NYG&B Gives Their Library Away as was Suspected

Well it’s official. Even though there was no mention in the email received from the NYG&B yesterday, it looked like business as usual, the collection is gone.

The email I received yesterday from the G&B said: “Latest News from the NYG&B Society – July, 2008″ (not one whisper of this big book give away was mentioned.)

Here is a partial quote from the news announcement today in the New York Times, from the New York Public Library (NYPL.)

The (NYPL) library’s extensive genealogical collection has just been enormously enhanced by the gift of 75,000 volumes, 30,000 manuscripts and 22,000 reels of microfilm from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Faced with a dwindling endowment, the members-only G & B, as it is known, sold its four-story building on East 58th Street in Midtown Manhattan last year for $24 million. It bought an office condominium in Midtown where it will now focus on grant-giving, tours, lectures and other means of encouraging genealogical research. One of the first grants was about $1 million to the library for a four-person staff to process and catalog the G & B collection within two years.

Sam Roberts at the New York Times reports the above tale of woe in today’s newspaper at:

Looks like the present total membership of the G&B of 15 members, made an unrecoverable decision. If you are a former member and donated your time, money, effort, books and manuscripts to the G&B because you thought that they would be there forever, guess what? When you voted your rights away and became former members it was all over.

The statements that we were told about moving the society to new quarters to be able to keep the collection available to all former members, well would you consider those as untruths? . You will never be able to roam through the open stacks of your old friends. At the NYPL you must fill out a call slip of the book you want and wait for a runner to bring it to you. You will never again have the pleasure of finding the rarity treasure sitting on the shelf right near the item you were interested in.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times in my career I have located a book I would never have known existed, that was sitting right near one that I was pulling off the shelf.

Apparently much of the former dedicated staff at the G&B will now be fired. We were told that they would all have jobs in the new headquarters. I doubt it.

Upstate New York Genealogy blog reported in previous postings about this event.

July 16th, 2007 we urged all current members to attend the NYG&B election meeting. (There used to be a great many members, now there are only 15,)

It is not too late to vote for NYG&B Society By-Laws permanent change.


July 20th we reported on the shameful election at the NYG&B.

Report on the bylaws changes voting at the NYG&B – “We’ll count them if we have to count them.


July 22nd my frustration level was slightly elevated when I suggested a possible name change for the NYG&B.

NYG&BS name change?


In September we told you that the G&B book collection would be leaving.

The NYG&B Society will be saying goodbye to the book collection


Many of those previous postings garnered a great many comments from you readers and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for commenting and sharing your opinions. I mean that sincerely, whether you agreed or disagreed with me.

So for me and many others that I know it is “So Long G&B, I loved you so…”

I will not be participating in the new structured “Walk about” society. I doubt many others will either.

The 15 member board no longer have to worry about those heavy books.

Oh and by the way, in one of my previous reports when I mentioned the lovely collection of historical paintings and founders portraits that the NYG&B owned, well the 15 members are going to be giving those away also. Good bye old friends

Dick Hillenbrand
Upstate New York Genealogy

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Tell us what you think about these events. Leave your comments below.

43 Responses to “NYG&B Gives Their Library Away as was Suspected”

  • Doris Wheeler:

    Very sad indeed, Dick. I too spent many happy hours browsing the stacks at NYG&B. And very productive hours they were. For those out of town with few precious hours to spend on site, closed stacks are an abomination. I wonder if the NYPL will ever make all its holdings searchable online. Thank God for Google books, Cornell's MOA, etc.


  • Geoff Brown:

    The same thing was done in Philadelphia. The genealogical society there joined forces with the PA Historical Society and the collections are now merged at the Historical Society. What seems to have happened there is that the family histories are, for the most part, on open shelves, while the real rarities (e.g. original deeds from William Penn) can be had via call slips. Their on-line catalog is good, in my experience. I had not researched there when the collections were separate, so can only comment on the present situation, which was pretty good, IMHO.

    Back when I lived in NYC I found the NY Public Library very helpful, with extensive open shelves, and a very helpful staff. Perhaps this will work out okay; if nothing else it merges two collections of the three major ones in NYC, leaving only the N-YHS in a separate building. Going forward, authors will need to donate only one copy instead of two, which is another benefit.

    While change is never completely smooth, perhaps this will work out okay. I hope.

  • unyg:


    I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the feedback.


  • unyg:

    Geoff Brown,

    Well said. Your opinion is highly valued.

    The NYPL has only a few open stacks of commonly used books. I doubt many of these from the G&B collection will be available there.

    Change is inevitable, absolutely. There are some that would say that this particular change was preconceived and deliberately obfuscated in the comments previous to the vote to throw the general membership out.

    I'm suspecting there is a very fat lady somewhere, maybe in Albany, that has not had a chance to sing yet.

    Best regards, and thanks so much for your comment.


  • LizHaren:

    It could be worse, they could have SOLD it to Ancestry. At least the library will have it. I know that is small consolation.

  • unyg:


    Thanks for the comment.

    You make a good point, however I wonder if maybe if that had happened, that Ancestry with their bottomless pockets might have scanned everything and made it available worldwide. Just a thought.

    I have nothing against Ancestry. Just wish their subscription price would drop about 90 percent. \grin/

  • Pat R.:

    Hi Dick

    This is exactly what I expected them to do as I never had any faith in the way they handled this whole situation.

  • unyg:


    I agree with your term “handled” (as in violated maybe?)

  • Kirsten:

    Those involved in local genealogical societies should read and heed. Could
    this be the beginning of the end of those groups much smaller than the
    NYG&B? Is it likely that Internet genealogy will strangle the local
    operations? I would venture to say that unless small societies find a way
    to cater to online researchers, which the NYG&B did not appear to do
    particularly well (in my opinion), their days may be numbered.


  • unyg:

    Excellent point and most likely shared by many others.

  • Bob:

    IMO This is a good move. Many more resources will be available at no
    cost to more researchers, both genealogical and historical.

  • unyg:

    You could be right, only time will tell.

    Appreciate the input.

  • LizHaren:

    I agree that Ancestry is an amazing source of information. I wouldn’t/couldn’t live without my subscription. Ancestry could always go under though so giving it to the NYPL not only makes it available for free it will be there forever and in extremely capable hands at the best library in the world. They’ll get around to scanning it one day, too.

  • Betty:

    In reply to Kirsten,

    Local societies must get off the mark and find out what their members want. We can’t sit back any more and wait for members to walk through the door.

    Our local society is stronger than ever because we have aggressively marketed our presence in the community and continually poll members to find out what we’re doing right and how we can do better.

    Among the changes we’ve made to increase and keep members:
    Added a short subject by a member to our monthly meetings in addition to the featured speaker.
    Newsletter focuses on news and methods of doing genealogy today, solicits and features a member’s
    success story each month.
    Rent a booth in the annual Community Country Fair where we can talk to members of the community.
    Maintain a Web presence.
    Offer classes free to the community for both beginners and experienced researchers.
    Sponsor a Genealogy Fair and advertise it to the community every year or so.
    Present an annual all-day seminar with a nationally-known speaker.
    And I write a semi-monthly genealogy column for our local newspaper.

    Notice member involvement is a feature of most of the above ideas. Our membership is double what it was five years ago. Our biggest problem is finding a reliable space that can accommodate from 125 to 130 persons
    comfortably and finding an affordable space for our library (nearly hopeless).

    Unfortunately NYGBS chose the almighty dollar over giving members what they wanted.


  • W. David Samuelsen:

    NYPL had extensive collection scanned and placed online by Heritagequestonline.com

    I hope HQ will have the opportunity to get to the new addition and do it.

    I enjoy the books scanned by HQ through my local library’s access.

  • unyg:


    You have a great many excellent ideas. Let’s hope that many local societies agree and follow your lead. The Internet has changed everyone’s lives, that is absolute. There is no going back and if the local groups think that they can fold their arms, stick their tongues out and say “And That’s That,” then failure is just around the corner.
    Change is inevitable. We all have to roll with it. I notice I haven’t seen many help wanted ads for canal mule drivers lately.

  • bbarnes:


    I would never have imagined that NYGBS could give up their collection – if anything it’s lucky the NY Library was able to take the collection
    I would hate to think that it all could have ended up in dumpsters instead which could have happened I’m sure
    I guess not everybody understands the value of history

  • Madelyn:

    Thank you for the information, Dick. It would have been nice to hear about
    it from NYG&B–but I guess that was too much to expect.

  • unyg:


    You said it best.

  • Mac:

    If you can get access to it from the NYPL, it will be free. Unless you go to Salt Lake City, nothing else is free in Genealogy anymore. With only 15 members, it looks like it was their decision to make.

  • Barbara de Mare:

    I read the e-mail yesterday from top to bottom, and then over again for some clue as to what was happening. I had a sinking feeling the collection would never be seen again.

    The excuse for the 30 members was that they were following the NEHGS model. NEHGS has a council of about 100, and the prior members are still members–albeit it without voting rights. A common corporate model.

    The G&B seems to have carefully planned every bit of its plan with the sole purpose in mind to cut out the membership in order to fulfill its plan, just fully coming to light.

    I for one see no reason to renew my membership. Just exactly what would I be paying for/ the right to go on a couple of walking tours? I can read the journals in any library–and even copy the articles in which I am particularly interested for a lot less!


  • unyg:

    Sad isn’t it Barbara?

    Your comments are right on the money and I thank you deeply for sharing them.

    Dick Eastman has written several times about this and he explains quite well the NEHGS structure. I believe there is an over sight committee to keep any skulduggery from occurring.

    I’m quite sure that the NYGBS only has fifteen members now, not 30.

    All the best.

    Dick Hillenbrand

  • The Wandering Author:

    I have ancestors from New York City, and considered joining the NYG&B – but there were already rumours of trouble, so I hesitated. I watched with horror as the putsch was carried out – and now, sadly, I see I have no more reason to even consider joining the NYG&B.

    I agree, the collection might have been more accessible if sold to Ancestry, little as I love Ancestry. I hope you post the names of all the remaining "members" of the NYG&B – they deserve to be remembered for their treachery and infamy. What kind of person accepts the title of "member" of any group only to gut and ruin it?

    Sorry; with some of my hopes for tracking down my ancestors slipping away, or at least growing more difficult to attain, I am pretty emotional about this.

  • Betty:

    In my estimation, they did the right thing.

    The collection is in a safe place and even though it won’t be as readily available as it was, it is still available.

    It is a disappointment all the same.


  • unyg:

    Thank you very much for your comment.

  • unyg:

    Mr. Samuelson,

    Some how your comment slipped by me. I meant to say thank you and your experience and knowledge is highly valued.

    Dick Hillenbrand

  • dlmcdon:

    Reading briefly through the blog, my take on the article was that rare resource materials will now be maintained under more watchful eyes.? I have visited several eastern community libraries where I was allowed full unsupervised access to 150+ year old publications.? The access was wonderful for the sake of finding tidbits of information on families, associate family and local history, but when you come to a gap where a page had once resided and recognize that someone decided it was “their family information” and more important for them to have the physical page then leave it for future researchers, you quickly learn the down side of full public access.? Next is observing someone pulling books from the shelves, flipping pages for some reference and stuffing the volume back on the shelf where they are now standing.? That makes for interesting searching for both the staff and subsequent researchers trying to reference the book.
    With regards to the “pull slips”, the Fort Wayne, Indiana library used this process for years.? They pulled the reference materials and delivered it to your seat number.? Fantastic arrangement!? I spent all my time in the on-line reference logs and looking through materials, and none on searching for misfiled resources.
    I hear the nostalgia ringing in the blog, but then how long do you think 150 year reference materials will survive? under the assault of full public access?
    I salute Dick Hillenbrand for his efforts at keeping balanced voices on the issues.? Most people would just shrug their shoulders and walk away.? But I wonder what the story would be from the “last 15 people standing” committee though.? What were their challenges and options for the collection and did they take the best course of action to preserve them for future researchers?


  • J. Davis:

    I agree …….Newberry Library in Chicago, the premier genealogical
    library in the midwest, used the pull slip method for years until
    everything went computer but I would sit at a nice big table and look
    through an index and a 3 ft hi wheeled cart would deliver stacks of
    books I had requested. It was great, I didn’t waste one moment of
    my time there while searching for my New England ancestors. I lived
    outside of Chicago then and drove down whenever I had time and found
    verification of all the stories I had heard from childhood. …J Davis

  • unyg:

    To DLMcDon,

    Your points are well taken and thanks very much.

    I believe that ACPL in Fort Wayne has gone to totally open stacks now in their new state-of-the-art library.

    Most all libraries have some sort of program in place to protect the rarities, be it microfilming, photo duplication, digitizing or whatever.

    Thanks for the comments.

  • unyg:

    To J. Davis,

    Ah the Newberry!

    I see they Blogged about the NYGBS today also.

    Thanks for your comments.

  • Gena:

    I do not live in NY…but my ancestor’s did. Shame on this group. I am sure
    something else could have been worked out that would have allowed
    researcher’s the opportunity to view these books. I have found so little
    info on my families in Broome and St Lawrence county as it is. Now I may
    never find more. This is happening all to often these days. Sigh!


  • Anonymous:

    As one who has had an article published in the NYG&BR, I wonder if publication correspondence is among the manuscript material given to the NYPL.

    I am grateful for your coverage of this, but missed what the specific resolution said regarding disenfranchising Members forever, empowering a newly constituted Board of Trustees, how precisely that Board was created, and how members of the Board may be replaced or removed.

    My few trips to NYC have not allowed time for research, and being a NYG&BS member did not make sense to me. I do, however, think that the NYG&BS has not adequately understood its impact as one of the standards-bearers in the realm of history and genealogy based on Evidence. It is a much larger Pond out here.

    Good hunting to all,

  • Geof:

    Just to counter some the Ancestry comments – as a Canuck living in Cincinnati wanting to do Canadian research, and with gas now above $4 gallon (and well over $5 in Canada), I have gotten a lot of mileage, so to speak, out of Ancestry.

  • unyg:


    Thanks so much for expressing your feelings and concern.

    How it happened is pretty much described in the older Blog posts that I linked to, especially the one about the report from the voting last July.

    I do not have any specific details on the current list of members, no one is privy to that information any more, as the 15 members do not have to report,(as I understand it,) as there is no general membership.

    They claim they have a “Fiduciary Responsibility” but my question is to whom? They do not have to report to us, that’s for sure.

    I suspect that the 15 members that have total control now exist of the former Board of Trustees, (“Trust,” what a joke,) but I don’t know that for sure.

    If anyone does know the current “Line-up” (a good phrase in my opinion,) of the existing total of 15 members, please let us know.

  • judi.0044:

    Can see both sides however somewhat disheartening to hear. Interesting and still more so when you consider how such a small group can wield so much ‘power’. It’s also been interesting to watch ancestry.com develop the last few years – almost out of sight for me to continue my subscription in my retiree years. However, I do appreciate the fact that were it not for a posted KS 1920 Federal census (and a found online obituary) I would not have found my aged mother’s missing (half) siblings after 60 years. That certainly paid for that year’s subscription in my mind!

  • richard pence:

    The deal sounds to me like the society PAID the NYPL to "please take our

    I don't think the NGS had to pay the St. Louis Public Library to accept its
    collection. It sure seems like there is an epidemic of societies ridding
    themselves of books.

    It is sad to see even small libraries disappear. The association I worked
    for in Washington for many years had a fine library and two full-time
    persons staffing it. The library became an issue not because of personnel
    costs, but the cost of the space. The value of office space was skyrocketing
    and the accountants figured out how much money the association could earn if
    the space were rented out instead of housing a bunch of old books. Prime
    space, ground floor, facing Massachusetts Avenue a half block from DuPont

    So the library was summarily done away with. The USDA Library took some of
    the books, but the rest were consigned to the dumpster. I was out of town on
    assignment at the time, but two of my colleagues went to the dumpster every
    night and salvaged what they could. Some of what they rescued was stashed in
    a conference room that was quietly turned into a "reading room." But one of
    my colleagues still had an apartment full of books when he passed away a few
    years ago!

    The New York B & G fiasco smacks of the same problem. As soon as someone
    discovered that the society's once modest townhouse was worth $40 million
    the library was a dead duck.

    Be that as it may, Joy, I suspect that in New York it likely costs $125,000
    a year for the salary, benefits, space, equipment and supervision for each
    employee, especially a trained librarian. IOW, not all of the million is for
    salaries alone.

    Richard Pence
    Fairfax, Virginia

  • unyg:

    Dear Richard Pence,

    Your comments are most appreciated. This is all excellent information abd I thank you.

    Your mention of the dumpster calls to mind some other details that will likely be reported in the future.

    Best regards.

    Dick Hillenbrand

  • Traveler:

    Hello all,
    This type of thing is exactly why these sort of collections should be digitized and made available online. Though it is true that not everyone owns a computer with internet access, public libraries everywhere, even in the smallest of towns have public use computers.
    I also know that it’s not the same as holding the item in your hand, far from it but it would make all of the items much more accessible, even to people who live on the other end of the country or the world.
    Space on the internet to store this data is unbelievably cheap compared to brick and mortar buildings. I pay less than $20 dollars a month for more space than I’ll ever use from a host that makes available push to install programs that would easily facilitate this type of information.
    Unfortunately, now that all of this has been donated to the public library, the mountain of red tape got a whole lot taller but it still wouldn’t be impossible. There are grants to be had and sponsors to be found in this sort of project. Information like this should be shared openly, paid for by sponsors and even advertisers not locked away and made less accessible.

    Just my two cents, Traveler

  • Holly Kilpatrick:

    (In response to Madelyn's comment previous.)

    My question exactly — what would the purpose of membership be? I don't see
    any mention in these articles about the website. The most recent New York
    Researcher announces that "In an attempt to better serve its members, the
    NYG&B is concentrating on expanding the substantial offerings of its
    e-Library." At this time they are adding the Brewster collection.

    Will they be scanning material that is now at the New York Public Library
    and adding it to the e-Library? Isn't that material now the property of
    NYPL? Just because it says something in the New York Researcher, can we
    have any confidence that it is true? I was one of those who thought Dick H.
    was a little hard on them, and was willing to give them the benefit of the
    doubt. Silly me, I actually believed what I read in their publications.

    It is too bad about the closed stacks, just another restriction on New York
    State records, many others of which are already well locked down and very
    expensive to access, with no 21st century digital availability in sight….

    East Bangor, PA

  • Ted Steele:

    About twelve years ago the St. Louis Genealogical Society was faced with
    the decision as to where to relocate our library collection on over
    20,000 books, films, and sheet maps. Our Society volunteers had
    maintained the collection for over 25 years, but the facility we were
    using (at no cost) gave us one year to find a new home. We eventually
    settled on "gifting" the collection to the St. Louis County Library, in
    a move that appears to be very similar to the move just made by the
    NYG&B. At the time, many members of StLGS were furious at our Board for
    "giving away our collection." However…
    - The collection is now managed by professional librarians, not
    volunteer genealogists.
    - It is housed in an environmentally correct and secure facility
    (previously, books continually "disappeared")
    - Titles for the entire catalog are available to browse on the Internet
    through the SCLC website
    - The collection is available to researches seven days a week
    (previously many items were available ONLY when one of our volunteers
    was "on duty")
    - Every book is marked with a label inside the front cover indicating
    that it is part of the joint collection of StLGS and SLCL — more
    exposure for our Society
    - Duplicate copies are made available to genealogists across the country
    on Inter-Library Loan (ILL), something our Society could never offer
    - Researchers from across the country and around the world have an
    increased awareness of the St. Louis Genealogical society through our
    relationship with the St. Louis County Library and their access to our
    collection. In fact, we have a large poster at the librarians' desk in
    the special Collections department (where our collection is housed)
    displaying the fact that the collection was a donation from the St.
    Louis Genealogical Society. Again, offering wonderful visibility to
    StLGS and the ongoing relationship we have built with SLCL.
    - We continue to receive donations and to acquire new books which we
    routinely gift to SLCL, growing our collection.

    Also, for what it's worth, the Federation of Genealogical Societies
    (FGS) encourages genealogical societies to partner with area public
    libraries to do exactly what StLGS has done and what NYG&B is about to
    do. In fact, FGS uses the StLGS-SLCL contract as a "model" for other
    societies to copy. Our experience was so positive, that — faced with a
    similar dilemma a few years back — the National Genealogical Society
    (NGS) moved THEIR book loan collection from a storage building at their
    old home outside of Washington, DC, to the St. Louis County Library,
    using our contract as the basis for their agreement with SLCL.

    As the old saying goes, "the devil is in the details." And I do not
    know what the details of the contractual agreement between the NYG&B and
    the NYPL are, but if they are at all like ours it will prove to be a
    blessing for NYG&B members, genealogists in New York, and those who can
    access the collection remotely.

    BTW, there may be one or two "die-hard" holdouts left, but (twelve years
    later) virtually all of the StLGS members are now thrilled with our
    having our book collection housed at SLCL. So are we.

    Ted Steele, President
    St. Louis Genealogical Society
    and a member of the NYG&B

  • Anonymous:

    This is GREAT news for me and any other genealogist in a wheelchair.

    I have been a member of the NYG&B for years. I visited their building once to attend a program. It was not accessible but they did manage to get me inside after much fuss. But the elevator to the library??? No way could I go there.

    The NYPL, on the other hand, is quite accessible. This addition will compliment their collection nicely.


  • Diane Crane:

    I would have to agree that the G&B is now defunct. The Library was the motivator for membership in the Society. Had I not had the opportunity to wander through the stacks, I never would have been as successful in researching my ancestry. Not being a genealogist, my method was to look at everything and anything, and the library afforded me that.

    The NY Times article states that the Society “hopes to evolve into more of an umbrella group to encourage and coordinate research.” From it’s inception in 1869, the G&B was focused on New York (NYGBS) research. It appears that the G&B aspires to join the ranks of the many “global” genealogical organizations; and the Mission of the NYGBS will no longer require as stated on their website: “To carry out our purpose, we maintain one of the principal genealogical reference libraries in the United States.” It is laudable to provide virtual access to the NYG&B Library, but gifting it to the NYPL will eliminate any need for the Society. The NYPL will provide access, and the G&B is an unnecessary conduit.

    I also lament the loss of the previous editor of The Record, Harry Macy, whose focus was New York. The new editor is located in Texas and has a broader based background. Hard to understand why no one in New York could be found to fill those shoes. In retrospect, it may be that the change was a strategic one. It did not go unnoticed that coincidental to the appointment of a new editor, the masthead was changed to “Devoted to the Interests of American Genealogy and Biography,” despite that a National Genealogical Society already exists.

    An organization cannot be all things to all people and that is a foolish goal. The NYG&B served those with New York ancestry at a level that no other organization did. I am sympathetic to those who are still researching their families, for without the NYG&B it will be a difficult one.

  • unyg:

    To Dianne Crane,

    Your response is closer to the point of this saga. Many people seem to be responding about the books, access to the books and new digs at the NYPL.

    All well and good, and most would not disagree. You raise a point about one of the stated goals from the NYGBS website that they would “maintain one of the principal genealogical reference libraries in the United States.” One wonders if they are now in violation of their charter with the state.

    Perhaps the NYGBS 15 members will keep a handful of books in their new corporate offices, and that handful of books could become one of the smallest principal genealogical reference libraries in the United States.

    Time will tell.

    Thank you for sharing your heartfelt opinion. Well put.

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