City directories are a marvelous resource for learning about people and businesses in New York City. Many older directories have been digitized and are available on the open web and through subscription databases.
One ready source of digitized city directories is the Internet Archive, a digital library providing free web access at http://archive.org. Search for "New York City Directory" under Texts to find several editions of Trow's and Longworth's along with a number of other topical directories.
The subscription database Archive of Americana is a vast electronic resource that includes a number of digitized New York City directories among its resources. To locate digitized city directories in the Archive of Americana, choose the database titled "Early American Imprints, Series II: 1801-1819 (Shaw-Shoemaker Digital Collection)" from the "Articles via Databases" list accessible on the NYU Libraries home page. Choose the Advanced Search Option and search for the phrase "New York (N.Y.) -- directories" in the subject index to find them.
Also included in the Archive of Americana are (1) American Broadsides and Ephemera; (2) Early American Imprints I (1631-1800), consisting of books, pamphlets, broadsides and other imprints listed in the bibliography by Charles Evans; (3) Early American Imprints II (1801-1819), consisting of books, pamphlets, broadsides and other imprints listed in the bibliography by Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker; (4) America's Historical Newspapers; (5) House and Senate Journals (1789-1817); and (6) Senate Executive Journals (1789-1866).
Digitized city directories are also included in the City Directories & Member Lists collection of the Ancestry Library another subscription database held by NYU Libraries. To search the directories online, choose the database titled "Ancestry Library" from the "Articles via Databases" list accessible on the NYU Libraries home page. Then, follow the link to "All Databases" under "More Collections" and select "City Directories & Member Lists" from the list and then browse through the list of individual titles in this category to select specific directories.
Books, pamphlets, and serials in the Early American Imprints II (1801-1819) collection, including city directories, are available on microfilm in the Bobst Library microforms center. To find them, conduct a subject search in BobCat on the phrase "New York (N.Y.) Directories"; identify the title you want, and click on the Get It! link to locate the item in print, microfilm, or online.
For tips on using city directories and help learning about the kinds of information usually available in directories, follow the links in the Ancestry Library database search screens. Example: Information about the 1890 New York City Directory.
The Tamiment Library's collections include nearly 100 city directory volumes, including Doggett's New York City Directory, Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, for the years..., Valentine's Manual, Manual of the Common Council of New-York, Trow's, Wilson's Business Directory of New York City and The New York Directory for various years.
The city directories, which were acquired in Leo Hershkowitz's 2007 donation to the library, span the years 1806 to 1928 with gaps. The volumes have been cataloged and may be requested with a call slip at the reference desk. Please note that the volumes are fragile and must be read in book cradles.
To see records for the city directories in BobCat, NYU's library catalog, search using the phrase "New York (N.Y.) -- Directories" with limits set to "All items" and "that contain my phrase" in the "Subject" index. Then, to see just the Tamiment Library's holdings of NYC directories, select Tamiment from the list of libraries in the Refine My Results section on the left-hand side of the page.
The collections of The New York Public Library and New-York Historical Society Library include extensive holdings of various New York City directories. Consult their BobCat to find N-YHS holdings, and NYPL.org to find directories at The New York Public Library.
Note that city directories are on open shelves in the reading room of the New-York Historical Society Library. The collection there is very easy to use. Consult the N-YHS Library's website for information on visiting the library before making a trip.