Mormon History in the New York Public Library

Today I made the surprising discovery that the NYPL hosts a large collection of documents pertaining to Mormon history.  The collection, begun by a donation in 1899, features not only some of Joseph Smith’s correspondences, but also such treasures as diaries by Brigham Young, an original Book of Mormon and Book of Commandments, and tons of Mormon periodicals, newspapers, and government documents.  Anyone can apply for a free research card and gain access.  For people in NYC, it is worth a look:


  1. Christopher says:

    The page you link to indicates that the NYPL has “one of the diaries of Brigham Young, Jr.” (Brigham Young’s son and Apostle). However, your post says that they have “diaries by Brigham Young.”

    Do they actually have diaries of President Brigham Young in their archives?

  2. I may need to hire someone to look at some 1842 copies of the New York Herald for me. Any interest in NYC (assuming they have it at NYPL)?

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I think Jon Lundquist used to be a librarian there, if he isn’t still. (He’s the guy who wrote the typology of ancient temples and also the essay “Was Abraham at Ebla?”–I think he got his doctorate at Michigan.)

    I’ve been aware that the NYPL has a substantial collection, but I’ve never actually been there. I would be interested in any commentary from patrons who have actually used the collection.

  4. SC Taysom says:

    I have used their Shaker collections which are also very nice, FWIW

  5. You might try a librarian at a university that has it on microfiche. I believe that there is a NY Newspaper project, so you can see where stuff is:

    Often times a kind librarian will photocopy it and send it to you for free, if it is something specific. You also might be able to get the microfilm on interlibrary loan.

  6. Do you know what branch these are at? I am assuming it is the one on 5th and 42nd.

  7. California Condor says:

    Are you allowed to touch the original Book of Mormon?

  8. My wife, doing her Masters at NYU, needed to do some original research on a dance school from the 30s. We went to the reading room at the performance library (at the Lincoln Center), and she was actually handling original programs from performances by the school (the Denishawn School, if anyone’s interested), and even got to watch a reel-to-reel film from the school. It was cool handling old documents, especially knowing that they weren’t handled on a regular basis.

    (Which is to say, it’s very possible that a patron could touch the original Book of Mormon. At the reading room of the performance library, IIRC, you had to check your bag, and were permitted only a pencil (I think) and maybe a laptop.)

  9. I would note that the Berrian collection was donated to the library by philanthropist and anti-polygamy crusader Helen M. Gould, daughter of the wealthy financier Jay Gould. She presented the collection with the following letter:

    “Dr. John S. Billings, Director New York Public Library, 40 Lafayette Place, New York City:

    Dear Sir: It gives me pleasure to add the Berrian collection of books and pamphlets on Mormonism to the New York Public Library, for I believe it will be very useful to students to have access to a collection that gives a clear idea of this peculiar form of error. The Mormon Elders are proselytizing in many sections of our country, and our people generally should become better informed on the subject of Mormonism in order to be on their guard against these ‘Latter Day Saints,’ as they style themselves.

    Hoping that these books will prove useful, believe me very truly,

    Helen Miller Gould
    Dec. 21, 1899”

    Gould was an active opponent of the seating of B.H. Roberts as a member of Congress, funding the distribution of many anti-Mormon pamphlets and leaflets purporting to teach the truth about Mormonism.

  10. I used to work in the NYPL gift shop at the main branch

    lunch/free time was fun, all sorts of cool stuff, like dept of agriculture films made during the Benson era …

  11. I am going to look at the archives later on this week. At that point, I can give you a better sense of what is there.

  12. I used the NYPL archives while I was researching my book. My impression was that their greatest concentration was 19th century anti-Mormon literature (which may be explained by comment #9). They have a fairly extensive but rather eclectic collection of 20th century Mormon literature and books as well but I think that is primarily a function of them simply having extensive collections of everything (the NYPL is one of the five largest librairies in the world). I did not get the impression that they were making any particular effort to keep up or expand the Mormon collection. They have some significant gaps. For example, they have the entire Improvement Era on microfilm, but never subscribed to the Ensign.

    As for original documents, they may have a first edition BoM and a few other items, but the large majority of anything first edition is the anti-Mormon literature mentioned above. That said, I did find a first edition of Talmage’s Articles of Faith in excellent condition, which differed significantly from the current edition, at least as regards my area of research (the United Order).

    In sum, my impression was that they have a lot of interesting stuff, but the collection probably isn’t as significant as they think it is, unless you are researching 19th century anti-Mormon literature. Otherwise, several librairies in Utah and California that have tried to keep up their Mormon collections are probably more complete and interesting. On the other hand, simply by being the largest library in the US (other than the Library of Congress) they may have the most Mormon related literature of any library east of Utah.

    Re: #3 — Jon is head of the NYPL’s Oriental department, an imprtant post but not one that involves him with the Mormon collection.