Books, Printed Materials, and Audio-Visual Collections

In addition to books about Nantucket and by Nantucketers, the library contains books on a variety of related subjects, including whales and the whaling industry, ships and navigation, Native Americans, Quakers, slavery and abolitionism, art and decoration, architecture, archaeology, poetry and song, lighthouses and lightships, and sea disasters. Books about exploration and travel to the Pacific, Arctic, and Antarctic are housed in the Jean MacPhail Weber Exploration Room. Fiction and biographies are represented, as are family histories and genealogies, which are shelved in the Edouard A. Stackpole Reading Room.

Books written and illustrated by Tony Sarg, a well-known author, artist, and puppeteer of the 1920s and 1930s; eighteenth and nineteenth-century books of law referenced by early Nantucket courts; and Bibles owned by Nantucketers over several centuries are noteworthy components of the book collection.

The library’s collection of rare books includes Owen Chase's account of the loss of the whaleship Essex, an event that influenced the writing of Moby-Dick; William Lay's and Cyrus M. Hussey's account of the mutiny of the Globe; and various imprints of J. Hector St. John de Crèvecouer's Letters from an American Farmer, which was first published in 1782. First and early editions of works by Herman Melville are part of the Henry C. Coke Melville Collection. Particular highlights of the rare book collection are accounts of travels and voyages published by Hakluyt, Harris, and Churchill.

Maps, which include plats and charts, span the years from 1624 to the present day. Maps and plats, in their detail of Nantucket land, streets, neighborhoods, and structures plot the growth and development of the island community. Charts show the waters surrounding Nantucket as well as the foreign waters in which Nantucketers sailed. Many charts detail islands and ports in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The library's collection of newspapers encompasses a nearly complete run of the Inquirer and Mirror and its predecessors the Nantucket Inquirer (first published in 1821) and The Mirror, on microfilm. In addition, the library holds issues of The Sandwich Island News and The Liberator.

Subject files contain newsclippings, notes, letters, and transcriptions on a variety of Nantucket-related subjects. Extensive genealogical vertical files hold information on Nantucket families and individuals.

Several inventories of island structures are housed in the Edouard A. Stackpole Reading Room. The HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey), HDC (Historic District Commission), and PI:N (Preservation Institute Nantucket) documents are surveys of island properties, noting historical background and structural conditions and changes.

Since 1895, the Nantucket Historical Association has published, in one form or another, a forum for its activities and for historic scholarship. NHA publications provide one hundred years of historic research and writing resulting in extensive coverage of Nantucket history. Selected back issues of the NHA’s quarterly Historic Nantucket may be purchased in the library.

In addition to photographs, the research library contains some 400 cassette tapes, that include more than 250 oral histories and some 275 video tapes that record innumerable talks, lectures, tours, and reminiscences. Some oral histories have been transcribed and some of these transcriptions are available on the NHA website. Click here to access these transcriptions.

The books have been catalogued and this catalogue can be accessed through the internet. Click here to access the NHA's online database.