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Presenting The New York Public Library: Drawings, Photographs and Prints

Thousands of photographs, lantern slides and postcards documenting New York Public Library buildings, collections, and programs, as well as those of NYPL predecessor institutions including the New York Free Circulating Library. Major subjects include the Astor and Lenox Library buildings, Branch Libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, and the construction of the Library's landmark Central Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

Collection Contents

Riverside: Girls sitting in a circle by a sunny window, plants nearby. Digital ID: 100863 Riverside: Girls sitting in a circle by a sunny window, plants nearby. Digital ID: 100863

Collection History

These digital selections reproduce smaller, specific portions of a much larger holding. One highlight is a series of images of children's activities at NYPL Branch Libraries made by the photographer Lewis Hine for the Child Welfare Exhibit of 1911. The Exhibit was sponsored by the Child Welfare Committee, an organization of civic leaders, social reformers, philanthropists and other concerned New Yorkers, and was intended to reveal the dire social conditions faced by the city's youth. It featured displays and presentations on child labor, tenement housing, health care, education and other issues affecting the lives of children. The Committee on Libraries and Museums, which included as members NYPL leaders Edwin H. Anderson and Anne Carroll Moore, sponsored a booth whose display focused on the positive impact of literacy and reading, and included pictures of children using NYPL branch libraries made by Hine during 1910.

At a conference connected to the Exhibit, NYPL Director John Shaw Billings spoke on the subject of children and libraries, followed by a lantern slide presentation of Hine images. Early in the 20th century, NYPL staff routinely used lantern slides to illustrate lectures, for the public and for other librarians, that presented information about the Library's activities, programs, and facilities. These images derive from various sources: the Library commissioned some, such as the Hine photographs, while others were the work of commercial cameramen or accomplished amateurs. The original lantern slides, quite fragile and seldom viewed or exhibited since their creation nearly a century ago, now reside in the NYPL Archives. Presented here in digital form, they make widely accessible a rarely seen body of work by a major American photographer, and they offer a glimpse into NYPL's pioneering work in the field of providing library services to children.

The New York Public Library Archives was established in the mid-1980s to collect, preserve and make accessible historical records that document The Library and its predecessor institutions. Archives holdings date chiefly from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and include early records of NYPL Branch Libraries and Research Libraries, as well those of the Astor Library, Lenox Library, Tilden Trust and New York Free Circulating Library. The Archives also houses an extensive collection of historical images of NYPL buildings, collections and programs. In 1992, this material along with a parallel holding in the Photography Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, received an inventory grant from the New York State Documentary Heritage Program, the results of which are available in the departments for consultation.

Background

Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, in innumerable darkened lecture halls and theaters, lantern slides provided both specialized information and mass entertainment through so-called "magic lantern" or "dissolving view" shows. Lantern slides are transparent images mounted on glass, usually about 3 inches square, and were produced in both black-and-white (such as the images in this digital presentation) and with color added. Like today's 35mm color slides, they required a special slide projector, with a lens and an illumination source, which transmitted the images to a flat surface (such as a plain wall or a screen) for viewing, while enabling the operator to enlarge and focus them. Lantern slides, which actually predate the invention of photography, were manufactured well into the 1950s. The earliest were produced by hand-painting on glass (in colors), for any transparent image (not only "photographic" images) can in fact be projected and focused onto a screen. In fields that required highly detailed visual information, such as art history and medical practice, lantern slides endured in popularity long after they had fallen out of favor with the general public.

Related Resources

Gutman, Judith Mara. "Lewis Hine's Library Photographs: A Critic's View." Biblion: The Bulletin of The New York Public Library 1, no.2 (Spring 1993):25-32.

Murray, Janet. "Beyond the Library as Icon: The Photographic Archives of The New York Public Library." Biblion: The Bulletin of The New York Public Library 4, no. 1 (Fall 1995):64-68.

Sink, Robert. "Children in the Library: Lewis Hine's Photographs for the Child Welfare Exhibit of 1911." Biblion: The Bulletin of The New York Public Library 1, no.2 (Spring 1993):12-24.

Library Division(s)

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the vast collections of The New York Public Library, including drawings, illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.