LIBR 579D (3) Rare Book and Special Collections Librarianship

Offered on an irregular basis


MAS students: Completion of the MAS Core courses, plus permission of the instructor.

MLIS and Dual students: Some electives can be taken in conjunction with the MLIS Core courses; consult with the MLIS Program Chair for recommendations.

GOALS: This course introduces the professional components of librarianship for rare book and related special collections, generally excluding archives.  The focus will be on the care and management of facilities and collections, and on providing services to patrons. Some attention will be paid to the history of books and printing, since rare book librarians must be familiar with the intellectual and technical history of the material under their care.  In each class, examples will be used that give some access to this aspect of rare book and special collections librarianship.
Rare materials, like the ordinary variety, need to be acquired, inventoried, cataloged, housed safely, restored, and made accessible for various kinds of use; facilities need to be serviced and maintained; the phone needs to answered, supplies ordered, staff hired and trained, policies developed and implemented, and so on. In this course, we will show how these otherwise common aspects of the profession are uniquely applied in our field.


Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Define and evaluate what material belongs in a special collections library.
  • Understand how special collections fit with overall institutional collection plans and holdings.
  • Identify and acquire rare materials through the antiquarian book trade, auctions and other special sources.
  • Work with private collectors and institutions to acquire and develop collections.
  • Recognize the special standards used to describe and catalogue rare books and other special materials and how these differ from ordinary cataloguing rules and from archival description.
  • Work with specialized reference materials, including descriptive bibliographies.
  • Make rare and special materials accessible to users, consistent with recognized security standards.
  • Understand what special facilities are needed to house, display and provide access to rare materials.
  • Organize and monitor public spaces such as classrooms, reference areas, etc., and provide appropriate reference and classroom services.
  • Deal with requests for the reproduction of images and organize digitization projects.
  • Put into effect policies and undertake special actions to maintain and improve the condition of special collections material.
  • Prevent and respond to environmental problems that might threaten special collections.


Classes will be organized thematically and deal with:

  • Introduction to rare book librarianship
  • Special collections library as place
  • Acquisitions
  • Collection development
  • Processing and describing rare books
  • Providing access to and mediating the use of rare materials
  • Reference services, including bibliographic instruction
  • Exhibits and classroom presentations
  • Fundraising, donor relations and events
  • Digitization and the provision of images from the collection
  • Website design for special collections
  • Preservation and conservation
  • Security, legal issues and professional ethics
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