When viewed from a historical vantage point, regardless of the chosen period of time, one thing is certain: the landscape of New York is ever-evolving. To keep up with such a rich cultural and historic heritage, researchers – and their tools – must evolve as well. Just as email has largely replaced snail mail correspondence, so has digital replaced physical research. Instead of searching for call numbers on book spines stacked on dusty shelves, users of digital collections and digital libraries have multiple search options and clickable access to information stored all over the world.
Why Go Digital?
Digital collections, which can come in the form of text, visual or audio material, contain stored electronic media that can be accessed remotely. By making the vast amount of information contained in libraries, museums, archives, and virtually any knowledge repository worldwide available around the clock, they have become a fundamental global research tool. Digital libraries can vary in size and scope, but the ability to identify who maintains them (individuals or organizations) and how they are maintained (independently or through affiliations with physical libraries or academic institutions), is transparent. This makes tasks essential to effective research, such as evaluating the authority and credentials of an author and publication or verifying the timeliness of a source, easier and more efficient than ever.
What Can I Find?
The research topics and categories one can find in digital collections are as expansive as New York itself. Interested in researching wars or specific battles? Try the American Revolutionary or Civil War digital collections. If State documents pique your interest, you’ll find building and construction codes, Census information, and access to State Law Library collections. If you’d like to trace your genealogy, you can search for individual family members by name or research county, city, town and village histories from Colonial times to the present.
Where Can I Start?
Several libraries have made it a priority to create digitized public records of New York historical data and make them available online for free. The New York Public Library maintains an extensive “living database” with new materials added every day, including archives and manuscripts; prints and photographs; maps, menus, and playbills; and even streaming oral histories. The New York State Library offers a digital collection that ranges from government documents and scanned manuscripts and collections to education law and policy documents. The New York Genealogical & Biographical Society, the largest genealogical society in New York and the only one that is state-wide, is the authoritative source for research on New York families and families with New York connections. And if you’re looking for a gateway to various sources, The New York State Archives’ Digital Collections website offers collections held by the New York State Archives, the New York State Museum, and the New York State Library.
No matter where you choose to begin, or whether your research is for study, work, or leisure, it is time to go digital and get lost in the archives of the Empire State.