History and Timeline of the New York State Library

1818 - Governor DeWitt Clinton signs the law that creates the New York State Library. Located in the State Capitol, the NYS Library serves mainly as a law and reference library for the use of legislators, judges, and state employees.

1844 - The Regents of the University of the State of New York become the Trustees of the New York State Library. One year later the Regents determine "that the New York State Library is an institution highly honorable to the State, and capable of being rendered eminently useful."

1850 - The Library acquires the papers of Sir William Johnson. The Johnson Papers provide a fascinating glimpse into pre-Revolutionary interaction among the British, French and Iroquois empires in the Mohawk Valley.

1854 - The Library moves into its own building on State Street.

1858 - The State Library becomes a repository for Federal documents, the precursor to becoming a Regional Federal Repository in the early 20th century.

1865 - The New York State Legislature purchases the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation from famed abolitionist Gerrit Smith shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train passes through Albany.

1871 - The State Legislature purchases a collection of items once belonging to President George Washington and presents it to the Library for preservation. Items include the first draft of Washington’s Farewell Address and a dress sword and pistol.

1871 - The Library becomes a Federal Patent Depository.

1883 - The Library moves into the new State Capitol in Albany.

1888 - Melvil Dewey leaves his post at Columbia University and becomes the tenth librarian of the New York State Library.

1889 - The library school Dewey established at Columbia University is transferred to Albany and becomes the New York State Library School.

1891 - The State Library establishes specialized libraries in medicine, education and legislative reference.

1892 - The New York State Legislature appropriates funds for traveling libraries.

1896 - The New York State Legislature appropriates money to create New York State Library for the Blind, which provides embossed books to blind adults, the beginning of over 120 years of library service to blind and physically challenged New Yorkers.

1900 - Edward C. Williams (1871-1929) graduates from the New York State Library School and becomes the first African-American male to receive a formal education in library science.

1904 - The State Library becomes part of the State Education Department.

1911 - A fire in the State Capitol destroys significant parts of the State Library and its collections.

1913 - The Library reopens in the New York State Education Building.

1913 - The State Library creates an interlibrary loan program
with military training camp libraries
. The practice was
credited to the State Library and replicated nationwide.

1931 - The Regents establish the first minimum standards for public libraries.

1931 - The Library for the Blind becomes one of the original Regional Libraries in the Library of Congress' national program. "Talking" books on long-playing record are introduced. 

1948 - The first regional library system is created in New York.

1949 - The State Library launches the New York State Freedom Train, which tours the State from 1949 into 1950, displaying many of the treasures of the New York State Library.

1950 - Governor Dewey’s Library Committee sets the ground work for the creation of the Division of Library Development that serves regional library systems across the state.

1966 - The New York State interlibrary loan network is established.

1974 - The Library begins the New Netherland Project to transcribe and translate documents from New York's Dutch colonial era.

1974 - The Library for the Blind is renamed the Library for the Blind and Visually Handicapped.

1978 - The Library moves to the new Cultural Education Center in the Empire State Plaza.

1978 - NYSL converts to an automated catalog.

1987 - The Library begins preservation microfilming of New York State newspapers as part of the United States Newspaper Program.

1992 - The NYS Summer Reading Program (now Summer Reading at New York Libraries) begins.

1994 - NYSL launches its first web site.

1995 - The Library for the Blind and Visually Handicapped is renamed the Talking Book and Braille Library.

1999 - The New York State Library creates an electronic knowledge portal, EmpireLink, that is replaced in 2001 by the New York Virtual Online Electronic Library, or NOVELNY, to deliver high-quality, reliable digital information to all New Yorkers.

2010 - The Library resumes Saturday service hours for the benefit of its patrons.

2018 - The New York State Library celebrates "200 years of Knowledge, Heritage and History."

Last Updated: April 20, 2018