maps, both printed and manuscript. The atlas collection is comprehensive in its coverage of the state and its parts, and the map collection is a research level collection. Thematic and subject atlases of the United States and the world are collected at the basic level. Insurance maps of selected New York State urban communities are available in atlases, and these maps for the entire state are available on microfilm. There are many New York State depository maps from the Department of Transportation and historical federal maps such as the early U.S. Geological Survey maps. Federal maps from the Regional Depository Program are available through the Core Reference Services unit of the library.

Visual Materials (Prints, Photographs, Broadsides, Posters)

Visual materials, including prints, both engraved and lithographic; photographs; broadsides and posters provide representative examples of most subject and geographic areas of New York State as well as portraits of the prominent citizens in the state's history. There is a large collection of photographs in the Delaware and Hudson Railway Photograph Collection. Portraits and pictures of New York State political leaders and of Native American life in New York are also important resources. Broadsides provide detailed descriptive information for studying political, military and agricultural history and popular culture in New York, and there are large collections of Shaker broadsides, newspaper carrier addresses, and broadside ballads. In a departure from the emphasis on New York State in the collecting policy, the unit has very large numbers of World War I and World War II war posters; 5,000 and 900 items respectively.
Musical Scores

There are approximately 35,000 musical scores, 1790-1970, with a strong emphasis on New York State subjects, composers, music publishers and music printers. The largest number of scores in the collection are those published in New York City and in the Hudson Valley region.

Material Classed in "A"

Books relating to the following are collected to support the reference, research and collection processing activities of the unit:

  • Books and serials related to archival history, theory, and practice and to the administration of archives and manuscripts repositories. Books concerning the cataloging of the special formats processed by the unit. These books are generally classed in 025.
  • Books related to the preservation of the type of materials found in Manuscripts and Special Collections. Books concerned with the preservation of library materials in general are not collected by the Manuscripts and Special Collections. These books are generally classed in 025.
  • Bibliographies and finding aids to manuscripts and archives collections of United States history in other repositories are collected to support the reference and research work of clientele and staff. Very selective acquisitions are made related to the bibliography of antiquarian and rare books in the field of Americana. These books are generally classed in 015-016.
  • Cartobibliography, the history of mapmaking and rare and antiquarian atlases of New York State are collected to support the Library's cartographic collections and reference and research work of clientele and staff. Books about computer mapping are not collected. Current world atlases are only acquired after the Core Reference staff has selected those needed for the 7th floor reference area. All atlases classed in 912 are shelved in "A" except for those atlases selected for the reference collection.
  • Books may not be designated "N" without the approval of either the Associate Librarian (Manuscripts and Special Collections) or the Principal Librarian (Public Services). Books designated for "A" must be designated thus by the Associate Librarian (Manuscripts and Special Collections).

Areas Needing Development

Some topics of New York State are under-documented both in the State Library and in other institutions as well. These are often topics which have become of greater interest to students and scholars of New York State history in the recent past. Staff time should be allocated to acquiring, preserving and making materials in the following topics more accessible. The staff should work cooperatively with other archival repositories in creating a substantial documentation of these topics for researchers.

Who: Populations such as women, African-Americans, modern Native Americans, ethnic groups other than English and Dutch, statewide organizations and associations.

What: Topics such as environmentalism, tourism, architecture, New York's participation in the wars of the 20th Century, folklore of New York State.

When: Late 19th and 20th century materials should be emphasized rather than earlier years.

Collecting Levels

Manuscripts (Research Level 4)

Collecting policy will follow the State Library Collection Development Policy levels. The State of New York is the chief geographic and subject area collected. The collecting level is Research because the Comprehensive level is impossible for any repository to collect in archival material. Collecting will add to strengths, will attempt to add to areas to strengthen less documented topics and will complement material found in other formats in the unit's resources.


Geographic emphasis for maps and atlases:

New York State Atlases and Maps: Research Level 4
Northeast United States: Support Level 3b
United States and North America: Basic Level 2b
World: Basic Level 2a

Depository Maps:

New York State depository maps from the Department of Transportation and other state agencies are collected according to State Library depository arrangements with various agencies.

Rare Books ("N") (Inclusive dates for all New York State rare books are 1600 to present)

All books in the Library's collections printed before 1699 and books
of exceptional rarity or monetary value: Support Level 3a

New York State history, culture, natural history: Research Level 4

New York State imprints: Support Level 3c

New York State-related pamphlets, trade catalogs, almanacs and printed ephemera: Research Level 4

New York State-related legal rare books: Research Level 4

New York State-related medical rare books: Support Level 3b

Visual Materials (Prints, Photographs, Broadsides, Posters)

New York State is geographic and subject topic: Research Level 4

Musical Scores and Ephemera:

New York State is geographic and subject topic: Research Level 4

Last Updated: September 28, 2021