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Thomas J. Watson Library

The Libraries of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Library Blog: In Circulation

    In Circulation

    In Circulation features in-depth articles and the latest news about the Museum Libraries' wide range of research activities and comprehensive collection of books, periodicals, electronic resources, and ephemera related to the history of art.

Filed under: About Watson Library

Library History

The founders of The Metropolitan Museum of Art understood the essential role of the library to the institution’s mission. In 1870 the New York State legislature passed a bill that created “a body corporate by the name of ‘The Metropolitan Museum of Art,’ to be located in the City of New York, for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said city a Museum and library of art.” The library was formally established ten years after this charter was approved, and today the Museum and library share the distinction of being among the world’s greatest treasuries for the study of the arts of many cultures. In its scope, Thomas J. Watson Library, the Museum’s research library, reflects the encyclopedic permanent collection, with particularly strong holdings in European and American art, including architecture and the decorative arts, as well as substantial holdings in ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Asian, and Islamic art. In addition, several curatorial departments have specialized libraries of their own.

Along with many exhibition, collection, and auction sale catalogs, other books and periodicals, and extensive electronic resources relating to the history of art, Watson Library and the Museum’s several specialized libraries possess a number of rare and important titles that are notable for both their historical importance and their scholarly value. Fifty such highlights are presented online, from early printed books to landmark publications of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In addition to funding the library building that bears his name, Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM and a trustee of the Museum from 1951 until 1956, endowed a book purchase fund. Other important donations from the Watson family have included an endowed position (Arthur K. Watson Chief Librarian) and the funding of early automation projects by Helen Watson Buckner, the daughter of Thomas J. Watson.

The Lita Annenberg Hazen and Joseph H. Hazen Center for Electronic Resources, an integral part of Watson Library, was inaugurated in November 1997. The center was the first of its kind in any art museum in the United States or abroad. The Hazen Center provides training and support in the use of an extensive collection of electronic scholarly material, including numerous indexes, encyclopedias, dictionaries, full-text journals, databases, and Internet resources. The center’s staff also catalogs hundreds of art-related and general Internet resources for online research.

A post on the Now at the Met feature of the Metropolitan Museum’s web site celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the 1910 opening of a new library reading room.  The article includes some early photographs of the library and images of McKim, Mead & White designs for library furniture.  Read the article here: