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Special Collections and Rare Books: Overview

Location? Hours?

Our Special Collections are housed on the second (main) floor, in the room next to the computer lab.

Mon-Fri: 8am-4:45pm

*Check with the reference librarian or the College Archives (third floor) for access to these materials.*

SC book shelves


book shelf 4

What Exactly is a 'Special Collection'?

Special collections have characteristics that set them apart from other types of collections in libraries. These special aspects may include:

  • Rarity: books, manuscripts and other materials that are old, scarce, or unique.
  • Format: photographs, slides, films, audio recordings, maps, artworks, artifacts and other objects that need special handling.
  • Comprehensiveness: accumulation of materials that are individually not unique, but collectively make up an important resource because of their relevance to a particular topic or individual.

These characteristics also mean that special collections are not readily replaceable and require a higher level of security and special preservation environments to insure their survival. In contrast to museum collections assembled for visual display, special collections focus on research as their primary mission. Thus, they complement general research collections and are often located in institutions that house both kinds of collections.”

                        -University of Maryland Libraries

What is Included in the Special Collections at Gustavus?

The Gustavus librarians acquire materials for Special Collections in an effort to support the teaching and research needs of both faculty and students.  Currently, there are approximately 1,000 cataloged items in Special Collections, ranging from the medieval period to political cartoons. The age range of our materials is quite broad, our oldest being a manuscript page from the 1100s to our newest, Gene Basset's Vietnam Sketchbook: A Cartoonist's Wartime Perspective a book published in 2015.  However, the main focus of our Special Collections is on works printed before 1850.  Some highlights from the collection include: illuminated manuscript pages from the 1100s, 1200s, and 1400s, the Gustav Vasa Bible, the St. John's Bible Heritage Edition, first and unique edition copies of numerous works, and signed copies from other authors as diverse as Richard Nixon and André Malraux.  While the library does purchase some items, the majority of the works in Special Collections come from donations.  


Who Can Use the Special Collections?

Anyone!  Those interested in using the collection can search the library's catalog via the advanced search option. It helps to limit the collection to just "Special Collections – Main Floor."  Although these items cannot be checked out, anyone is free to take a peek (or a long stare) at our collections.

SC Bible pic 1 


Jeff Jenson
You can find me in the College and Lutheran Church Archives, the offices above the library's main entrance.
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