About the Library
    
  Located on the main floor of the landmark Foundation Building, the Library provides support for the academic programs at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the nation's only private, full-tuition scholarship college dedicated exclusively to preparing students for the professions of art, architecture and engineering.
  
 
  A Brief History  
     
 

On November 7, 1859, two of Peter Cooper's visionary ideas passed from concept to reality with the commencement of regular classes at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, as well as the inauguration of the Cooper Union Reading Room.

The Reading Room was open "from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., free to all persons, male and female, of good moral character." It was remarkable as much for its size and appearance as it was for its progressive populism. The First Annual Report of the Trustees of Cooper Union described the Reading Room as "125 feet in length, 82 feet wide, and 32 feet in height, and ... fitted with every comfort and convenience as regards light, warmth, and ventilation."

A later account, published in an 1878 issue of Demorest's Illustrated Monthly, noted that:

The room is well lighted by large windows on the east side and opens upon the west into small rooms used for various purposes. At an elevated desk just inside the entrance sits a lady whose duty it is to give checks for books which are desired from the library, and to supervise the general order of the hall. The library is arranged in cases around the walls, each case being surmounted by a bust of some distinguished actor.

Perfect order and decorum prevail. If an unlucky man takes a seat by mistake at the "ladies' table" his attention is quickly but courteously directed to the placard which might have excluded him from these reserved seats. No conversation is allowed, but a pleasant room adjoining the reading room is provided for that purpose.

The Reading Room's initial offerings, as documented in the Trustees Report, included subscriptions to 12 New York newspapers, 16 out-of-town dailies, 3 foreign papers, 40 American weeklies, 23 foreign weeklies, 103 American magazines, 22 French papers and magazines, and 26 German papers and magazines, at a cost of $1,200 per year.

The social impact of the Reading Room was wide and immediate. According to Peter Cooper: Citizen of New York by Edward C. Mack:

The reading room was the only one of its kind in the city at the time. The other libraries -- the Society Library, the American Institute, the Astor Library, the Mercantile Library -- served a far more specialized clientele, and were not open at night. Only Cooper Union offered the general public a place to read from eight in the morning until ten at night, well stocked with magazines and newspapers and books to draw workers from "less desirable places of resort."

The reading room was patronized by all and sundry from the beginning. Three thousand people a week, of whom ten percent were women, were using the facilities during the first year, and this figure jumped to forty-two hundred by 1863-4. More people entered its doors than entered those of all the other libraries of the city combined. Peter Cooper could well feel proud of his work.