May 28, 2022

New York Public Library Acquires Lou Reed’s Complete Archives

From a NYPL Announcement:

During a press conference at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Laurie Anderson and NYPL announced today, on what would have been Lou Reed’s 75th birthday, that the Library is acquiring the seminal musician’s complete archives. The Library will also host free displays and public programs over the next two weeks to celebrate and showcase Reed’s life and work, and his collection’s new home at NYPL.

The Lou Reed Archive measures approximately 300 linear feet of paper records, electronic records, and photographs, and approximately 3,600 audio and 1,300 video recordings. The Archive documents the history of Reed’s life as a musician, composer, poet, writer, photographer, and tai-chi student through his own extensive papers, photographs, recordings and other collections of materials. The archive spans Reed’s creative life–from his 1958 Freeport High School band, The Shades, his job as a staff songwriter for the budget music label, Pickwick Records, and his rise to prominence through The Velvet Underground and subsequent solo career, to his final performances in 2013. The collection comprises studio notes, galleys and proofs, master and unreleased recordings, business papers, personal correspondence, poster art, fan gifts, rare printed material and Reed’s substantial photography collection.

Laurie Anderson initiated and guided the formation of the Lou Reed Archive. Independent archivist Don Fleming (who also works on the Alan Lomax, Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey collections at various institutions) oversaw the acquisition and worked with Reed’s two archivists, Jason Stern and Jim Cass, to create a detailed catalog of the extensive materials, most having been in storage for decades. Keeping the archive together and in New York were primary goals of finding the best institution to care for Reed’s collected works. Anderson and the archive team reached out to The New York Public Library and believe that it will be the ideal home for Reed’s archive

Lou Reed Archive Overview (via NYPL)

The Lou Reed Archive documents the history of Reed’s life as a musician, composer, poet, writer, photographer, and tai-chi student through his own extensive papers, photographs, recordings and other collections of materials. The archive spans Reed’s creative life¬—from his 1958 Freeport High School band, The Shades, to his final performances in 2013.

The Lou Reed Archive will be held within the research collections of The New York Public Library. The primary service point for the Archive following processing will be the Music Division/Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts located at Lincoln Center in Manhattan.

The heart of the archive is the collected material from Sister Ray Enterprises. Reed formed SRE to oversee his tours and his recording catalog. Recording sessions and the promotional work surrounding his releases are thoroughly detailed in studio notes, related session tapes, record label correspondence, test pressings, and album art notes/mock-ups/match prints. Reed’s history as a live performer is deeply detailed by photographs, audio and video recordings, posters, handbills, extensive tour itineraries, agreements, receipts, correspondence, laminates, and passes. There are extensive examples of U.S. and international press in binders, scrapbooks and folders for Reed’s albums, performances, theatre works, books, and photography exhibits.

The Lou Reed Archive includes:

  • Original manuscript, lyrics, poetry and handwritten tai-chi notes
  • Photographs of Reed- including artist prints and inscriptions by the photographers
  • Tour itineraries, agreements, road manager notes & paperwork
  • 600+ hours of live recordings, demos, studio recordings and interviews
  • Reed’s own extensive photography work
  • Album, book, and tour artwork: mock-ups, proofs and match-prints
  • Lou Reed album and concert posters, handbills, programs, and promotional items
  • Lou Reed press for albums, tours, performances, books, and photography exhibits
  • Fan mail
  • Personal collections of books, LPs and 45s
  • The collection documents collaborations, friendships, and relationships with Delmore Schwartz, Andy Warhol, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, Mick Rock, Robert Quine, Sylvia Ramos, Doc Pomus, Václav Havel, Hal Willner, John Zorn, Robert Wilson, Julian Schnabel, and Laurie Anderson.

The audio and video collection includes over 600 hours of original demos; studio recordings; live recordings; and interviews from 1965 to 2013. All of Reed’s major tours and many of his guest performances are represented in the collection. An excellent example is 25 hours of original recordings documenting his 1978 run at the Bottom Line in NYC from which the Take No Prisoners live album was derived.

One of the rarest and most interesting items in the collection is a 5” reel to reel that Reed mailed to himself in May of 1965. It was common at the time for songwriters to create a “poor man’s copyright” by sending a recording of a new song to themselves and then not opening the package, thereby establishing a copyright date with the postmark. The package remains unopened. It is believed to be from the first Velvet Underground demo sessions that occurred on May 11, 1965 at Pickwick’s studios in Queens. It could be that it’s one or more of those demos, which included the first two recorded versions of Heroin. Or it could be an unknown composition. It’s still being decided when, and if, to break the seal on the package.

Read the Complete Announcement and Archive Overview

Displays at NYPL

Discover highlights from the Library’s newly acquired Lou Reed Archive documenting Reed’s more than 50-year career—including original song lyrics, photographs, and personal ephemera—at two locations from March 2–20.

NYPL Blog Post

Online Resources (via NYPL)

 10 Great Books on Lou Reed, The Velvet Underground, and 1960’s Counterculture
via NYPL Blog

NYPL Podcast #72: Lou Reed on Playing Outside the Box
From August 4, 2015

Lou Reed Speaks at a Dec 18, 2009 NYPL Live Event

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.