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Collection Policies

General Guidelines: [Policy update completed November 21, 2021]

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 nearly half a million 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-1875 Italian publications tend to also be shelved in RBOS, along with a large subset of the “S” (School) 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 [not yet available, but forthcoming]. 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.

The RBML is committed to diversifying our collections and reflecting a more inclusive history of the written and printed word. We interpret “inclusivity” explicitly through the lenses of gender, ethnicity, race, disability, LGBTQ+, and indigeneity (with an emphasis on the Americas and the Arctic). We thus seek to strategically expand our holdings in: 

  • Arabic books and manuscripts;
  • the Asian American experience and social movement;
  • Black Arts, with an emphasis on inclusive modern poetry and black-owned presses;
  • the Chicano/Latin American experience and social movement;
  • the Disabled experience and social movement (materials relating to the history of those with cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, and sensory impairments or restrictions);
  • the History of the Book (non-white, non-male, non-straight members of the book trades; the “global book” as an inherently cross-cultural product of materials and influence);
  • the History of Colonization (the Transatlantic slave trade and African diaspora; indigenous colonization and genocide) with an emphasis on pre-1800 colonial and human rights documents; 
  • the History of Literature (non-male, non-white, non-straight authors; non-English languages, with an emphasis on indigenous languages and print cultures in the Americas and the Artic; South American literatures and authors);
  • the History of Religion (non-Judeo-Christian materials); 
  • the History of Science (women scientists as authors, readers, and book owners; early and indigenous medicine; the history of midwifery and gynecology);
  • Materials relating to the history of the Negro League as an expansion of the History of Baseball collection.

We are also undertaking efforts to retroactively identify, classify, and/or rename currently owned materials that reflect these interests and areas. 


Acquisitions Status 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:

American Civil War Collection

This collection specifically emphasizes Confederate Imprints. The RBML does not actively collect materials from the American Civil War outside of this category in an effort not to conflict with the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections.

Acquisition Status: MINIMAL

  • Harwell Collection of Confederate Imprints (Acquisitions Status: Static)


Arctic Exploration Collection

The majority of Arctic exploration-related works in the library are shelved under the call number 919.8 and many can be found in the Classic Catalog using the subject heading “Arctic regions, Discovery and exploration.” In addition to the general Arctic collections, four named collections of Arctic material are held by the RBML. The RBML also holds several rare Arctic newspaper titles.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE

  • Mercanton Polar Library (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • Sir John Richardson Collection (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • Schwatka Arctic Library (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • Palmer-Parry Collection (Acquisitions Status: Active)


Children’s Literature Collection

The RBML maintains a collection of pre-1945 children’s literature, board books, pop-up books, and award winning 20th & 21st century children’s literature in collaboration with SSHEL.  Acquisition Status: ACTIVE

  • ‘S’ Collection [School collection] (Acquisitions Status: Active – fund managed by SSHEL)


Digital Collections

The RBML is growing its digital collections. We collect born-digital materials tied directly to our established collecting areas, as well as a growing digitization program to make our analog and audiovisual collections more visible and accessible.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


Emblem Books Collection

Emblem books are a variety of illustrated book, primarily produced from the sixteenth through the eighteenth century. They consist of collections of three–part compositions, each made up of an illustration, a motto (serving as the title of the piece) and an epigram or other written text. It is not uncommon for there to be additional explanatory sections in prose or verse. A broader interpretation includes many other types of illustrated books, such as emblematized fables, “Dance of Death” books, and books illustrating triumphs that contain numerous and prominent emblems. The development of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Emblem Books Collection was due in large part to the efforts of Professor Henri Stegemeier (1912–2001). Since then, numerous emblem books have been added to the collection. Because of its special strengths, the collection is the basis for a digitization project.

Acquisition Status: MINIMAL


Film, Media & Popular Culture Studies

These holdings include documentary material related to television and film, such as draft and final versions of shooting scripts, film storyboards, press kits and other promotional materials, and in some cases actual film reels.

Acquisition Status: Minimal

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE

  • Yellowback Novels Collection (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Film and TV Scripts (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
    • Our Film & Television materials include American major studio scripts, press kits, ephemera, and audiovisual materials spanning the period 1925-2008.
  • Leskosky Collection of Film Press Kits (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • Shana Alexander Papers (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • History of Baseball [American League Historical Reference Library] (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • Perry Miller Adato [PBS documentarian] (Acquisitions Status: Complete)
  • VanBlaricum Collection of Ian Fleming and Bondiana (Acquisitions Status: Active – Supported by the VanBlaricum Fund)
  • Jaffe Collection [Golden Age Science Fiction] (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • Cricket & Rugby (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • Sport as a conduit for colonization (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • The Olympic movement (Acquisitions Status: Active)


Fine Arts

Materials related to painting, sculpture, calligraphy, and other visual arts, as unrelated to fine press materials. Adding to this collection is conducted in consultation with Ricker Art & Architecture Library.

Acquisition Status: MINIMAL


Architecture & Landscape Architecture

Pre-1800, mostly Euro-centric materials related to the history of architecture & landscape architecture. Adding to this collection is conducted in consultation with Ricker Art & Architecture Library.

Acquisition Status: MINIMAL


French fin-de-siècle

Materials related to literature, culture and the arts in France for the Belle Époque (1871-1914) and World War I periods (1914-1919). Includes books, periodicals, and select archival materials. Acquisition Status: ACTIVE

  • Marcel Proust Collection (Acquisitions Status: Active)



Historic and modern board games purchased for instruction purposes and for use in outreach. Historic board games are typically reproduced so they may be easily handled. Tarot cards are also included in this collection, with additions from the Mandeville Collection, which is managed by SSHELL. For tarot cards, there is a distinction between cards that are being preserved for historical purposes and those that are able to be actively used. A significant portion of the current Game Collection features games related to lottery, chance, gambling and money. These games were purchased to complement our History of Economics collection, however, current purchases are moving away from economic based games. RBML is specifically looking for non-English games and non-gambling games. Games that would complement our collection include topics such as: Shakespeare, Milton, historical card games, didactic games, educational games, trivia games, Little Black Sambo games (tied to collection), Lewis Carroll, H.G. Wells, and travel related games.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


History of Economics

The history of economics collection broadly consists of books pertaining to 18th, 19th, and 20th c. economics in Europe. These volumes have a significant emphasis on political economics, although household economics is also represented. There are also several manuscript collections of note. The Jacob H. Hollander collection consists of manuscripts and letters pertaining to the 19th and 20th c. political economics of Europe.

Acquisition Status: MINIMAL

  • Hollander Collection of Economics (Acquisitions Status: Minimal – Supported by the J.L. Weston fund)


History of Medicine

The history of medicine includes manuscripts, printed books, and ephemeral publications regarding the human body and its health. Related materials in the History of Science collections include herbals and botanical volumes which list the medicinal usages of various plants. Notable works include early printed editions of Vesalius, Galen, and other classical authors; early and Enlightenment era manuals on midwifery and physiology, including books linking the study of astrology to physical health; and twentieth century studies and bibliographies. We are not generally seeking post-1800 medical or anatomical works.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


History of Pedagogy

The history of pedagogy and education of children across multiple eras and countries.

Acquisition Status: MINIMAL

  • Aron Collection (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Baldwin Collection (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • S Collection of Children’s Literature (Acquisitions Status: Minimal – Active acquisitions through SSHEL)
  • Murphy Collection (Acquisitions Status: Static)


History of Science, Natural History & Technology

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. Collection highlights include Audubon’s Birds of America, works by Catesby and Lear, early editions of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus (1566), 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).

Acquisition Status: MINIMAL

  • Stodola Collection (History of Chemistry)


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.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


Italian Culture, Politics & History

Our Italian materials cover a range of subjects including popular plays, religious treatises, political pamphlets, and works of science. Of further note is the Cavagna collection that consists of over 20,000 printed works and bound manuscripts, as well as maps and prints.

Acquisition Status: MINIMAL

  • Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection (Acquisitions Status: Complete)


Literatures in English

Literatures in English describe the wide array of literary materials, such as poetry, fiction, and literary essays and criticism, created predominantly by American, English, Scottish, and Irish authors. Notable holdings include early editions of works by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and many others, as well as significant collections of Children’s Books and Modern Poetry.  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 modern poetry, and literary archives. Below are additional areas in which we have the most comprehensive coverage, or look to build that coverage in the future. English-language drama-related collections are located in the Performing Arts section and emphasize performance-related documentation.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


American Literature, Politics & History

  • Ralph Newman Americana Collection (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Richard Somer Collection of Archibald MacLeish (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Ben Hecht (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Hugh G. Atkinson Theodore Dreiser Collection (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Joe W. Kraus Collection of Saul Bellow Books (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • William Maxwell Papers (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • James Jones Papers (Acquisitions Status: Static)


American Wit & Humor

  • Robert B. Downs Collection (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • Franklin J. Meine collection of Mark Twain (Acquisitions Status: Static)


British Literature, Politics & History

  • Baldwin Collection (contemporary to Shakespeare; Shakespeare specific items supported by the Ingold fund) (Acquisitions Status: Complete)
  • John Milton materials (pre-1975) (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • Early English Newsletters (English periodicals 1641-1700) (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Hutchins Collection of works by Daniel Defoe and Defoeiana (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Sherburn Collection of Eighteenth-Century English Pamphlets (Acquisitions Status: complete)
  • Nickell Collection of 18th Century English Literature (Acquisitions Status: complete)
  • Charles Dickens & Dickensiana (Acquisitions Status: Minimal) (Supported by J.M. & M.M. Givens endowment)
  • David Erdman Papers (History of 20th century editing of William Blake) (Acquisitions Status: complete)


Scottish & Irish Cultural History

  • William Allingham (Pre-Raphaelite Irish Poet) (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Alexander Smith Collection (19th century Scottish poetry) (Acquisitions Status: Complete)
  • Ferguson Collection of Scottish Imprints and Scotica. (Scottish works largely from 1640 to 1700) (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • James Collins collection: Irish literature including political cartoons (Acquisitions Status: Static)



The mathematics collection is ranked among the three most significant in the United States and includes a near comprehensive collection of early editions of Euclid, and first editions of many of the pioneers in the field.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


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. (Emphasis is on full codices, rather than leaves or fragments)

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


Non-English Language Literature & Culture

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE

  • Gerhard Mayer collection of Publications by or about Rainer Maria Rilke (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • Andrei Codrescu Collection (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Islamic manuscripts (Acquisition Status: Active)
  • National Socialist Literature Collection (Acquisitions Status: Static)


Japanese Literature & Culture

  • Yamagiwa Collection (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)


Notable Literary Collections

Our notable literary collections include significant archival holdings of major writers, and with certain writers their personal libraries and documented realia as well.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE

  • Modern Poetry (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • G. Wells Collection (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • S. Merwin Papers (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • Carl Sandburg Collections (Acquisitions Status: Active)


Performing Arts

Emphasis on 18th and 19th century. Drama-related collections listed below emphasize performance documentation of some kind.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


Drama & Theater History

  • Herrick Italian Renaissance Drama Collection (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • Portraits of Actors (Acquisitions Status: Static)



  • Fraenkel Collection (performance copies of eighteenth & nineteenth century classical music) (Acquisitions Status: Static)


Philosophy & Ethics

Works of philosophy and ethics in our collections are heavily weighted towards early printings of texts by classical authors such as Aristotle, Epicurus, Confucius, and first or early editions of Enlightenment era philosophers such as Kant and Rousseau, among others.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


Publishing History, Fine Press & Artists’ Books

Our Publishing History collections document several notable publishing firms, including the records of G.P. Putnam’s Sons and Richard Bentley & Son. The Fine Press collection holds many examples of 19th and 20th century fine letterpress printing from such workshops as the Kelmscott Press, Arion Press, and numerous others, while Artists’ Books encompass various works by past and living artists. RBML emphasizes history of printing, and Ricker emphasizes graphic design innovations.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE

  • Haki Madhubuti Papers (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • Bentley, Richard & Son 1806-1915 Papers (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Richards, Grant 1872-1936 Papers (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Evron Collins Collection (Miniature books) (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Slavic Rare/Fine Press Books & Samizdat Literature (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Alvin Doyle Moore Fine Print collection, 1959-2004 (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Combat Paper Project records, 1980-2012 (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. collection, 1992-2003 (Acquisitions Status: Minimal)
  • Delamore Press (Acquisitions Status: Complete)
  • San Francisco Fine Press (Acquisitions Status: Minimal – Book Club of California Fund support)
  • Third World Press (Acquisitions Status: Active)
  • Materials to complement the Ricker Art & Architecture Library Collections (Acquisitions Status: Active – In consultation with the Head of Ricker Library)


Radical Literature & Political Activism

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

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE

  • William Cobbett Papers (Acquisitions Status: Static)
  • Ewing Cannon Baskette Papers and Collection (Acquisitions Status: Active)


Reference Collection & Unit Working Collection

RBML houses numerous reference works for the use of staff and patrons. Such resources include both scholarly publications and in-house compilations of materials that relate to historical accessions and finding aids.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


Religions & Spirituality

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. (Emphasis on Bibles and sermons translated into indigenous languages)

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


Social Sciences

Disciplines heavily represented in our Social Sciences collections include economics, education, geography, history, and political science. The vast majority of these are early modern editions with some nineteenth- and twentieth-century contributions.

Acquisition Status: MINIMAL


Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War Collection is a compilation of material documenting the U.S. literary and military involvement in Spain’s fight against fascism. Emphasized are the American writers who participated in and reported the events and who interpreted their experiences through poetry, prose, and art. The collection comprises about 20 subcategories focused on members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, including: Edwin Rolfe, Milton Wolff, John Tisa, Frank Lister, Milton Felson, and John Gates. It includes books, broadsides, clippings, correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, serials, and miscellaneous items relating the experiences of American volunteers in Spain. The collection contains many references to the cultural and political context in which the Americans were placed, including posters and propaganda material.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


Spanish Golden Age

Emphasizes 16th & 17th century literature and history (complementing our British materials from the same period). Over 1,000 items in classical languages printed in Spain, works in the Spanish language printed outside Spain, and works written by Spanish authors.

Acquisition Status: STATIC


Teaching & Outreach Collection

This collection consists of materials used in RBML’s teaching and outreach programming, with an emphasis on items that can be safely touched and used. These include facsimiles of materials held both in RBML and elsewhere; modern board games for actual play; and items that can be used for creative works such as quills and ink, etc.

  • All items must leave and return with a full time staff member
  • All items will be labelled as the outreach copy (OUTREACH COPY)

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


Travel Literature

Travel literature encompasses travelogues, nature writing, guide books and other first-hand narratives, and adventure literature. The majority of these holdings are from the European perspective, sometimes with a colonialist bent. It is worth keeping in mind that while some of these volumes are notable primary sources in literature and history, their historical accuracy can sometimes be dubious or debatable at best, and as such novice readers will want to consult them in tandem with more recent scholarship. Particular strengths in this collection include early print editions of volumes of exploration and natural history, as well as early accounts of travel to the Americas, the East, and the Arctic.

Acquisition Status: ACTIVE


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
  • Catalogues 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