Repository Spotlight - National Association of REALTORS® Library & Archives: At Home With History

By Hathaway Hester, Archivist & Digital Preservation Librarian, National Association of REALTORS®

Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is the largest trade organization in the United States, with over 1.3 million members. The association’s mission is to “help its members become more profitable and successful” through professional development, research and education, public awareness campaigns, and political advocacy.


NAR Logo, 1923-1973.

NAR Logo, 1923-1973.


Prior to NAR’s founding in 1908, there were few regulations governing real estate transactions and no legal requirements for becoming a real estate agent. Cases of fraud were all too common. NAR’s founders aimed to change all that. From the beginning, NAR advocated for developments in the industry that would protect consumers and further the professionalization of real estate practitioners. In 1916, member Charles Chadbourne invented a new term that would differentiate the specialists who pledged to uphold NAR’s Code of Ethics from those real estate dealers who did not. Today the word REALTOR® is a trademarked term that is used only to refer to members of NAR.


NAR Library & Archives Entrance.

NAR Library & Archives Entrance.


Established in 1923 as the Information Bureau, the NAR Library & Archives has been an integral part of the association from its earliest days. Just five years into its existence, the Library already reported a total of 3,742 incoming research requests for the year. The librarians wrote regular columns in member publications and frequently presented educational sessions at NAR conferences. The collections grew with the association, and today we are proud to claim the distinction of largest real estate library in the world, with over 17,000 books, reports, and journals on every aspect of real estate.

Early NAR Convention Programs and Ribbons, 1908-1933.


From late 19th century records detailing the earliest attempts to organize an association to born digital agendas from last month’s Leadership Team meetings, the Archives covers the breadth of NAR’s history. Our holdings tell the story of the association intertwined with the development of the real estate industry in the United States. Among the collections are over 100 years of revisions to NAR’s Code of Ethics, policy and procedure manuals, research surveys and reports, a full run of Board of Directors minutes, rosters, journals and newsletters, advertising campaigns, and audio-visual recordings from past conferences.

With a user base of 1.3 million members, approximately 1,200 state and local REALTOR® associations, and about 350 staff members in both Chicago and Washington, D.C., there’s never a quiet moment for our team of five. In recent months you may have found us tracing the history of NAR dues increases for our President, helping a member locate their join date, sourcing images for an orientation video, researching a local REALTOR® association history for its upcoming centennial, investigating the development of buyer agency laws for a REALTOR® instructor, or conducting tours for a visiting delegation.


NAR Library Stacks.


2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, an occasion that informed our work throughout the year. The team curated reading lists, wrote book reviews, assisted a documentary film crew, created a policy timeline, and contributed research to a theatrical presentation during the general session at NAR’s Legislative Meetings. These projects reached audiences from across the different facets of our user base and showcased the span of work we do in the NAR Library & Archives. Responses to this work have been overwhelmingly positive, showing that people are ready to take an honest look at NAR’s sometimes complicated history.

Our dedicated Library & Archives team and the association’s ongoing support for knowledge and history means we are well-positioned to tell NAR’s stories, to enrich people’s understanding of U.S. real estate, and to meet our users’ needs well into the future.

All images courtesy National Assocation of REALTORS® Library & Archives.

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