Thomas J. Watson Library, the Museum's central library, is the heart of research and scholarly activity at the Museum. Watson Library and the distinctive collection of the Museum's departmental libraries together comprise one of the preeminent libraries for research in the history of art. Reflecting the depth and scope of the Museum's holdings, Watson collects scholarly material covering subjects from early antiquity to contemporary art. More than one thousand titles per month are added to the collection. Like The Met collection, the library's holdings are encyclopedic, offering a broad range of research materials on subjects covered by the seventeen curatorial departments. In addition to its extensive collection of monographs, exhibition catalogues, and rare books, the library holds 150,000 auction and sale catalogues dating from the seventeenth century to the present day.
The importance of a library to the Museum's mission was understood by the founders, whose charter of 1870 provided for the establishment of "a museum and library of art." In 1965 the Museum's continuously expanding central library moved into its present quarters named for Thomas J. Watson, founder of IBM and a Museum trustee from 1936 to 1956. In 1997 the library established the Lita Annenberg Hazen and Joseph H. Hazen Center for Electronic Resources, and it has taken a leading role in collecting online resources and providing instruction in their use. In 2004 the library's reading room was designated the Florence & Herbert Irving Reading Room in recognition of a significant gift to the library. In 2011 the library renovated and redesigned the book conservation center, which was designated the Sherman Fairchild Center for Book Conservation in recognition of the Sherman Fairchild Foundation's generous support for the project.
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. The Friends of the Thomas J. Watson Library and other generous donors provide funding for the continuing growth of this already strong collection of treatises on art and architecture, early travel books, archaeological studies, periodicals, early trade catalogues, and artists' manuals and handbooks.
The Museum's distinctive library collection include The Robert Goldwater Library, covering the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; Nolen Library, providing materials for all ages on the history of art as well as curriculum-related material for teachers; The Robert Lehman Collection Library, which focuses on European painting and decorative arts; Joyce F. Menschel Photography Library; The Onassis Library for Hellenic and Roman Art; The Costume Institute's Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library; and The Cloisters Library and Archives for medieval art and related topics. These libraries and additional departmental libraries contribute to combined holdings of more than one million volumes, a collection unrivaled in depth and coverage for the history of art on a global scale.