About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Founded in 1925 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2017, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one of the world’s leading cultural institutions devoted to the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences. As a research division of The New York Public Library, the Schomburg Center features diverse programming and collections spanning over 11 million items that illuminate the richness of global black history, arts, and culture.
Established with the collections of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg over 95 years ago, the Schomburg has collected, preserved, and provided access to materials documenting black life in America and worldwide. It has also promoted the study and interpretation of the history and culture of people of African descent. In 2015, the Schomburg won the National Medal for Museum and Library Service and in January 2017, the Schomburg Center was named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, recognizing its vast collection of materials that represent the history and culture of people of African descent through a global, transnational perspective. Today, the Schomburg continues to serve the community not just as a center and a library, but also as a space that encourages lifelong education and exploration.
The Schomburg Center is committed to providing accessible programs and services for patrons with disabilities. All facilities and entrances are wheelchair accessible. American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation is available for most events with at least two weeks advance notice.
The Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints—the forerunner to today’s Schomburg Center—opened in 1925 as a special collection of the 135th Street Branch Library to meet the needs of a changing community. The Division first won international acclaim in 1926, when the personal collection of the distinguished Puerto Rican-born Black scholar and bibliophile, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, was added.
Schomburg's collection included more than 5,000 books; 3,000 manuscripts; 2,000 etchings and paintings; and several thousand pamphlets. Schomburg served as curator of the Division from 1932 until his death in 1938.
In 1940, the Division was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, History and Prints in honor of its founder. In 1972, the Schomburg Collection was designated as one of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library and became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
The expansion of the Schomburg Center in 1991 created spaces for exhibition galleries; the renovated American Negro Theatre; and the 340-seat Langston Hughes Auditorium, in which concerts, forums, lectures, performances, and other special events have taken place. Today, the Schomburg Center contains over 11 million items and provides services and programs for constituents from the United States and abroad.
The Schomburg Center Today
A focal point of Harlem's cultural life, the Schomburg Center functions as the leading national research library in the field of African American and African Diasporic studies, providing free access to its wide-ranging noncirculating collections. The Center also sponsors programs and events that illuminate and illustrate the richness of Black history and culture worldwide.
Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division
The Research and Reference Division contains more than 300,000 volumes and 25,000 microforms. Primarily in English, they also include works in a variety of African and European languages. Although weighted heavily toward the humanities and social sciences, the division's collections also comprise resources covering medicine and the natural sciences. In addition, it offers more than 6,000 serials, including 400 black newspapers and 1,000 current periodicals from around the world. The Ernest D. Kaiser Index to Black Resources is one of the Schomburg Center's most unique finding aids, providing more than 179,000 citations to articles in thousands of issues of black magazines and newspapers.
Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division
The Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division enables researchers to work directly with unique, original source materials. The collection has grown through the years, beginning with the rare treasures from Arturo Alfonso Schomburg's personal holdings. Today, it contains more than 3,900 rare books, 580 manuscript collections, and 15,000 pieces of sheet music and rare printed materials. These include the original manuscript of Richard Wright's Native Son; the papers of Dr. Robert Weaver, the first black United States cabinet oficer; Gustavus Vassa's autobiography, which provides evidence for Granville Sharp's attack on slavery in the British colonies in 1796; and records of the Civil Rights Congress.
Art and Artifacts Division
The Art and Artifacts Division houses one of the most comprehensive collections of black artists' work in a research center. It includes paintings, sculptures, works on paper and textiles, and material culture. It contains more than 20,000 items from Africa and the African Diaspora. The collection is particularly strong in art produced during the Harlem Renaissance and WPA periods. This includes murals by Aaron Douglas, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Black American artists are represented by 19th-century figures such as Edward Mitchell Bannister and Henry Ossawa Tanner, and 20th-century figures such as Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden.
Photographs and Prints Division
The Photographs and Prints Division includes collections of images from mid-18th-century graphics to contemporary documentary and art photographs. The more than 500,000 items include portraits of many prominent 19th- and 20th-century black artists, political figures, actors, musicians, athletes, and social activists. The collection also documents black life throughout the world including scenes from Africa and the slave era through the 20th-century Americas. Among the photographers represented are James VanDerZee, Gordon Parks, Edward Steichen, Coreen Simpson, Bert Andrews, and Chester Higgins.
Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division
The Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division offers a broad range of audiovisual documentation of black culture including music, oral history recordings, motion pictures, and videotapes. Its resources include early radio broadcasts and recordings of statements by celebrated personalities such as Marcus Garvey, Booker T. Washington, and George Washington Carver. Musical documentation ranges from African chants to American jazz. These assets are complemented today by a special Oral History/Video Documentation Project which videotapes interviews with historically or culturally significant figures. It offers over 5,000 hours of oral history recordings and more than 5,000 motion pictures and videotapes of early black Þlm classics, documentaries, and radio programs from many parts of the world.
Education and Public Programs
Education and Public Programs at the Schomburg Center complement its research services and interpret its collections. Seminars, forums, workshops, staged readings, film screenings, performing arts programs, and special events are presented on a year-round basis in its renowned Langston Hughes Auditorium.
Each year, the Schomburg Center presents a number of exhibitions featuring art objects, photographs, documents, published works, and artifacts drawn from its own holdings, as well as resources from other institutions. These exhibitions explore issues and themes in the history and culture of people of African descent throughout the world. The programs and exhibitions are open to everyone, from schoolchildren to senior citizens, and most are available for free, increasing the library's role as a community center. The Schomburg Center's Traveling Exhibitions program makes exhibits on themes such as the black press, the anti-apartheid movement, black photographers, black theatre, and voluntary black migration available to institutions nationally and internationally. The Schomburg Center offers Summer Institutes for teachers, year-round teachers' forums, and workshops on black history and culture. It also produces and disseminates curriculum guides, exhibition portfolios, and audiovisual materials on related themes.
A Scholars-in-Residence Program, established in 1986, provides long-term fellowship support for research projects which draw heavily on the Center's collections and resources.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is part of The New York Public Library, which consists of four major research libraries and 88 branch libraries located in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Considered one of the world's greatest libraries, The New York Public Library is the only facility of its kind, with both world-class research and circulating collections that are free and open to the general public. As it enters its second century of service, The New York Public Library continues to grow and adapt to meet the needs of its millions of users worldwide.
The Center provides access to and professional reference assistance in the use of its collections to the scholarly community and the general public through five research divisions, each managing materials in specific formats but with broad subject focus. The Center's collections include art objects, audio and video tapes, books, manuscripts, motion picture films, newspapers, periodicals, photographs, prints, recorded music discs, and sheet music.
The Schomburg Center facilitates access to these holdings through mail and telephone reference services, participation in national computerized databases, and publication of bibliographies and other finding aids. Library materials at the Schomburg Center are housed in five collection divisions, according to format:
- Art and Artifacts Division
- Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division
- Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division
- Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division
- Photographs and Prints Division