The New York Public Library

Press Release


ACT UP/NY Archives Donated to The New York Public Library

Allows for Preservation & Greater Access to Collections

New York, New York, March 11, 1996: The ACT UP/NY archives, covering the years 1987 to 1995, have been given to The New York Public Library's Rare Books and Manuscripts Division at the Center for the Humanities at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Paul LeClerc, President of the Library, announced today. ACT UP (The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) is a national and international nonpartisan activist group whose mission is to fight for "an end to the AIDS crisis." Dr. LeClerc said, "The ACT UP/NY archives are an important addition -- both to our extensive collections of AIDS-related materials and to our wide-ranging storehouse of documentation of other grass-roots movements in the United States."

Founded in New York City in March 1987, ACT UP is an all-volunteer organization which has had chapters in all major U.S. cities as well as in Paris, London, and Sydney. The archives given to the Library date from ACT UP/NY's inception to the present and consist of documents generated by the organization as well as the papers of individuals who made it their life's work to further the cause of ACT UP/NY. "The New York Public Library is the ideal recipient for the papers of ACT UP/NY because of its dedication to collecting a broad record of the AIDS epidemic and because of its policy of democratic access to its materials. The ACT UP/NY archives will be preserved and made accessible to every researcher who comes to the Library," said Stephen Shapiro of ACT UP.

Mimi Bowling, Curator of Manuscripts at the Library, said, "The Library has become a valuable resource for researchers in AIDS history and information, as we have been collecting AIDS-related materials for ten years. We already have the papers of institutions such as Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), the People With AIDS Coalition, and Gran Fury, an artists' collective that created many of ACT UP's memorable graphics. Several divisions of the Library also work closely with The Estate Project of the Alliance for the Arts, in an effort to save the works of writers and artists with AIDS." The ACT UP/NY archives will be administered by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division at the Library, which already holds a substantial collection of related papers of individuals who either are HIV positive or have died of AIDS-related causes, including writers and artists such as Vito Russo, David Feinberg, Harold Pickett, James Turcotte, Stuart Edelson, Arthur Johnson, Aaron Cohen, and Copy Berg.

The ACT UP/NY archives cover the major demonstrations of civil disobedience staged by the group in the 1980s, including the "actions" on the Food and Drug Administration (1988), St. Patrick's Cathedral (1989), and the National Institutes of Health (1990). The goals of ACT UP's direct actions include: explicit prevention education (such as distribution of condoms and sex education in the schools), information about and access to treatments for AIDS, an end to discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, including the loss of jobs and benefits, and an "emergency" effort to find a cure for the disease.

Ms. Bowling said, "The ACT UP/NY records are unusual in that they represent a conscious self-documentation process. At each weekly meeting of ACT UP, photocopied literature is distributed on forthcoming actions and recent developments in such areas as experimental drugs, AIDS and people of color, reports on politicians, the National Institutes of Health, I.V. drug users, ACT UP/NY media, and insurance. The compilation of these documents, along with weekly files of media reports about ACT UP/NY, form the core of the archives. The Library has already begun the organization, preservation, and cataloging of the papers so that they can soon be used by researchers." The ACT UP/NY papers will be stored in a secure and climate-controlled environment to ensure their preservation.

The ACT UP/NY archives also include placards that were carried during "actions," as well as other graphics and artifacts such as posters, stickers, buttons, and even a lab coat painted with bloody handprints. These items, too, are documents, ones that succinctly communicate ACT UP/NY's major concerns and the group's rage, as well as the rich mix of graphic creativity abounding in the community from which ACT UP sprang. Some of the headlines memorialized by these graphics include the famous "Silence = Death," and several powerful others: "AIDS: Where Is Your Rage?," "The CDC Is a Dead End," "The Government Has Blood on Its Hands," and "One AIDS Death Every Half Hour."

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Division The Rare Books and Manuscripts Division houses one of the world's foremost collections of rare book and manuscript materials, and is a vital and growing part of the Library's important collections. Other material acquired by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division in recent months includes the papers of novelist, literary critic, and memoirist, Doris Grumbach, and the Emigrant Savings Bank Records, which chronicle the Irish immigration to the U.S. during and after the Potato Famine. The ACT UP/NY materials continue the Library's tradition of collecting the papers of groups dedicated to civil rights issues, including the Schwimmer/Lloyd Collection, a vast archive on women's rights, suffrage, peace movements, and world government; the American Fund for Public Service Records (originally known as the Garland Fund, which existed ca. 1920-1940 to support radical social and political causes); the National American Woman Suffrage Association Records; and the papers of Frank P. Walsh, a lawyer and supporter of civil rights and labor causes and Irish independence. The Division's holdings also include collections that relate to other epidemics, such as the John Shaw Billings Papers, the Thomas K. Wharton Diaries, the Noah Webster Papers, and the United States Sanitary Commission Records.

Information on AIDS Available in the Branch Libraries The New York Public Library offers a wide variety of information resources about HIV/AIDS. Every branch library has a special collection of New York City community information that contains directories, newsletters, and magazines listing local community services and programs directed toward the HIV/AIDS community. Branches also distribute thousands of free pamphlets from various organizations and government services. New books are constantly being added to the circulating collections of the adult, young adult, and children's rooms. Related books in languages other than English are also acquired as appropriate to the specific community. Frequently requested topics are nutrition, Chinese medicine, women, TB, safer sex practices, children, and AIDS advocacy. With the introduction of the Library's new online catalog, LEO (Library Entrance Online), users now have access to an index to over 1500 periodicals, many of them in full-text form. Never before have local branches been able to offer such a wealth of information from popular magazines. The strong point of the Library has been its book and periodicals collections, but videos, available in many branches, are also a valuable source of HIV/AIDS information. The new online catalog will not only tell you what titles the Library has, but also tell you in which branches they are located and whether they are currently on the shelf.

Access to the Internet has initiated a whole new world of information sources. HIV/AIDS service providers were quick to make these resources available in this exciting electronic environment. At local branches, anyone may use the Internet connection to check the HIV/AIDS resources developed by NOAH (New York Online Access to Health), the AIDS Data Network, or the New York Academy of Medicine.

The Branch Libraries, with funding from the National Library of Medicine and other donors, has set up three projects: STAR (Staten Island AIDS Resources); NORMA (Northern Manhattan AIDS Resources Project); and BEEHIVE (Bronx HIV/AIDS Education Project). These projects are designed to give PWAs (People With AIDS), their caregivers, and local community organizations the best and latest HIV/AIDS information to help them make informed decisions. These projects enable the Library to purchase additional copies of popular books, pamphlets, and videos, broaden the scope of the collections, add depth to the reference collections, provide a dedicated computer terminal to access information available on the Internet, and provide the training necessary to use the Internet effectively to locate the information. These projects have enabled the Library to expand its collections and services for a specific community for whose survival current information is vital.

PRO: nd, ls: 3/11/96


Microfilming of the ACT UP/NY Records has been completed and the collection is once again open for research.

ACT UP Archives at the NYPL

Copies of the microfilm set of 148 reels can be purchased from Primary Source Media at


New York Public Library Archives Division contact and access information

see also:
DIVA TV archived AIDS Activist Videos listing


Other sources of comprehensive information about ACT UP can be found at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. To visit the Archives by appointment or to find out hours, call: (718) 768-DYKE (3953) Fax: (718) 768-4663. For specific information on the ACT UP collection at the Herstory Archives, you can contact Maxine Wolfe via her Voice Mail at 212-946-2180

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