The Othmer Library

Please note: The Othmer Library will be closed to the public Thursday, April 17th, Friday, April 18th, and Saturday, April 19th for a private location shoot. We will resume operating hours of 1pm to 5pm on Wednesday, April 23rd. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.

Othmer Library

Founded in 1863 as the Long Island Historical Society, the Brooklyn Historical Society's (BHS) mission was to discover, procure, and preserve whatever may relate to general history, especially the natural, civil, literary, and ecclesiastical history of the United States, the State of New York, and more particularly of the counties, towns, and villages of Long Island.

Through time the institution narrowed the focus of the scope of the collections and began to seek out materials specifically relating to Brooklyn and Long Island. Today, the Othmer Library is a nationally recognized research library comprised of special collections, archives and manuscripts, image and oral history collections. The library possesses a remarkable and unique collection of Brooklyn and Long Island materials that provides important insights into our nation's history and heritage.

The Othmer Library serves the mission of the Brooklyn Historical Society by supporting research into the history of Brooklyn and Long Island and by collecting, preserving, and promoting access to our library and archival materials. The Library’s collections foster and enrich BHS' exhibits, education activities, and programming.

The Collections

Archive and Manuscript Collections
Library Collections
Museum Collections
Oral History Collections
Photography Collection

Archive & Manuscript Collections

The Archive and Manuscript Collections at the Brooklyn Historical Society documents the history of Brooklyn and Long Island from European settlement in the 1600s through to the present day. These materials include personal and family papers; municipal records from the towns and villages that eventually consolidated to become modern Brooklyn; administrative records of businesses, churches, schools, and community organizations; as well as ephemera, architectural drawings, and genealogists’ papers.

Strengths of the archives and manuscripts include family paper collections recording Dutch and English settlement on Long Island; documentation and records of commercial, residential, community and civic development of the emerging metropolis throughout the 19th century; extensive Civil War era holdings documenting Brooklyn residents involvement in the war as soldiers and in relief efforts on the home front; and 20th century materials documenting real estate, land use, urban planning efforts, cycles of neighborhood decline and gentrification, and neighborhood preservation and revitalization activities. We also hold an extensive collection of ephemera and other materials related to Brooklyn icons such as Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Access

Materials in the Archive and Manuscript Collections do not circulate and must be used in the reading room. The Archives are open to everyone, but do require an appointment for use. To search a portion of our Archive & Manuscript Collections you can start with our online catablog, Emma. To request an appointment or ask a question, please fill out our online form.  

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Library Collections

Historically the library collected materials donated by its members. The collection largely consisted of genealogies, biographies, church sermons, histories of New England, and war histories.  Today, the library collections focus on the history of Brooklyn, its diverse neighborhoods, and many ethnic groups, and to a lesser extent Long Island, New York City, and its environs. Materials range from primary source materials such as directories, municipal reports and maps to secondary resources such as dissertations and published books.


Materials in the Library Collections do not circulate and must be used in the reading room. An appointment for use is not required. To search our diverse holdings you can start with our online catalog BobCat.  If you have any questions or can not find what you are looking for, please fill out our online form.

Access

Materials in the Library Collection do not circulate and must be used in the reading room. An appointment for use is not required. To search our diverse holdings you can start with our online catalog BobCat.  If you have any questions or can not find what you are looking for, please fill out our online form.

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Museum Collections

Fine Art Collection

The Fine Art Collection contains approximately 400 paintings and several thousand prints, drawings and other works on paper ranging from the 17th through 20th centuries. Many of the oil paintings are hung on walls throughout the building in thematic groupings such as “Portraits of Prominent New Yorkers” on our third floor and “Historical Views of and from Brooklyn” in our first floor tile lobby. Notable works in the collection include paintings by Francis Guy, John Wesley Jarvis, John Mackie Falconer, the Bard Brothers, and 17th century drawings by Dutch traveler Jaspar Danckaerts, etchings by Joseph Pennell, and architectural studies by Francis Hopkinson Smith.

Access

The Fine Art Collection is open to everyone, but does require an appointment for use. To request an appointment or ask a question, please fill out our online form.  

The BHS Fine Arts Initiative has been made possible by a very generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Artifact Collection

The Brooklyn Historical Society holds hundreds of artifacts relating the history of Brooklyn. Unfortunately, this collection is not available at this time.

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Oral History Collections

Begun in 1973, the Oral History Collections contain interviews with over 300 narrators and continues to grow. The Collection consists of both legacy projects conducted from 1973 - 1998, and new projects undertaken by the BHS Oral History Program instituted in 2006. The majority of interviews in the Collection were conducted as part of projects centered on a specific theme, such as the Neighborhood of Crown Heights, Puerto Rican Communities, Brooklyn Navy Yard Workers, or the Williamsburg Giglio Festival. There are also a significant number of individual interviews with Brooklynites that are not associated with a larger project.

Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations, an oral history project and public programming series which builds upon BHS's oral history collections, examines the history and experiences of mixed-heritage people and families, cultural hybridity, race, ethnicity, and identity in the historically diverse borough of Brooklyn. 

Whenever possible, BHS gives researchers access to the audio/video of the interviews in addition to the transcripts because voice contains a wealth of information that cannot be translated into text. Transcripts and recordings of interviews can be accessed in the Othmer Library. For more information about identifying oral histories relevant to your research, please see our search the collections page.

Highlights from the Oral History Collections are available on the BHS blog.

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Photography Collection

The Photography Collection documents the built environment of Brooklyn and Long Island from the 1870s to the present and contains an indexed portrait collection; family portraits and candid photographs; and documents notable events and activities.

Amateur photographers feature prominently in the Photography Collections. Their depictions of people and places in the borough create one of the Collections’ main strengths. These works include the artistic interpretations of Flatbush by Lucille Fornasieri-Gold; the gritty observations of Coney Island by Anders Goldfarb; the building of the Brooklyn Bridge from the East River by John Jay Pierrepont; Jewish weddings and Bar Mitzvahs by Harry Kalmus; the Blackout of 1977 in Bushwick; the construction of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank; and the unique and sundry Faces of Brooklyn by Nora Herting.

Access

The Photography Collections are open to everyone without an appointment during our research hours. Our image database is available for searching the collection with the assistance of knowledgeable Collection staff. To search a portion of the Collection online, please visit our online gallery. For additional questions, please fill out our online form.

Photographs for Reproduction

Our image usage policy is available here.

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