A NYPL employee assisting a visitor during the library’s Tech Connect program in 2018. (courtesy of the New York Public Library)

“Anyone can do research. That is the whole premise of The New York Public Library (NYPL), that we are open to anyone,” says William Kelly, NYPL’s Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries. Last weekend, the library joined the hundreds of cultural institutions shuttering across New York City to contain the spread of coronavirus. Unyielding in its commitment to support researchers even as they work from home, NYPL has made several of its most popular databases, previously only available for use onsite at its 92 locations, accessible to all library cardholders remotely during the closure.

Among them is a searchable, full-text archive of the New York Times from 1851 to 2016, as well as an archive of the Wall Street Journal from 1889 through the present and access to two online troves of historical periodicals, Newspapers.com and America’s Historical Newspapers.

Cardholders can also peruse the JSTOR database, beloved by scholars of all disciplines and offering 12 million academic journal articles, books, and primary sources, by searching for “the New York Public Library” here and entering their barcode and password. EBSCO, which hosts more than 30 academic databases with citations, abstracts and selected full texts, is another resource.

Perhaps the most fascinating database no longer limited to onsite use is Ancestry, a seemingly bottomless collection of genealogical research tools: African American and Native American records; birth, marriage, and death notices; census and vital records … the list goes on. They should prove great for serious research projects (as well as serious sleuthing.)

“Pair this with our guide to genealogy research and this could keep some folks busy,” said a library spokesperson.

NYPL confirmed its e-resources received about 21 million searches last year. But until now, the library has never made this many databases available from home.

The move to make them accessible to anyone with a library card is part of a larger push to maintain normalcy and hope for the library’s research community, especially as academic and cultural institutions are among the hardest hit by the pandemic. NYPL’s reference line, Ask NYPL, remains open and staff are continuing to monitor e-mail reference queries Monday through Saturday, keeping normal hours and offering assistance via screen sharing if necessary.

“We hope current researchers as well as those who possibly have never done research before will take advantage of these tools while they’re home, and get lost in the satisfying serendipity of discovery,” said Kelly in an e-mail to Hyperallergic. “With people staying home, what better time to start a project such as digging through family history, or researching past articles?”

Residents of New York State who don’t have a library card can still sign up for one during the closure via the NYPL’s e-reader app SimplyE, which geolocates. The app also allows readers to borrow more than 300,000 e-books for free.

A list of all of the library’s online tools, databases, and resources can be found here.

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...