For many decades, The Cooper Union Library accumulated images for the inspiration and practical use of artists, architects, and engineers in training. Organized by subject headings that run from Africa to World's Fairs - with Children as Artists, Machines, Typefaces, and Vegetables along the way - the Picture Collection served as an easily accessible resource for all things visual long before it was possible to google "bathtub illustrations," "lyre birds" or "those circle-shaped 70s chairs" and get a plethora of instantaneous results.
Picture Collections were once a common library sighting, particularly in areas with a high concentration of creative workers. The New York Public Library Picture Collection has been in operation since 1915. But since the advent of online image search technology, these collections have been used with less frequency, leaving librarians with the task of figuring out what role, if any, these materials should play in a modern library. Recently, NYPL decided the best solution was to archive their Picture Collection - a decision that was reversed after an outcry from patrons.
“You see the people go through it and touch it and have the spontaneity of discovery,” artist Taryn Simon told the New York Times about the Picture Collection. “It’s so multidimensional. It just keeps swirling. I think of it as a performance piece or an installation.”
Here at Cooper, where the library space is much more limited than that of NYPL, we've made the decision to let the Picture Collection go...to students. Now located in the southwest corner of the library, the collection is open for students to browse and take home materials. Picture Collection images don't ever need to be returned to the library - they are yours to keep and use in your work or on your walls. Enjoy!
The Cooper Union Library
7 E 7th St.
New York, NY