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Collection Policies

General Guidelines:

Determine University Library Materials Under the Care of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Pursuant to University Library policy, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) formulates Guidelines for determining which general University Library materials should belong in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library or at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library Oak Street location. RBML is also responsible for all rare books and manuscripts held in departmental libraries outside the Special Collections Division and is working with these libraries on issues of curation, use, and location of rare materials. These guidelines correspond in large part to ALA’s Guidelines on the Selection & Transfer of Materials from General Collections to Special Collections.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML), established in 1936, is home to over six hundred thousand volumes and several kilometers of manuscript material, including early manuscripts, rare books, and literary papers. The RBML is renowned for its outstanding collections of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, early printed books, English literature, American wit and humor, theater history, free speech movements, Italian history, the history of economics, the history of science and technology, mathematics, geology, and natural history. The literary papers of such notable figures as Marcel Proust, Carl Sandburg, H.G. Wells, William Maxwell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Shana Alexander, and W.S. Merwin are also housed in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

The RBML adds to its collections through gift, purchase, and transfer. Selection for addition to RBML collections is guided by this policy, regardless of the method of acquisition. All additions to the collection must be reviewed by at least one member of the Collection Development Team before acceptance, and major additions (such as named collections) must be approved by the Collection Development Team.  All inclusion decisions are ultimately made by the Collection Development Team. Materials that meet our basic guidelines for acquisition or transfer are not guaranteed to be accepted into the RBML; The Collection Development Team may opt not to add particular items due to condition, space issues, or other considerations. In addition, major potential gift acquisitions should be referred via a member of the Collection Development Team to the Head of the RBML to be discussed with the Libraries’ ad hoc Significant Gifts Group before acceptance. Items not considered for inclusion in the RBML collections may, with the permission of the donor, be offered to another library, returned to the donor, or offered for sale with proceeds going to the University Library.

As a general rule, the RBML prefers to purchase materials through professional book dealers and auction houses rather than directly from private individuals, due to state documentation requirements for other purchasing methods.

A subset of our collections are held in the Rare Books/Oak Street Storage Facility (RBOS). These tend to be large runs of periodicals or monographic series, and materials not in their original bindings or in poorer condition. Post-1850 US publications, post-1820 non-US publications, and post-1913 Italian publications tend to also be shelved in RBOS, along with a large subset of the “S” Collection of Children’s Literature. We also add relevant reference works to our reference collection or to the Library’s main stacks, depending upon where we think they would be most useful to our patrons.

A summary of our Distinctive Collections and Areas of Excellence follows below. A full list of descriptions of individual collections can be found in our Collections Description Document. When adding to named collections that began as discrete groups of materials, our general practice is to add the items with notes in the catalog record designating that they were not part of the initial acquisition. For collections classified using an accession number system, added items are typically not interfiled into the original organization of the collection, but are shelved at the end. Named collections that are organized by Dewey Decimal System may have interfiled materials.


Acquisitions levels are as follows:

Active: Devoting purchasing funds to build in these areas.

Minimal: Devoting minimal purchasing funds to build in these areas, but will actively consider gifts.

Complete: The only additions that will be considered for these collections are (a) items directly associated with the collection that were not previously acquired, or (b) items that are identified as having been part of the collection and later separated that should be reunited with the whole. Further expansion in the vision of these collections is not sought.

Static: Not actively seeking to build further in these areas, either through gift or purchase.


Distinctive Collections/ Areas of Excellence:

Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts

Medieval illuminated manuscripts, early modern codices, and other hand-written documents covering subjects such as religion, music, literature and history. Particular strengths lie in English manuscripts (in English and Latin), pedagogical texts, books of hours, literary texts, and legal documents from 1116 to 1600.  Acquisitions level: Active (Emphasis is on full codices, rather than leaves or fragments)


Incunabula and Early Imprints

Illinois boasts of one of the largest collections of early modern imprints (1454-1650) in the United States, including more than 1,200 incunabula (books published in the fifteenth century, during the “cradle days” of printing.) This collection offers a physical record of the history of the early days of printing in Western Europe, including a subset of maps printed before 1800. Among them is a significant fragment (24 leaves) of the Bible printed by Johannes Gutenberg. Also represented are works from the press of the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius, as well as works from the first printers across Europe. Rare editions printed in England and in English are also represented, as well as over 650 Emblem books, supported in part by the Stegemeier fund. Acquisitions level: Active (emphasis on incunabula and Emblem books)


Religious History

Holdings in religious history include first editions of most of the church fathers and mothers, early Bibles, English Sermons, prayer books, Books of Hours, Christian Hebraism, and early theological dissertations, as well as religious plays, Saints’ vitas, Catholic Church governance, histories of monastic/religious orders, American Civil War religious tracts, and other imprints focused largely on the history of Christianity. Acquisitions level: Active (Emphasis on Bibles and sermons translated into indigenous languages).


English Literature and History

Our British and American literature and history collections are particularly deep in printed works through the eighteenth century, picking up again in the late nineteenth century and early to mid-twentieth century with further emphasis on publishing history, modern poetry, and literary archives. English-language printed plays are listed below; English-language drama-related collections in the Performing Arts section emphasize performance-related documentation. Below are additional areas in which we have the most comprehensive coverage, or look to build that coverage in the future.


British Literature and History

  • Baldwin Collection (contemporary to Shakespeare; Shakespeare specific items supported by the Ingold fund). (Acquisitions level: Complete)
  • John Milton materials (Acquisitions level: Active) (pre-1975)
  • Early English Newsletters (English periodicals 1641-1700) (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Ferguson Collection of Scottish Imprints and Scotica. (Scottish works largely from 1640 to 1700) (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Hutchins Collection of works by Daniel Defoe and Defoeiana (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Sherburn Collection of Eighteenth-Century English Pamphlets (Acquisitions level: complete)
  • Nickell Collection of 18th Century English Literature (Acquisitions level: complete)
  • Alexander Smith Collection (19th century Scottish poetry) (Acquisitions level: Complete)
  • Charles Dickens & Dickensiana (Acquisitions level: Minimal) (Supported by J.M. & M.M. Givens endowment)
  • William Allingham (Pre-Raphaelite Irish Poet) (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • H.G. Wells (Acquisitions level: Active)
  • David Erdman Papers (History of 20th century editing of William Blake) (Acquisitions level: complete)


American Literature and History

  • Harwell Collection of Confederate Imprints (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • American Wit and Humor Collection (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library). Robert B. Downs Collection. (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Carl Sandburg Collections (Acquisitions level: Complete)
  • Ralph Newman Americana Collection (Acquisistions level: Static)
  • Franklin J. Meine collection of Mark Twain (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Richard Somer Collection of Archibald MacLeish (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Modern Poetry (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Ben Hecht (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Hugh G. Atkinson Theodore Dreiser Collection (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • The Joe W. Kraus Collection of Saul Bellow Books (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • William Maxwell Papers (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • W.S. Merwin Papers (Acquisitions level: Active)
  • James Jones Papers (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Gwendolyn Brooks Papers (Acquisitions level: Active)
  • Haki Madhubuti Papers (Acquisitions level: Active)


Publishing History, Fine Press & Artists’ Books

  • Bentley, Richard & Son 1806-1915 Papers (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Richards, Grant 1872-1936 Papers (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Evron Collins Collection (Miniature books) (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Slavic Rare/Fine Press Books & Samizdat Literature (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Alvin Doyle Moore Fine Print collection, 1959-2004 (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Combat Paper Project records, 1980-2012 (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. collection, 1992-2003 (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Delamore Press (Acquisitions level: Complete)
  • San Francisco Fine Press (Acquisitions level: Minimal; Book Club of California Fund support)
  • Third World Press (Acquisitions level: Active)


Non-English Language European Literature and Culture

Emphasis on 18th & 19th century, with a subspecialty in drama.

  • Herrick Italian Renaissance Drama Collection (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Spanish Golden Age (1475-1700) (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Emblem Books (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Cavagna Collection (Italian) (Acquisitions level: Complete)
  • Marcel Proust Collection (Acquisitions level: Active)
  • Gerhard Mayer collection of publications by or about Rainer Maria Rilke (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Andrei Codrescu collection (Acquisitions level: Static)


Asian Books Collection

The Asian Collection consists of material dating from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. The majority of items are Japanese books printed between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. There are also a small number of Chinese books, as well as three Burmese “Kammavaca” (Buddhist prayer books).

  • Yamagiwa collection (17th-19th c Japanese) (Acquisitions level: Minimal)


Radical Literature and Political Activism

Materials in these collections emphasize the expression and suppression of free speech, particularly in the most radical groups of political activity.

  • William Cobbett papers (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • James Collins collection: Irish literature including political cartoons (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Ewing Cannon Baskette papers and collection (Freedom of Expression & Censorship) (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Spanish Civil War Collection (Acquisitions level: active)


Performing Arts, Film, Media and Popular Cultural Studies

Early printed plays are listed above in the sections related to literature; drama-related collections listed below emphasize performance documentation of some kind. The Motley Collection provides context for 20th-century live performance, with scene design, production plans and more from the celebrated British theater design team “Motley.”

  • Yellowback Novels Collection (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Fraenkel Collection (performance copies of eighteenth & nineteenth century classical music) (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Portraits of Actors (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Film and TV Scripts (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Leskosky Collection of Film Press Kits (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Shana Alexander Papers (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • History of Baseball (American League Historical Reference Library) (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Perry Miller Adato (PBS documentarian) (Acquisitions level: Complete)
  • VanBlaricum Collection of Bondiana (Acquisitions level: Active) (Supported by the VanBlaricum Fund)
  • Jaffe Collection (Golden Age Science Fiction) (Acquisitions level: Minimal)


History of Science, Natural History, and Mathematics

Illinois holds major collections – more than 7000 volumes — in the fields of Ornithology, Geology, Engineering, Computer Science, Volcanology, Chemistry, Knowledge Organization, Entomology, and Agricultural Science. These works were predominantly published before 1800, but in some cases include materials published up until WWII; seminal modern works may also be added at the discretion of the Collection Development Team. The mathematics collection is ranked among the three most significant in the United States and includes a near comprehensive collection of early Euclids, and first editions of many of the pioneers in the field. Collection highlights include Audubon’s Birds of America, works by Catesby and Lear, early editions of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus (1566), Vesalius’s De Humanis Corporis Fabrica (1543 & 1555), Galileo’s Isotria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari e loro accidenti  (1613), Hooke’s Micrografia (1665), and Cuvier’s Recherches sur les ossemens fossils (1812).  We are not generally seeking post-1800 medical or anatomical works. (Acquisitions level: Active)

  • Stodola Collection (History of Chemistry)
  • Arctic Exploration collections (Canadian Arctic, Greenland, and the European Arctic)
    • Schwatka Arctic Library
    • Mercanton Polar Library
    • Richardson, Sir John Collection


Social Sciences

We have particular strengths in the history of economics in Britain before 1940, and the history of pedagogy/ education of children across multiple eras and countries.

  • Hollander Collection of Economics (historical British economics to 1923) (Supported by the J.L. Weston fund) (Acquisitions level: Minimal)
  • Aron Collection (German language) (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • Baldwin Collection (Elizabethan education) (Acquisitions level: Static)
  • S Collection of Children’s Literature (RBML Acquisitions level: Minimal; active acquisitions through SSHEL);
  • Murphy Collection (18th through 20th century English elocution and rhetoric) (Acquisitions level: Static)


Materials outside of RBML’s Collection Policy:

There are some general groups of materials that we have determined are not appropriate for adding to the RBML. These include:

  • Microfilm
  • Facsimiles valued at less than $1000
  • Catalogs raisonnés
  • Railroad-related materials
  • History of Medicine/Anatomy published after 1800
  • European maps produced after 1800; US maps (excluding Illinois) produced after 1820 are selected on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the Map Librarian.
  • Bookplated collections otherwise not relevant to our specialties
  • Collections of modern first editions that do not complement our current areas of excellence
  • Re-bound 19th or 20th century American Literature
  • Brittle books
  • family Bibles


Last updated: 24 April 2018