Records of the Library
Scope and Contents
The Records of the Library is a collection of almost entirely paper materials that document the administrative history of the Pratt Institute Libraries and the earlier Pratt Institute Free Library. While much of the records were created internally by staff, there are some that derive from outside agencies, like architects and consulting firms, as well as cooperatives like the Academic Libraries of Brooklyn. The records reflect the various functions of the library, such as the facilities, report submissions, circulation, financial, public services, and archives.
- 1886 - 2019
- Majority of material found within 1896 - 2005
- Pratt Institute. Free Library (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open to the public.
Conditions Governing Use
For permission to publish, contact the Archivist, Pratt Institute Library.
Biographical / Historical
For 100 Years, Pratt's Library Calls a Brooklyn Landmark Home, by F. William Chickering, former Dean of Libraries (1996)
Revolution and Innovation: Charles Pratt's new Institute opened in the Fall of 1887 with a drawing class of twelve students, among them women and people of color, a revolutionary practice at the time. This revolutionary spirit in founding the Institute assumed other forms. At a time when many libraries were private and for those of means only, Charles Pratt created one within his Institute to serve not only students of the Institute, but the general public as well, regardless of sex, racial, or ethnic heritage, or social and economic condition. On opening day, January 4th, 1888, the reading room had 150 periodicals, a collection of encyclopedias, and other general reference materials. In February, the Circulating Department opened with 10,000 volumes on the shelves and 200 in the hands of the catalogers. By July, 284 persons had registered as members of the Library, which was free to all citizens of Brooklyn over fourteen years of age.
A New Home for the Library Department: The Library Department was so popular that it expanded rapidly. Originally located on the first floor of the Main Building, branches were opened: one in the Astral Apartments in Greenpoint (another Pratt philanthropic experiment) and another, the Long Island Branch, on Atlantic Avenue. By 1896, the collection grew to 61,000 volumes, in round numbers, and over 300,000 volumes circulated a year. With such heavy use, larger quarters were essential.
"After the dimensions, shape and number of floors had been determined by the trustees, the librarian devised the interior plans on the lines laid down; the architect in charge being Mr. William Tubby, of Brooklyn.... The spacious entrance hall and corridors are paved in stone mosaic of pleasing design, the columns and pilasters are of Sienna marble, with yellow shafts and red pedestals.... The entire decoration of the building is by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, and the tints of the walls and ceilings in soft yellows, creams, buffs, terra-cottas, and yellow greens, are a perpetual delight to the eye." The cost of the new building and its equipment, excluding the cost of books, was $190,000.
From early on, technology was an important part of library operations. Mention is made of the system of speaking tubes and house telephones throughout the building. Also of note were the electric booklift and the glass stack flooring designed to admit light and to provide spacing for ventilation. The decorative skylight over the stairway is also noted for shedding both natural and electric light on the stairs.
Over the years many changes took place. With the development of the Brooklyn Public Library, the Long Island Branch was closed on June 1, 1898, and the Astral Branch was transferred to the Brooklyn Public Library on September 15th, 1901. In 1903, the previous system of paging books from closed stacks was abandoned in favor of open stacks. This reduced the need for pages, and facilitated the location of materials by browsing. In terms of architecture, the Children's Porch was added in 1912, providing a special entrance into the Children's Room that allowed young readers direct access from Library Park. This amenity opened at Friday Evening Story Hour on November 8th, 1912.
The chiming tall-case clock remembered so fondly by many alumni was acquired by the Library in 1919. The North Porch, now an office, was designed by John Mead Howells, also the architect of Memorial Hall, in 1935 and was added in 1936.
Other Programs in the Building: When the elegant new building opened, it served not only as a home for the Pratt Institute Free Library, as the Library Department had become, but it housed as well a museum, and the School of Library Economy, the first incarnation of Pratt's current School of Information and Library Science. Volume IV, number 10 of The Pratt Institute Monthly contains the following description of the facility for the Library School.
"The large west room on the stack side is devoted to the Library School. Its roomy knee-hole desks and solid chairs are such as students rarely find at their disposal. A movable partition will allow two exercises to be carried out at the same time...."
Upon the inauguration of the new building, there was also space on the third floor devoted to a museum and gallery. The south facing center room on the third floor hosted a variety of shows of science, arts, and crafts. Early photographs depict exhibitions of art glass, fine paintings of landscapes, and even an extensive exhibition of butterfly specimens. Eventually, the museum function was amalgamated with the program at the Brooklyn Museum, and the exhibition function was transferred to other campus locations.
With the closing of the museum, the delegating of public library functions to Brooklyn Public Library in the 1940s, and the move of the Library School to larger quarters in 1973, the edifice was ripe for its 1981-82 renovation, making the whole structure available for library purposes.
Reclaiming a Neglected Treasure: After a period of heavy use and uncontrolled expansion of collections, the 1980s brought a refinement of the collection, a rationalization of the use of space, and a major renovation of the facility. The first alteration was the relocation of the Children's Porch. A new subterranean wing, modern climate control, a sensitive refurbishing of the interior, and new furnishings were all part of the project. In 1986, a highly sophisticated on-line automated catalog and circulation system was installed.
In 1989, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission recognized what Pratt students, alumni, and faculty had known for decades. The fine rose brick and Belleville brownstone building which had delighted members of the Pratt community and visitors alike, since 1896, was officially designated a New York City Landmark.
In the fall of 1994, a second-generation on-line automated system was installed, improving the power of the catalog and building the infrastructure for links with other networks. Currently, a new telecommunications system at Pratt enables the Library to surpass the uses of those few early house telephones and speaking tubes. Electronic handshakes with Pratt's Internet node facilitates our exploration of resources world-wide. Special access codes will allow students, faculty, alumni, and administrators to access the catalog and other information resources housed in the Library from any remote site linked to the Internet.
Today, the Sienna marble remains, and once again the pleasing soft tints of the walls glow. A large supply of general reading material serving a broadly defined public has given way to an astoundingly fine collection of materials of visual and intellectual interest to a student body hungry for such resources. Not only are books and periodicals chosen with care, but newer moving image and electronic resources are added weekly to enlarge the offerings available to support and enrich the Institute's curriculum.
Though many challenges have been met in preserving and revitalizing the building and the services it houses, still more challenges face the operations of the Pratt Library as it enters its second hundred years in its landmark home. As the scope of available information mounts, the complexities of matching information and information seekers grow as well. A tradition of one hundred years of service in the exquisite library building provides a strong foundation for continued success.
[Since Chickering’s writing, there have been several changes at the Library. The most significant transformation is that electronic holdings and digital collections have become the core services of the library. Chickering mentions the burgeoning Internet, yet computers and the web have become integral features of daily lives and, thus, the library. Departments have grown, disappeared, and changed names accordingly as well. Moreover, the Pratt Manhattan Center library moved from the Puck Building to 144 West 14th Street in 2002.]
17.3 Linear Feet (49 boxes, 1 oversize box, 10 oversize folders)
Language of Materials
The Records of Library trace the history of the administration of the Pratt Institute Libraries and the earlier Pratt Institute Free Library from its beginning in 1888 to the present through internal reports, statistics, publications, correspondence, photographs, and other forms of documentation created by staff.
The Records of the Library were collected from three main sources: library school archive, vertical files, and unused filing cabinets. The library school archive consisted of two bankers boxes of records that were maintained by the library school up until the 1930s. While most of these records dealt with the library school, significant amounts had no relation to the school and instead were records of the library. Library school records were separated into the Records of the School of Information and Library Science (PI-001) and the rest were integrated into this collection. The library records from the vertical files were previously processed in the early 2000s, but had been incorporated into the vertical subject filing cabinets previously. The organization for these vertical file records was not functional and the finding aid was incomplete. Thus, some subseries were derived from these processed records, but the organization was otherwise abandoned. The unused filing cabinets were stored in the staff lounge and included many inactive financial and personnel records that should have been destroyed years ago according to records schedules that protect the privacy of individuals mentioned. After carefully assessing these documents, it was decided which should be brought to the archive and integrated into the collection.
The organization of the Records of the Library reflects the various functions of the libraries. The records are arranged in fifteen series, ten of which have been further arranged in subseries, and some further into sub-subseries. The series and subseries arrangement of the records is as follows:
Series 1: Reports, 1896-1999
1.1: Annual Reports, 1897-1994
1.2: Departmental Annual Reports, 1940-1999
1.3: Organizational Reports, 1898-1954
1.4: Miscellaneous Reports, 1896-1996
Series 2: Policies and Procedures, 1891-2001
2.1: General, 1891-2001
2.2: Schemes of Library Service, circa 1930s, 1932-1934
Series 3: Financial, 1982-2006
3.1: Budgets, 1991-2006
3.2: Grants, 1982-2006
Series 4: Personnel, 1910-2010
4.1: Position Descriptions and Policies, 1911, 1996-2004
4.2: Graduate Assistants and Student Employees, 1993-2010
4.3: Union Relations, 1978-2005
4.4: Staff Lists, 1910-2005
Series 5: Facilities, 1910-2005
5.1: General Operations, 1938-2005
5.2: Special Rooms and Features, 1910-2005
5.3: Renovations, 1971-2003
5.3.1: 1973 Renovation, 1971-1973
5.3.2: 1977-1983 Renovation, 1976-1986
5.3.3: 1997-2002 Renovation, 1996-2003
5.4: Floorplans, circa 1961-1997
Series 6: Correspondence and Memoranda, 1888-1994
6.1: General Correspondence, 1888-1989
6.2: Trustees, 1914-1943
6.3: Subject Correspondence, 1928-1994
Series 7: Publications, 1893-circa 2005
7.1: By Pratt Library, 1893-circa 2005
7.1.1: General Information, 1912-circa 2005
7.1.2: Bulletins, 1893-1910
7.1.3: Books for Christmas for Children, 1905-1914
7.1.4: Technical Books, 1908-1935
7.1.5: Booklists, 1911-1943
7.1.6: Handbooks and Guides, circa 1948-2001
7.1.7: Miscellaneous, 1901-1971
7.2: About Pratt Library, 1896-1995
7.2.1: History and Chronologies, 1896-1995
7.2.2: Articles and Newspaper Clippings, 1897-1989
7.2.3: Press Releases, 1961-1975
Series 8: Public Services, 1886-2006
8.1: Circulation, 1996-2006
8.1.1: General, 1996-2006
8.1.2: Horizon, 2001-2005
8.1.3: Inter-Library Loan, 2002-2005
8.1.4: Student Relations, 2003-2006
8.2: Statistics, 1888-2003
8.3: Collection Development, 1886-2006
8.4: Teaching and Instruction, 1989-2006
8.5: Electronic Resources, 2002-2005
8.6: Friends of the Library, 1979-2000
8.7: Surveys, 1995-2001
8.8: Miscellaneous, 1987-2016
Series 9: Archives, 1962-2015
Series 10: Pratt Manhattan Center, 1996-2004
Series 11: Multi-Media Center, 1980-1996
Series 12: Academic Libraries of Brooklyn, 1961-1992
12.1: Constitution, By-Laws, and Guides, 1961-1978, undated
12.2: Institution and Members Information, 1967-1992
12.3: Meeting Agendas and Minutes, 1962-1992
12.4: Correspondence, 1965-1991
12.5: Holdings, undated
12.6: Publicity, 1967-1977
12.7: Open Access, 1974-1978
12.8: The Black Experience, 1971-1973
12.9: Proposals and Reports, 1963-1975
Series 13: Events, 1896-2001
Series 14: Scrapbooks and Photographs, 1888-1939, 1896-2000s
Series 15: Ephemera, 1892-2019, undated
15.1: Posters, 2013-2019, undated
Harmful Language Statement
If you encounter any pejorative language (i.e. racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic) or content in the finding aids or within the content of the collection, please send an email to email@example.com with the relevant details. For more information about how the Pratt Institute Libraries are addressing offensive language and content across its catalogs and databases, please see the Libraries' Harmful Language Statement: https://library.pratt.edu/statement/2022/05/27/harmful-language.html.
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- Guide to the Records of the Library
- Ian Post
- October/December 2015
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Part of the Pratt Institute Archives Repository
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