Rare Book School

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L-10. Introduction to Special Collections Librarianship

Susan M. Allen

An introduction to the principles and practice of special collections librarianship, with an emphasis on rare books. Topics to be covered include: the definition and role of special collections, audiences and users, collection development, cataloging and processing, exhibitions and other outreach programs, preservation, physical facilities and security, grants and development, Intellectual
Property (IP) issues, ethics, marketing, and the impact of digitization on special collections operations and services. Aimed at those with an interest in special collections librarianship, but who have no prior formal instruction in the field.

This course provides a conceptual and practical overview of special collections librarianship. It is intended for those who are interested in special collections and may be pursuing a career in special collections librarianship, but who have not had formal training or instruction. We will consider how special collections contributes to fulfilling the teaching and research mission of educational and cultural institutions and examine strategies for enhancing and expanding the use of special collections among a variety of constituencies, especially in college, university, and independent research libraries. Current trends in higher education and libraries, including technology, distance learning, accountability and assessment, will be considered from the perspective of their impact on special collections. The course will cover opportunities and challenges of the current environment, in particular maintaining core functions of special collections (see topics listed above) while adding new audiences and activities.

In their personal statement, applicants should provide a brief description of their library or special collections experience, the nature of their interest in this course, and specific topics or issues they would like to see addressed.

Course Resources

Course History


Susan M. Allen teaches this course for the first time.


Alice Schreyer teaches this course for the first time.


Daniel Traister teaches this course annually in this period.