Skip to Content

The Othmer Library

Step inside one of the most comprehensive collections of materials related to Brooklyn’s history and culture in the world.

Brooklyn Historical Society houses a world-renowned special collections and archives library on the second floor of its landmark building on Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights. The Othmer Library’s magnificent reading room with its stained-glass windows and carved wooden columns transports the visitor to an earlier era. The Library & Archives department collects, preserves, and makes accessible one of the most comprehensive collection of materials related to Brooklyn’s history and culture.

The library’s holdings include over 33,000 books, 1,600 archival collections, 1,200 oral history interviews, 50,000 photographs, 2,000 maps, 8,000 artifacts, and 300 paintings that document the commercial, residential, community, and civic development of the borough. The collections foster new and cutting-edge scholarship; support public learning and research; and enrich BHS’s exhibitions, educational activities, and public programming.

The stunning reading room in the Othmer Library, a rare interior historical landmark.

The stunning reading room in the Othmer Library, a rare interior historical landmark.

Photo by Alix Piorun

Brooklyn Historical Society houses a world-renowned special collections and archives library on the second floor of its landmark building on Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights. The Othmer Library’s magnificent reading room with its stained-glass windows and carved wooden columns transports the visitor to an earlier era. The Library & Archives department collects, preserves, and makes accessible one of the most comprehensive collection of materials related to Brooklyn’s history and culture.

The library’s holdings include over 33,000 books, 1,600 archival collections, 1,200 oral history interviews, 50,000 photographs, 2,000 maps, 8,000 artifacts, and 300 paintings that document the commercial, residential, community, and civic development of the borough. The collections foster new and cutting-edge scholarship; support public learning and research; and enrich BHS’s exhibitions, educational activities, and public programming.

Researchers put the library and its collections to use.

Researchers put the library and its collections to use.

Photo by Idris Talib Solomon

BHS’s Library & Archives comprise the most comprehensive collection of materials related to Brooklyn’s history and culture in the world. Each year, thousands of students, scholars, and other users visit to examine manuscripts, maps, photographs, books, and other materials. Using BHS collections, advanced scholars, historians, and others have fueled cutting-edge scholarship on urban history, the built environment, social history, and more, while thousands of members of the public have researched their family, home, or neighborhood.

The Othmer Library reading room during the era of the Long Island Historical Society, circa 1890.
The Othmer Library reading room during the era of the Long Island Historical Society, circa 1890. [Library, Long Island Historical Society], ca. 1890 The Brooklyn Oversize, 19th Century Collection v1972.1.574 Brooklyn Historical Society

Inspired by the design of the Brooklyn Bridge, architect George Browne Post suspended the top floor of the building from iron trusses, creating an open and elegant reading room. Additional iron columns enclosed in carved wood support the galleries in the library. In July 1991, the building was recognized as a National Historic Landmark and included on the National Register of Historic Places. Portions of the interior, including the library, were made interior landmarks by the city of New York — a rare designation in Brooklyn.

Since its completion in 1881, BHS’s building has been updated to accommodate changing needs and technologies, while still remaining true to architect George Post’s original design. A climate control system was installed to preserve the Society’s valuable collections. Handicapped-accessible elevators provided access to all floors. The Society was also wired for high-speed internet access.

The library is open to the public on Wednesday through Saturday, from 1 pm – 5 p.m.

Next: Explore the history of BHS DUMBO at Empire Stores.

education-hero