Behind the Scenes: Book Conservation

The Municipal Library operated by the Department of Records and Information Services holds approximately 373,000 titles, including books, serials, reports, maps, pamphlets and clip files.  

Collection highlights include agency reports from the City of Brooklyn prior to the consolidation of the New York City, the minutes of the Committee to create Central Park, records of the Department of Docks, and early Police Department reports, among many other arcane and wonderful publications.

As you might expect, time has not always been kind to these items.

So, the Library staff and the DORIS Conservation Unit are collaborating on a project to preserve and repair some of the most severely deteriorated books and maps.  Not only will this safeguard them from further damage, it will enable public access to their intellectual contents.  The Library staff prioritized the most unique materials for this project—those for which we hold the only copy, or one of the few copies. Some volumes being worked on highlight the City’s vast infrastructure accomplishments during the 19th century such as the Croton water supply system, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Central Park.  Others document the work of City departments established to improve the health, welfare and safety of the City’s growing population. 

The annual reports featured below document the transition from human labor and horsepower to forms of mechanization that, for their period, were highly innovative. Yet, at the same time, these reports show concerns that remain relevant to the City today:

keeping the streets clean,






sorting trash to separate paper, food scraps and perishables from discarded usable objects,





proper disposal of the City’s trash,





supplying clean water for the City’s growing population,






designing streets to safely accommodate a welter of wiring and piping below grade,





sanitary sewers,





and safe and efficient street lighting.












The reports show the level of detail and care that was taken to develop and sustain such a dynamic and evolving city.

Whether you are an academic researcher, a student, a city employee or an amateur historian, these primary sources reveal the pride and commitment that City government workers brought to their jobs, and reflect varying approaches to a vision for true urban planning in this cosmopolitan center.


Here’s how we work on the project:

Staff from both Conservation and the Library pinpoint rare and interesting materials in poor condition.




Then conservators employ their magic arts to flatten,











and protect.






Preserving these historic materials is an exciting part of the mission of the Department of Records and Information Services.