The Frick Art Reference Library has served students, art historians, and art professionals, as well as members of the public from around the world free of charge for more than ninety years, and is sacred to the mission and identity of the institution as a whole. The roots of the Frick Art Reference Library and The Frick Collection are deeply intertwined. The Library was founded in 1920, when Helen Clay Frick used her family’s bowling alley at 1 E. 70th Street to store her burgeoning collection of art reference materials. Today, it operates as one of the top art reference libraries in the world, serving students, art historians, and art professionals, as well as the general public. The landmarked Library is located in a building designed for that purpose by John Russell Pope (the noted 20th-century architect also responsible for the 1935 addition to the Frick mansion).
A leading site for collecting and provenance study, the Library is regarded for its vast holdings of exhibition and auction sale catalogues, photo archive of 1.3 million images, and growing collection of e-books and archived websites. Moreover, according to WorldCat—the world’s largest library catalogue—an extraordinary 27 percent of the library’s collection cannot be found anywhere else. In 2007, the library established the Center for the History of Collecting to support the study of the formation of art collections from the Renaissance to the present. Through its fellowships, the Center provides support for both graduate students and scholars engaged in post-doctoral research.
The Frick would like to establish a new Visiting Scholars Center, a space where independent art historians and fellows of the library and museum’s curatorial and education departments can meet, present, and work collaboratively on a range of topics including digital art history.
Currently, the building is accessed by museum visitors only by exiting the Collection and walking around the block to the library’s entrance on East 71st Street. In part because of separate entrances, it is a surprise to many that the library is open to the public for free. Physically joining the museum and library in some way would allow the collective resources of the Frick to be seamlessly experienced by all its users.