Collecting Policies

Cornell University Library, Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections


Cornell University Library's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) holds scarce and irreplaceable historical artifacts in trust for the benefit of Cornell University, the public and for the international scholarly community. Its collections include more than 500,000 rare books, more than 70 million manuscripts, and another million photographs, paintings, prints, artifacts, audio visual and electronic media. RMC shares in Cornell University Library's mission to enrich the intellectual life of Cornell by fostering information discovery and intellectual growth, and partnering in the development and dissemination of new knowledge.

Programs Supported by the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections

I. Collecting
II. Acquisitions, Cataloging, & Technical Processing
III. Preservation and Security
IV. Research Access
V. Teaching and Public Programs
VI. Exhibitions
VII. Ongoing Review of Policies

I. Collecting

RMC acquires rare books, manuscripts, archives, artifacts, media, and other materials in all formats to serve the research and teaching needs of Cornell University's faculty and students, and members of the public. Collections are built by RMC's subject curators with attention to all formats, with a greatest emphasis placed on unique or scarce materials of enduring historical and cultural value. Materials are acquired through donation and purchase. Purchases are financed by income from endowments and by donations. RMC seeks the support of donors, and gifts of materials and funds are essential to maintaining and developing our collections.

A. Scope and Priorities of the Collections

Areas of collecting interest are defined in part by the existing strengths of the collections. New collecting areas are added in response to evolving research and teaching needs, new disciplines or modes of intellectual inquiry, new University academic priorities, in anticipation of the needs of future scholarship, or in response to gift or other opportunities. The nature of collecting rare materials is fluid, and driven in large part by the ability to take advantage of unpredictable opportunities. Each acquisition opportunity is reviewed on its own merits and collecting policies and priorities are regularly reviewed. Because resources for acquisition and housing are finite, collecting is selective in all areas.

B. Gift Policies

RMC does not accept materials without legal transfer of title, deed of gift or deposit, official receipt or other written acknowledgment. RMC does not accept materials that will never be made available to the public.

C. Deposits

RMC does not ordinarily accept materials on deposit. However, materials will be accepted when the conditions for acceptance are favorable to Cornell University Library, usually with the understanding that such materials will be donated at a later date. Deposit agreements must be made in writing prior to acceptance. Materials on deposit will be properly housed, but they will not be cataloged or otherwise processed. Deposit materials are not necessarily covered by University insurance; owners may be required to provide their own insurance.

D. Deaccession Policy

Materials that duplicate existing holdings, or that do not fall within the scope of RMC collecting areas, may be transferred to a more appropriate collection within or outside Cornell University, or otherwise deaccessioned in accordance with Cornell University Library Policy, subject to the terms of acquisition, University regulations, and state and federal laws.

E. Cooperative Agreements

RMC seeks opportunities to work collaboratively with other repositories to achieve the greater goal of preserving historical resources, with the aim of avoiding both needless duplication and gaps in documentation. In some cases, another institution may be a more appropriate repository for materials offered to Cornell. Such materials may be referred to that other, more appropriate repository. It is also recognized as unavoidable that institutions sometimes collect in the same or overlapping areas. In cases where the collecting interests of RMC and another repository conflict, RMC curators will use the best interest of the scholarly community, as well as the best interests of Cornell faculty and students, as criteria for determining appropriate action.

II. Acquisitions, Cataloging, and Technical Processing

RMC seeks to make newly acquired materials available to the public as quickly as possible. Incoming items and collections are cataloged or accessioned upon acquisition. Staff from the Library's Technical Services unit order, receive, and catalog RMC's rare books, maps, and other printed items, as well as audiovisual materials and bound manuscripts. RMC's technical processing staff accession, organize, and describe manuscript and archival collections, creating finding aids encoded for online access. Catalogers and processors follow national standards promulgated by the American Library Association, its Rare Books and Manuscripts Section, and the Society of American Archivists. Processing levels are determined on a collection by collection basis, based on a professional assessment of a collection's value, scarcity, importance, and expected use.

The catalog records for RMC materials are accessible through the Library's online catalog and through the international database OCLC WorldCat. Finding aids are accessible through the RMC Web site, through the corresponding catalog records in the Library's online catalog, and via Internet search engines.

III. Preservation and Security

Preservation of rare and unique materials is crucial to the mission of RMC. The collection is non-circulating and is maintained in closed stacks. The majority of the collection is housed in the Carl A. Kroch Library, a state-of-the-art special collections facility opened in 1992. The Kroch Library features a temperature and humidity controlled environment and fire detection and suppression systems. Some collection materials are maintained at Cornell Library's Annex facilities under similar security and climate conditions. RMC materials housed at the Library Annex circulate only back to RMC's reading room. RMC collections receive conservation care as needed by specialists in Cornell Library's Department of Preservation and Collection Maintenance.

IV. Research Access

RMC's materials are made available in the Carl A. Kroch Library to all researchers on equal terms. Researchers include faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students from Cornell and other institutions; independent scholars; and the general public. Individuals under age sixteen may use selected materials in the RMC Reading Room when accompanied by a parent or guardian.

All researchers must produce photo identification (such as University I.D. card, driver's license or passport) and must fill out or have on file a current reader registration form.

Requests to view materials are subject to appropriate care and handling and donor requirements. Some materials require an advance appointment, and all researchers visiting Cornell from out-of-town are urged to contact in advance.

RMC may be unable to fulfill some off-campus reference or reproduction requests during periods when demand for service exceeds available resources. In such instances, Cornell University's community will receive priority service. Research fees for off-site users may apply.

RMC will consider requests to digitize, photocopy, or lend materials needed by other institutions or individuals, subject to specific limitations imposed by available resources, the terms of acquisition, and subject to RMC's reproduction, conservation, Interlibrary loan, and security policies. More information is available on our research services page.

V. Teaching and Public Programs

RMC promotes the use and visibility of its collections through instruction and outreach programs. These programs include: regular semester and summer classes, public lectures, class presentations, exhibitions, tours, Web sites, on-site and electronic reference services, print publications, and communication of significant acquisitions to the University and relevant scholarly communities.

VI. Exhibitions

Materials from RMC's collections are regularly featured in exhibitions installed in the Library's exhibition galleries. Most exhibitions are also accessible online. RMC will evaluate requests to loan materials for exhibition at other institutions when the policies and facilities of those institutions meet accepted national exhibition loan standards, and when available resources allow. RMC also borrows materials for exhibition from other institutional and private collections as appropriate.

VII. Ongoing Review of Policies

This policy is designed to meet the goals of Cornell University Library and RMC. This policy will be periodically reviewed, evaluated, and changed as necessary to meet these goals. The sources for review and revision will include information supplied by Cornell Library annual reports, user surveys, Library and University budget information, faculty and graduate student interviews, changes in Cornell University's academic programming, and other relevant information.