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Collection Development Policy

[Updated March 2021]

Kenneth Spencer Research Library is the home of rare and unique collections at the University of Kansas Libraries, including:

  • Rare books, distinguished by their age, relative importance, or scarcity. They may be collected for physical characteristics peculiar to a particular copy as much as, or more, than their actual content.
  • Manuscripts, or original handwritten or typed documents. They can include letters, drafts of literary works, or historical documents.
  • Archives, which are the records of an organization or institution preserved because of their enduring value, after they have served their original purpose.

Our mission is to collect and preserve distinctive resources and make them available to the campus, the community, and the world.

The information below describes considerations that guide collection development decisions at Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Kansas Collection

Mission/Statement of Purpose

The mission of Kenneth Spencer Research Library is to connect scholars in varied disciplines with the information that is critical to their research, while providing excellent services in a welcoming and comfortable environment.

The Kansas Collection documents the history and culture of Kansas and the everyday lives Kansans from the territorial period to the present. Of secondary emphasis is on the history of the four contiguous states and the Great Plains.

Printed holdings include works about Kansas as well as a wide variety of journals, books, and ephemera printed in Kansas, by Kansas organizations, schools, churches, and state agencies. The Kansas Collection is a repository for state documents.    

User Population

Kenneth Spencer Research Library is open to all researchers, regardless of academic affiliation or place of residence. We welcome University of Kansas students, faculty, and staff as well as visiting researchers and members of the community. 


The social, political, economic and cultural history of the state and region, are represented through strengths in the following categories:

  • African American experiences
  • LBGTQ+ experiences
  • Hispanic/Latinx experiences
  • Agriculture
  • Arts
  • Natural and built environments
  • Businesses
  • Cities and towns
  • Education
  • Ethnic immigration
  • Journalism
  • Politics
  • Local government
  • Military
  • Early printing
  • Religion
  • Women’s history
  • Migration across Kansas

Collection Parameters

Collection materials are in a variety of formats. Formats include print (books, posters, etc.), manuscripts (letters, scrapbooks, business records), photographs, maps, audio and video records, and films. Increasingly these materials will be in digital formats and will require additional resources to maintain. 

Manuscript holdings include the personal papers of many individuals connected with the state and region; some well-known for their work, such as authors, and politicians, and many representing individuals and families whose stories are important to understand everyday life in the state and region. Records for many voluntary organizations such as women’s clubs, service organizations, professional organizations, and local grass root efforts are represented. Business records for selected small businesses, as well as records relating to Kansas churches and schools are also available.

The printed collections include a variety of publications, both published in Kansas, and about the state and region. Kansas territorial and early statehood imprints are exhaustively collected. Later imprints are evaluated and added to the Collection if their subject content deals with Kansas or the region, or, if the information provided by the imprint provides unique information about a Kansas or regional organization, business, community or press. Contemporary books published by academic presses on Kansas topics are generally placed in the KU Libraries circulating collections, with duplicate copies added to the Kansas Collection when a second copy is deemed necessary for research.   

Geographical Parameters

The majority of holdings focus on the history of the state of Kansas. Of secondary interest is the Kansas region, comprising the four contiguous states of Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, particularly the areas of those states that lie adjacent to Kansas.

While efforts are made to represent the state and region, there is a collecting strength for resources relevant to Lawrence and Douglas County history, given the location of the University.

Chronological Parameters

Chronological coverage of the collection reflects the history of the development of the state. Collection holdings cover the 1850s to the present. Materials dealing with the exploration of the area prior to the establishment of Kansas as a territory are included in the holdings of Special Collections as part of their emphasis on American travel and exploration.

Language Parameters

The majority of Kansas Collection holdings are in English. Given the ethnic diversity of settlement in Kansas, some printed works and personal papers include items written in other European languages, such as German, Spanish, French, and Swedish. As the documentation of ethnic groups in Kansas is a high collecting priority, foreign language sources will continue to be added to the collection.

Collecting Scope

Collecting focus has been placed on acquiring materials that broadly reflects the economic, cultural, social, and political history of the state. Emphasis is placed on acquiring unique collections of the personal papers of individuals and families with connections to Kansas; the archival records of Kansas organizations and businesses, and local government records for Douglas County. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Manuscripts (letters, diaries, scrapbooks, autobiographies, business ledgers, letterpress volumes, speeches, sermons)
  • Historical photographs (glass negatives, prints, slides, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, photo postcards)
  • Books (travel accounts, reports, Kansas publications, public school yearbooks, membership directories, church histories)
  • Pamphlets, serials and journals, and printed and manuscript ephemera (broadsides, posters, bumper stickers)
  • Audio recordings, including oral interviews
  • Film and video recordings
  • Maps, including bound atlases and gazetteers

Special collecting emphasis is placed on acquiring documentation of the African American, Hispanic/Latinx, and Native American experiences; women’s history; the environment; and the arts in the state and region. 

Not Collected

The Kansas Collection does not routinely accept three-dimensional artifacts, copies of photographs owned by other institutions, Kansas newspapers, random newspaper articles, or family Bibles. Manuscript collections are not accepted if they are represented, already, in another repository. Multiple copies of pamphlets, newsletters, travel brochures, etc., that might be found in personal papers of records of organizations are not retained beyond two copies.

Duplicate copies of materials are generally not accepted, or retained, unless one or more of the following criteria apply:

  • High demand
  • Physical condition is better than the one already owned
  • Presence of annotations or extraneous materials that are important to the item and focus of the Kansas Collection

Overlap with Other Collections

Unique resources in the Kansas Collection add to the richness of resources available at the Kansas State Historical Society and the Watkins Museum. State records are not acquired, as these are required by law to be placed in the State Archives at the Kansas State Historical Society. Likewise, Kansas newspapers are not actively acquired, given their availability through the State Historical Society.

Selection Process

Emphasis is placed on acquiring collections that are not readily available elsewhere, fill known gaps within the Collection, or fall within an area of emphasis. The majority of materials are acquired through donation, with ownership of materials transferred to the University. The Kansas Collection does not accept records or papers on deposit.

The Curator, with appropriate input, makes final decisions on all acquisitions. Both the Curator and Field Archivist are actively involved in directly soliciting manuscript and photographic materials, and will complete a deed of gift for each manuscript donation with the donor at the time of donation.      

Special Collections

General Description of Collection and Areas of Collection Development

We collect materials in a range of formats—books, manuscripts, maps, ephemera, photographs, and audio-visual recordings—in order to foster original research and learning in the humanities, social sciences, and the history of science. Our collections span from the origins of writing through the present day, although most holdings date from 1550-1950. Areas of collection strength that we continue to develop (as possible, by gift and/or purchase) include: African market literature; ancient and medieval manuscripts; architecture; economics; eighteenth-century British and French collections; history of American education; history of science; illustrated East Asian books; Irish collections; materials for Latin America, Portugal, and Spain; nineteenth- and twentieth-century British, Irish, and American literary collections, including a growing collection for African American literature; renaissance and early modern imprints; science fiction; voyages, travels, geography, atlases, and maps; and materials supporting the study of the history of the book and the book arts. For printed materials, the emphasis is primarily on the addition of first or significant editions that do not duplicate our existing collections.

Collecting Parameters

The collecting parameters of the major collecting areas in Special Collections are as follows:

  • African American Literature
    Collecting Emphasis: First and significant editions, with an emphasis on a list of writers and titles recommended by KU faculty teaching in the field of African American literature.
  • African Market Literature
    Collecting Emphasis: Onitsha Market Literature and similar publications from elsewhere in Nigeria and other African countries.
  • Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts
    Collecting Emphasis: Representative examples for teaching and study as opportunity permits.
  • Architecture
    Collecting  Emphasis: Frank Lloyd Wright and his associates.
  • East Asian Manuscript and Printed Volumes and Scrolls
    Collecting Emphasis: Illustrated works about natural history and other subjects.
  • Economics
    Collecting Emphasis: Pre-1950 British economic history.
  • Eighteenth Century
    Collecting Emphasis: English, Scottish, Irish, and French printed materials not available digitally (e.g. via ECCO); Edmund Curll; materials related to the French Revolution; French contes des fées.
  • History of American Education
    Collecting Emphasis: History of American education; children’s literature to 1950; music, tune books, and hymnals to 1950.
  • History of Science and Scientific Illustration
    Collecting Emphasis: Natural history, especially ornithology, botany, and taxonomy.
  • Irish Collections
    Collecting Emphasis: Yeats Family; James Joyce; Irish literary renaissance; printed volumes, periodicals, ephemera, and manuscripts addressing Irish politics, culture, and literature (circa 1650-1950).
  • Latin America, Portugal, and Spain
    Collecting Emphasis: Central American imprints and manuscripts; literatura de cordel and cartoneras; Early Spanish and Portuguese imprints (pre-1701). The majority of purchases for Latin American materials are made in collaboration with the KU Librarian for Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American and Caribbean Studies.
  • Nineteenth- and Twentieth- Century Literary Collections
    Collecting Emphasis: First editions of literary works, limited editions, and editions and periodicals illustrating historical modes of publication (e.g. books in parts, three-deckers, little magazines, private press editions, artists’ books); Jane and Anna Maria Porter; Pre-Raphaelites (especially the Rossettis); Irish literature (see separate description); African American literature (see separate description); New American Poetry (see separate description); science fiction (see separate description).
  • New American Poetry
    Collecting Emphasis: First editions, limited editions, chapbooks, ephemera, broadsides, and manuscript materials pertaining to post-World War II poetry, especially the Beats, San Francisco Renaissance, Black Mountain School, and Kansas poets (in collaboration with the Kansas Collection).
  • Renaissance and Early Modern Continental European Imprints
    Collecting Emphasis: Incunabula; texts that do not have modern or digital editions; imprints in vernacular languages, especially history and literature.
  • Science Fiction Collections
    Collecting Emphasis: Writers’ papers and organizational records; “Golden age” of science fiction; speculative fiction periodicals and fanzines; first or significant editions of major printed works in the field; printed works by authors whose papers we hold; printed works that contribute to other areas of collecting emphasis (Irish Literature, French literature, African American literature, etc.).
  • Voyages, Travels, Geography, Maps, and Atlases
    Collecting Emphasis: Pre-1850 travel narratives including both actual and imaginary voyages, geography books, and early thematic maps and atlases.

Not Included

In general, Special Collections does not collect three-dimensional museum objects or artifacts. However, if a particular artifact has clear research value in relation to our existing book and manuscript collections, we will consider accepting it. Similarly, we may also accept objects that illustrate aspects of the processes of book and/or manuscript production. Special Collections will avoid acquiring material that is better suited for the Kansas Collection (materials pertaining to the history and culture of Kansas and the surrounding states) or the University Archives. We also avoid competing with the strengths of other local collections, such as the KU Medical Center’s Clendening Library (the history of medicine), Kansas State University (cookery and agriculture), and the Linda Hall Library (physical sciences).

Selection Process

Selection of items or collections for addition to Special Collections generally involves several of the following steps:

  • Awareness of need for particular titles or categories of material arising from class visits, observation of library researchers, conversations with faculty, etc.
  • Identification of items or collections through donation offers or by searching booksellers lists, catalogs, and websites
  • Holdings check of the KU online catalog, online and paper finding aids for manuscripts, and Special Collections card catalogs
  • Consultation with KU faculty with relevant teaching and research interests
  • Consultation with KU Libraries colleagues with relevant subject responsibilities
  • Consideration, in consultation with KU libraries colleagues, of the processing and conservation needs posed by the item or collection, whether it will be a purchase or a donation
  • Consideration of available funds to meet cost of purchase

Connections with Other Collections (Both Within and Outside KU)

The Special Collections Librarians seek to collaborate on acquisitions with the subject librarians responsible for the KU Libraries circulating collections. In terms of collection development, our approach with regard to other KU institutions (Spencer Art Museum, the Clendening Library at the KU Medical School, and the Wheat Law Library) is to avoid collecting in their areas of strength. The same is also true with regard to Kansas State University Library, the Linda Hall Library, and other neighboring institutions. 

University Archives

General Description of Collection

University Archives holdings include official records, publications, and websites emanating from any unit of the University as well as records, publications, and websites of University affiliated organizations including student groups and organizations, and publications edited by students. The personal papers of faculty are collected by the Archives and usually include correspondence, research papers, and teaching materials, but can include photographs, art work, film, video, and audio tapes. There are more than a million photographic images (prints, negatives, slides, and digital files) that have been donated to the Archives by University Relations, Athletics, the Alumni Association, and individual donors. Thousands of reels of movie film and video and audio tapes document sporting events, student activities, departmental and faculty research, and speeches and university promotions. Maps, drawings, and blueprints of the campus and buildings document the growth of the University. Although artifacts are not actively collected we have accepted donations of items related to the University such as medals, plaques, sports tickets, statues, pins, etc. A growing part of the Archives are its digital collections including born digital materials such as websites and digital photos and materials transferred from analog formats to digital formats.

User Population

The user population includes University staff, administrators, and departmental staff. The Endowment Association, the Alumni Association, University Relations, and Athletics use the holdings of the Archives quite regularly. University faculty and students use the collection for research and class projects. Local and national media groups contact us for information about the University particularly sports related topics. We also receive many inquiries from the general public regarding family members who attended KU.

(including levels of intensity - strengths and weaknesses)

Collection strengths include the records of the Office of the Chancellor; photographs, clipping files, film, and video of athletes and athletic events; photographs, blueprints, and informational files of campus buildings; documentation of student activities; biographical files, photographs, personal papers, and oral histories of faculty.

A collection weakness is the paucity of records from contemporary student organizations.

Collection Parameters
(including dates, geography, types of materials, formats, and languages)

University record parameters are documented in the University General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule. Materials date from 1865 when the University was established to the present. Types of material include paper records, newspapers and periodicals, photographs (prints, negatives, slides and digital), oversized items such as blueprints and drawings, audio tapes, video tapes, movie film, and born-digital formats.

Other historical materials collected are limited to items relating to the University.

Not Included

Materials not related to the University.

Selection Process

The university records selection process is guided by the University General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule. The selection of the papers of faculty and staff follow the Guidelines for the Donation of the Personal Papers of Faculty and Staff. Other historical materials such as artifacts are appraised by the University Archivist and must relate to the University.

Connections with Other Collections (Both Within and Outside KU)

The University Archives is connected most closely with the Kansas Collection also located in Spencer Research Library. Since KU is within the environs of Lawrence and Douglas County there is a bit of overlap in some areas.

Deaccessioning Policy

Deaccessioning is guided by the University General Records Retention and Disposition Schedule.

Wilcox Collection

Mission/Statement of Purpose

The purpose of the Wilcox Collection is to acquire, preserve, and make available materials in all formats that document American left- and right- wing political activity from 1960 to the present.

General Description of Collection

The Collection includes books, periodicals, manuscript collections, ephemera (clippings, flyers, brochures, etc.), posters, photographs, phonograph records, audio and video tapes, and buttons and bumper stickers documenting a wide range of political and social topics. The origin of the collection, four filing cabinet drawers, was purchased by the University Libraries in 1965 from Laird Wilcox, a KU student. Wilcox has continued to add to the collection.

User Population

The primary users of the Collection are University faculty and undergraduate and graduate students in the following disciplines: American Studies; Journalism and Mass Communications; History; Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies; Political Science; Sociology; and African and African-American Studies. Faculty and graduate students from other American colleges and universities as well as scholars from around the world also visit to do research in the Collection. We are also contacted by the news media when political events involving groups or individuals outside of the mainstream occur.

(including levels of intensity - strengths and weaknesses)

Strengths of the Collection include student protest from 1960 through the 1970s, anti-communist literature from 1960 through the 1980s, the environmental movement, underground newspapers from 1960 through the 1970s, women’s rights, the religious right, the gay and lesbian movement, tax protest and antigovernment movements, and race relations and civil rights.

Collection Parameters
(including dates, geography, types of materials, formats, and languages)

Dates covered are 1960 to the present (although there are some materials that predate 1960).  Primary collection focus is the US but some organizations are concerned about areas outside of the US and almost all materials are in English.

Formats include: print – books, serials, ephemera (clippings, brochures, flyers, etc.), manuscripts (correspondence, subject and working files of organizations and individuals); audio/visual – phonograph recordings, audio cassettes, reel to reel tapes, video tapes and photographs; electronic files of the web sites of organizations collected in 2000 on cd.

Future collecting efforts would focus on the web to capture, manage, preserve, and make accessible the sites of targeted organizations and individuals. There are many decisions that would need to be made by the Libraries in order for this to be a viable project.

Not Included

Materials created by mainstream political groups and materials that are not political in nature.

Selection Process

Materials are donated by Laird Wilcox (approximately three times per year) and purchased from the Wilcox funds by the subject specialist. Materials are also donated by organizations and individuals that have heard about the collection or have used the collection for research.

Connections with Other Collections (Both Within and Outside KU)

Subject areas such as student protest and the 1960s are also represented by other collections within Spencer including the Kansas Collection, the University Archives, and Special Collections.  Government publications relating to issues covered in Wilcox can be found in Government Documents and the general collections will also have some overlap in general areas.

Other collections exist outside of KU that also focus on protest movements including the Joseph A. Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan, the Social Documents Collection at the University of Iowa, and the Gordon Hall and Grace Hoag Collection of Dissenting and Extremist Printed Propaganda at Brown University to name a few.

Deaccessioning Policy

Duplicates are not cataloged into the collection and are set aside for possible trade with other institutions.

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