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We are excited to welcome you to Spencer Research Library. Please note that our hours have changed and that the Reading Room is open by appointment only. Learn more about what to expect in Spencer and in other KU library locations during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Special Collections

Special Collections contains a wide range of rare books and manuscripts. Its primary charge is the collection and preservation of original sources for use by students and scholars of the humanities, the history of science, and the history of the book.

Special Collections presently holds about 250,000 volumes printed since the mid-fifteenth century and about 500,000 manuscripts dating from Antiquity to the present.

Please select one of the general collecting areas below to learn more about the Spencer Research Library's holdings in that area. For a general introduction to our collections, see "Overview of Printed Books, Manuscripts and Reference Collections."


  • The Vosper Hours, detail

    The Department's earliest holdings begin with a dozen cuneiform tablets (dating from about 2,000 BCE), however for practical research purposes our manuscript holdings begin in the early eleventh century with three Anglo-Saxon leaves, and increase in every century.

  • Modern Dwellings in Town and Country, page 132, detail

    The Department's holdings for architecture include the Willett-Pashley Architectural Library, the working library of a late nineteenth-century Chicago architectural firm; the Frank Lloyd Wright Collection, containing printed volumes, ephemera, and over 1000 photographs; and the associated manuscript collection of Curtis Besinger, a Taliesin Fellow from 1939 to 1955 and late KU Professor of Architecture. Additional printed works on architecture are available in the named Architecture collection (call numbers beginning "Architecture") and the general Rare Books collection.

  • Wealth of Nations, detail

    The Department's holdings in economic history include over 15,000 volumes of broadsides, acts, speeches, pamphlets, journals, and books. This includes the Richard S. Howey Economic History Collection, named in honor of the late Emeritus of Economics, which consists of printed books and periodicals from the eighteenth century through 1850.

  • The General Magazine No. 1, detail

    The eighteenth century, both in England and in France, is a period of particular strength for the Department. In addition to the collections separately described below, the general collections of the Department contain large numbers of eighteenth-century works, particularly in politics, economics, literature, and natural history. The department's collection of eighteenth-century English imprints is one of the largest in North America as reported to the ESTC (English Short Title Catalog).

  • First Steps in Spelling, detail

    The Kenneth Spencer Research Library's collections support research into the history of American education. Notable collections include the Children's Books Collection, whose 7,000 volumes include numerous educational titles; the Charles and E. Jennifer Monaghan Collection, which focuses on the history of reading in the United States from the colonial period to the middle of the twentieth century; and the approximately 1,500 volumes comprising the Carl N. and Dorothy H. Shull Collection of Hymnals and Music Books.

  • A Monograph of the Trochilidae, or Family of Hummingbirds, detail

    Ornithology, botany and taxonomy are the scientific fields in which the Department has its strongest holdings. We have attempted to provide a few important texts in other scientific fields, from alchemy to space travel, while avoiding any significant duplication with neighboring libraries.

  • Young Ireland, detail

    The Department's holdings in the history, literature, culture, and politics of Ireland from the seventeenth century to the middle of the twentieth century is concentrated in three named collections, the James F. Spoerri Collection of James Joyce, the W. B. Yeats Collection, and the P. S. O'Hegarty Collection. However, there also exist extensive Irish holdings in the general Rare Book Collection, making the combined Irish holdings among the most significant and sizable outside of Ireland.

  • Contestacion al Folleto Titulado, detail

    The Department has significant Latin American holdings, including the George C. A. Boehrer Luso-Brazilian Collection; the Natalicio González Collection (Paraguay); and the William J. Griffith Collection of Guatemala and Central America. Materials pertinent to Iberian history and literature--in both Spanish and Portuguese--may be found in the Boehrer Luso-Brazilian Collection, the Summerfield Collection of Renaissance and Early Modern Books, and the Cervantes Collection.

  • Amazing Stories, detail

    The Department holds several collections pertaining to nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary production in Britain, Ireland, and the United States. These collections include the Children's Books Collection; the Irish Collections (including the James F. Spoerri Collection of James Joyce, the W. B. Yeats Collection and the P. S. O'Hegarty Collection); The William Doremus Paden Collection of Tennyson; the Elizabeth Morrison Snyder Collection of H. L. Mencken; the New American Poetry Collection; the Rainer Maria Rilke Collection; and the Science Fiction Collections.

  • Biblia polyglotta, detail

    The Spencer Research Library's holdings for Renaissance and early modern imprints include several named collections. They are: the Robert T. Aitchison Collection of Vergil; the Cervantes Collection, based on the collection of Sir William Stirling-Maxwell; the Clubb Collection of Books in Anglo-Saxon Type, containing volumes printed in Great Britain using Old English characters, from 1566 through the early nineteenth century; and the Summerfield Collection of Renaissance and Early Modern Books, consisting of volumes printed in Continental Europe from 1455 through 1700.

  • More Than Human, detail

    An extensive collection (with particular strength in the "Golden Age" of Science Fiction) consisting of books, periodicals, and the papers of writers including Theodore Sturgeon, Cordwainer Smith, Donald A. Wollheim, and Lloyd Biggle. This collection has been built almost entirely by gift.

  • Parts of North African Coast from a manuscript of La Sfera, detail

    For many years the collecting of voyages and travels, maps and atlases has been a leading interest of the Department. Travel accounts, atlases, and geographies can be found in almost every collection in the Department while maps occur both as illustrations in books and (when we have them as separate sheets) in their own special collection.


Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

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