The New York Society Library was founded in 1754, giving it the distinction of being the oldest library in the city. It began as a subscription library which anyone could join, and remains so today, with nearly three hundred thousand volumes reflecting the interests of its various members over the past two and a half centuries.
Despite being looted by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, the library rebuilt its collection and by 1789-1790, when New York was the nation’s capital and Congress occupied the building, it served as the first Library of Congress. During this time it was utilized by many prominent figures easily recognizable to students of American history, including George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr. We know this due to information contained in the Library’s oldest surviving charging ledger, which recorded borrowing activity during the period between July 1789 and April 1792. Lost for many years, the extremely fragile ledger was recovered in 1934 in a trash pile in the basement of the Library’s former location at 109 University Place and has since been digitized in order to preserve the information contained therein for future generations.
You can explore the ledger here, just click on the name of the person whose checkouts you would like to view.