Art/ Libraries and Research Centers/ Thomas J. Watson Library

Thomas J. Watson Library

Thomas J. Watson Library is the central research library of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Its collection of books and periodicals relating to the history of art is one of the most comprehensive in the world. The primary mission of the library is to support the research activities of the Museum staff; in addition, it welcomes a broad range of students and researchers college age and above.


The library contains more than 996,000 volumes of books, periodicals, exhibition catalogues, and auction catalogues; 20,000 periodical titles; collections of autograph letters; and files relating to individual artists and to the history of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For more information, call 212-650-2225 or email [email protected].

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The library contains over 996,000 volumes, including monographs and exhibition catalogs; over 20,000 periodical titles; and more than 139,000 auction and sale catalogs. It also provides access to an extensive collection of electronic resources (including numerous indexes, encyclopedias, dictionaries, online journals, databases, and Internet resources), autograph letters, and ephemera files relating to individual artists and to the history of the Museum.

The reference collection includes a broad range of resources for art historical research as well as relevant material for history, mythology, religion, biography, and travel, among other subjects.

The library possesses one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of auction and sale catalogs, dating from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day. The collection includes extensive historical holdings of Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Hôtel Drouot, Dorotheum, Phillips, and many other small auction houses, both American and international. In addition, numerous online resources provide sale catalog information and auction results.

Gifts from J. Pierpont Morgan, Samuel Putnam Avery, and other founders and early trustees of the Museum established the foundation of the library’s rare book collection. Generous donors provide funding for the continuing growth of this already strong collection of treatises on art and architecture, early travel books, archaeological studies, rare collection catalogs, early trade catalogs, artists’ manuals and handbooks, complete runs of seminal journals, fencing books, scrapbooks, fine bindings, and examples of fine printing.

The more than 5,000 manuscript items in the collection include Samuel Putnam Avery’s European travel diary, about 1,400 autograph letters to and from Sir Richard Westmacott, and numerous other autograph letters and papers relating to prominent artists.

Vertical file collections contain information on more than 24,000 artists and extensive holdings of press clippings, brochures, and other ephemeral material relating to the history of the Museum from the 1870s to the present.

Watson Library is one of four libraries in the world to hold the 422-reel microfilm copy of the Duveen Brothers Archive (1876-1981). The records of the Duveen Brothers fine art dealership, which operated from 1869 to 1964 in London, Paris, and New York, offers a detailed view of the business activities of this important firm of art dealers. The Archives are significant primary source material for many aspects of art historical scholarship, including the history of collecting.

See the Using the Library page for detailed information about accessing and using Watson Library.

See the Hours page for detailed information and a listing of upcoming holiday closures.

See the Book Retrieval Schedule for detailed information.

The founders of The Metropolitan Museum of Art understood the essential role of the library to the institution's mission. In 1870 the New York State legislature passed a bill that created "a body corporate by the name of 'The Metropolitan Museum of Art,' to be located in the City of New York, for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said city a Museum and library of art." The library was formally established ten years after this charter was approved, and today the Museum and library share the distinction of being among the world's greatest treasuries for the study of the arts of many cultures. In its scope, Thomas J. Watson Library, the Museum's research library, reflects the encyclopedic permanent collection, with particularly strong holdings in European and American art, including architecture and the decorative arts, as well as substantial holdings in ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Asian, and Islamic art. In addition, several curatorial departments have specialized libraries of their own.

Along with many exhibition, collection, and auction sale catalogs, other books and periodicals, and extensive electronic resources relating to the history of art, Watson Library and the Museum's several specialized libraries possess a number of rare and important titles that are notable for both their historical importance and their scholarly value. Fifty such highlights are presented online, from early printed books to landmark publications of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In addition to funding the library building that bears his name, Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM and a trustee of the Museum from 1951 until 1956, endowed a book purchase fund. Other important donations from the Watson family have included an endowed position (Arthur K. Watson Chief Librarian) and the funding of early automation projects by Helen Watson Buckner, the daughter of Thomas J. Watson.

The Lita Annenberg Hazen and Joseph H. Hazen Center for Electronic Resources, an integral part of Watson Library, was inaugurated in November 1997. The center was the first of its kind in any art museum in the United States or abroad. The Hazen Center provides training and support in the use of an extensive collection of electronic scholarly material, including numerous indexes, encyclopedias, dictionaries, full-text journals, databases, and Internet resources.

A post on the Now at the Met feature of the Metropolitan Museum's web site celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the 1910 opening of a new library reading room.  The article includes some early photographs of the library and images of McKim, Mead & White designs for library furniture. Read the article here.