Alexis de Tocqueville noted the rise of voluntary associations in the United States during the Jacksonian period, and the wealth of materials about such groups in the Society's collections reflects the "institutionalization" of America. Approximately 23,200 items, most of which are pamphlets published by various kinds of organizations during the years 1821-76, constitute a collection of institutional reports, proceedings, constitutions, bylaws, historical sketches, membership lists, prospectuses, and promotional literature. The institutions range in nature from businesses to voluntary associations. Banks, churches, insurance houses, social clubs, hospitals for the physically and mentally ill, missionary groups, racetracks, temperance associations, museums, and masonic groups are a sampling of the establishments represented. (Publications of auction houses, canal corporations, libraries, railroads, educational institutions, learned societies, and book, art, and manuscript dealers are housed in separate collections.)
The collection is arranged as follows: institutions that operated or operate on a nationwide basis are shelved alphabetically by title of organization; statewide (or "general") organizations are arranged alphabetically by title within separate series for each state; and organizations that claimed or claim only particular cities, towns, or counties as their province are filed under town or county, then title, in "local" boxes that follow each state's "general" institutions. As machine-readable records are created, items are assigned unique call numbers and shelved in a separate section of the collection, arranged in a similar fashion to uncataloged materials. All materials for the years 1821-40 are cataloged online, as are a modest number of later titles. For uncataloged materials, checklists provide access to all the national institutions and to the general and local institutions of seven states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The staff is able to search through the remainder of the collection by name of institution on demand. It should be noted that the presence in this uncataloged collection of any given institution's publications does not preclude the presence of other publications by the same institution in various of the Society's cataloged collections.
- Keith Arbour, former Head of Readers' Services; updated by Alan N. Degutis, Head of Cataloging