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

Follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, and see the Museum libraries' blog, In Circulation.

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.

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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.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art libraries have created the following collection development policies as a planning guide for developing each library’s collection, and to clarify the selection criteria used to build and maintain that collection.

Watson Library

The Thomas J. Watson Library is the central research library of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The primary mission of the library is to support the research activities of the Museum staff. In addition, the library serves an international community of scholars, including museum, academic and commercial art professionals and college and graduate students. To this end its goal is to provide among the most comprehensive collections of printed, manuscript, and electronic materials on the history of art in the world.

Read the complete Policy

In addition to the Watson Library collection development policy, see also these Met library pages for policies specific to their collections:

General Guidelines

Use social-media platforms…to build communities and participation around common topics and shared interests. (Goal 2, Objective 2, Strategy E)


Watson Library currently maintains three social media accounts: Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. We also have an active blog, In Circulation, in addition to a quarterly e-newsletter. We are one of a small number of Museum departments that maintains its own social media accounts. We applied for and were encouraged by the Digital Department to create these accounts and continue to work in consultation with them to ensure all social media channels are in alignment with Museum policies and best practices.

Our social media strategy—to showcase the breadth and depth of the Library’s collection, programs, and activities and enhance visitor engagement—relies on content from all members of the Library staff, and we welcome individuals to participate in our initiatives. We are happy to meet with library staff to discuss possible collaborations. In order to ensure consistent messaging on behalf of the Library, it is important that all work-related social media initiatives be coordinated with the Social Media team.

Mission Statement

The Social Media Team manages multiple social media platforms to support Thomas J. Watson Library’s mission and goals by growing and engaging our internal and external research communities, by promoting our many services and programs, and by highlighting the library’s encyclopedic collections.

Best Practices

  • Anything posted through the Library social media program must comply with the The Met’s Social Media Guidelines & Strategy.
  • Make titles and messages brief, but add value: Post content that will be useful, interesting, or engaging to your audience. Don’t just post several links to other items.
  • Before posting, check facts, spelling, and grammar.
  • Do not use copyrighted photos and/or images.
  • Post regularly. For platforms like Instagram and Facebook, one post per day on weekdays (ie: up to five posts per week) is the recommended frequency. For platforms like the blog and e-newsletter, creating and maintaining a regular publishing schedule is recommended.
  • Engage with users via comments or questions.
  • Monitor your platform and keep up with the conversation. Regularly read all the posts on your platform, including comments posted by others. Sometimes, people will ask important questions via social media rather than phone or email. Make sure to find these questions and answer them directly. These questions should be answered by the team responsible for the platform if possible, and forwarded to appropriate staff when further expertise is needed.
  • Use proper punctuation and capitalization. All content must be written in accordance with the Museum Style Guide.
  • Protect confidential and proprietary information. Social computing blurs lines between internal and external communications. Sensitive information must never be posted.
  • Don’t censor negative comments. You may see people post negative comments from time to time. Use your best judgment as to whether you want to try to reply officially and respectfully, or simply ignore the comment.


Our standards are in alignment with the Museum’s standards, as articulated in the Employee Handbook, section 1103, "Social Media, Blogging, and Other Forms of On-Line Publication."

Reference staff is available to provide assistance on weekdays from 10 am-4 pm and on Saturdays from 1-5 pm. Library users with questions about how to conduct art-related research and on locating and using the resources of the Museum’s libraries may visit, call (212) 650-2225, or email 

For general inquiries and questions about specific artists and objects in the Museum’s collections, fill out and submit the form on the Contact Watson Library page.

To make a recommendation for Watson Library's collection, fill out and submit the form on the Suggest a Library Purchase page.

To make an appointment to view a Special Collections "By appointment" item, fill out and submit the form on the Special Collections Appointment page.