T0: Special Collections Division
FROM Valerie Hotchkiss, Head of the Rare Book and Special Collections Library
DATE: 11 August 2005
RE: Name of The Rare Book and Special Collections Library
I would like to propose changing the name of The Rare Book and Special Collections Library. The current name is not useful for the collection of rare books and manuscripts housed here. "Special Collections" refers to any number of collections, from maps to archives to plant specimens. Although the term is used at the University of Illinois to distinguish the rare book collection from various authors' collections and "manuscript holdings," it does not reflect the general understanding of the term in the wider world.
There are other libraries in the country that use this name, I admit. I found two examples, The University of Rochester and Notre Dame. Princeton is similar, though they attempt to fix the grammar a bit with "Rare Books and Special Collections." Duke gets it all in with "Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections." Our name probably came from the Library of Congress moniker, but as I have found in many cases, the Library of Congress is not always a model of logic or precision.
We feel strongly that a more descriptive term for our collection would be RARE BOOK AND MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY as used at Yale, Columbia, UPenn and several English universities, among others. This designation not only is more descriptive, but also more elegant. It will help us break down some barriers between the two parts of our operation and it will also lend itself nicely to prefixing someone's name (the sooner, the better!)
Moreover, should all "Special Collections" at the U of I Libraries come together someday, we would not have the confusing definitional problem in our current name.
Such a change would entail