Collection Development Policy for 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.


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.


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. 

Special Collections Contact

Elspeth Healey

Special Collections Curator for post-1700 materials (except the areas listed below)


Eve Wolynes

Special Collections Curator for pre-1700 materials, Asian collections, history of science, maps/cartography