Monday, May 9, 2016

New York State Library

New York State Library
Address: 222 Madison Ave, Albany, NY 12230; 7th Floor and 11th Floor
This will take you to a map and information on parking near the library. I have had good luck with the Cathedral parking lot whenever I have visited the library.

Monday - Saturday
9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.

A view from the library

Situated in the state’s capital, the New York State Library is simply put, the library for the entire state. It is situated in downtown Albany, a couple blocks from the state capital and at the southern end of the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. The building also contains the New York State Archives and the New York State Museum.

Monday through Saturday, the doors to the building open at 9:30 in the morning. Upon entering, you are in a large room with information and guard counters as well as kiosks with information about Albany including bus schedules. At first it can be confusing as archways lead off in all directions. If you have time, feel free to explore through these arches—they are parts the New York State Museum which is free admission. In the northeast corner is the museum gift shop, which among other items, sells many books about the history and culture of the state.

Shortly after opening Saturday morning
Walking towards the back, you will see a desk for the security guards of the building. On either side of their area are banks of elevators. Turn towards the right and you will see these are marked with the various public floors. The majority of the library is on the 7th floor. This is where you will find books of general interest, law books and the genealogy area. Genealogy covers almost half the floor. There are many microform readers, copiers and scanners available to you. A set of computers connects to the Internet. All of these must be reserved, but it is very easy to do at the information desk. Another computer gives you access to the card catalog if you haven’t looked at it through the website prior to arriving or need to check for one more item. An old-fashioned paper based card catalog contains surnames with published genealogies related to that name; locality cards and listings from the Daughters of American Revolution (DAR) books contain similar information. Open stacks contain countless genealogies and books regarding counties within New York, books on New Jersey, New England and probably other places as well. A complete set of the NYS DAR books are available as well as boxes of loose papers on various subjects. All of these are fully browsable and accessible.

Some microfilm and microfiche are available in cabinets. Most of these and some items from the catalog must be requested as they are stored on other floors. There are several “pulls” throughout the day, but request early so that you have plenty of time. I’ve requested microfilms to be pulled late in the afternoon for the following day. If you’re coming from out of town, you can also contact them ahead of time and they’ll have them ready and waiting for you upon arrival.
Looking towards the microfilm area

The 11th floor is the archives and items from the library that need special handling. I will write about that floor in a post soon.

Photocopies cost 25 cents each, or you can do digital copies either to a thumb drive (a staff member will scan your drive first to make sure there are no viruses), or you can email them to yourself. Digital copies are free as well as the ability to take pictures with your own digital device as long as no flash is used. Some books are marked “too fragile to photocopy”. There are now special overhead scanners that can be used on these as well as the ability to photograph.

Just a few of the NY counties...
There are so many different items available that it is hard to mention one special item that can be singled out for this library. One thing that comes to mind is that the Capital District Genealogy Society actually staffs the library on some days with volunteers from their society that can help you with your searches! These volunteers are not only experienced genealogists, but they are already familiar with the library and can help you negotiate to where you need to go to find that elusive item. Librarians and staff members are also available and very willing to help, but they are very low staffed and so are busy trying to accomplish many things at once, so often it is better if one of the volunteers is available to help out.

Another thing that is special is the ability to use microfilms of newspapers across the state. While I was there on Saturday, I used some rolls of the Watertown Times to find a couple articles on one of my families. However, if I wasn’t going to be there I could go to my local library anywhere in New York State and request that they Interlibrary Loan them for me from the NYS Library. It is a free service, and I’ve even had a film come to the Syracuse University Law Library (a private institution) a few years ago to look through. Outside of NYS there is a $20 fee for the loan.  

Many years ago, while working on a high school assignment, my father gave me a box of newspaper clippings and photos that his mother had saved over the years. Among those was a yellowed and tattered article from a newspaper telling of her mother’s death. This project started me on my genealogy search. Saturday morning while going through those microfilms, I found the exact issue of the paper that the article about my great-grandmother’s death had come out of and was able to get a digital copy to go along with the tattered one my grandmother had saved.

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