Policy on Transfer of General Collection Materials

Cornell University Library's policy on the transfer of materials to special collections is adapted from national guidelines developed by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association: Guidelines on the Selection of General Collection Materials for Transfer to Special Collections. 2nd Edition (Rev), 1999.

Research universities carry significant responsibilities for preserving the printed heritage under their care. Cornell University Library takes this responsibility seriously, and is committed to providing adequate protection and security for all its historic materials.

Virtually all academic libraries acquire books and documents, which, with time, and regardless of intention, become rare. These materials acquire cultural and historical value, and sometimes a significant financial value in the marketplace, as well.

This policy will guide Cornell library staff in their responsibility to identify rare and valuable materials in general and open stack collections and to arrange for their transfer to the greater security of special collections.

I. Identification of Material

As appropriate, library units should inventory their general collections to identify materials appropriate for transfer to a special collections facility.

Rare material also should be identified for transfer during routine handling and review as part of the following library functions: acquisition; gifts and exchange; cataloging and retrospective conversion; preservation and conservation; duplication; circulation; inventorying and shelfreading; interlibrary loan; preparation of exhibitions; weeding; searching of dealer catalogs. Transfer candidates identified during these functions will be sent to special collections for review by knowledgeable staff.

II. Selection Criteria

Cornell Library uses the following criteria to identify general collections material appropriate for transfer to special collections:

  1. Age
    All materials printed before 1865, regardless of form or condition, must be provided with secure, climate-controlled storage and monitored reading room access.

    In addition, materials printed after 1865 will be considered for transfer if any of the following criteria are met:

  2. Artifactual Characteristics
    Books may possess intellectual value, artifactual value, or both. Items with artifactual value include:

    1. fine bindings;
    2. books with valuable prints or original photographs
    3. publishers' bindings up to 1920;
    4. extra-illustrated volumes;
    5. books with significant provenance (e.g., signed by the author);
    6. books with decorated endpapers;
    7. fine printing;
    8. printing on vellum or highly unusual paper;
    9. volumes or portfolios containing unbound plates;
    10. books with valuable maps or plates;
    11. broadsides, posters and printed ephemera;
    12. books by local authors of particular note;
    13. material requiring security (e.g., books in unusual formats, erotica or materials that are difficult to replace)
    14. miniature books (10 centimeters or smaller)
    15. 20th century literary works with intact dust wrappers.


  3. Condition
    Age itself often will determine whether a book is "rare," while condition is usually more important in judging more recent material. All values of the book--scholarly, artifactual, bibliographical, and market--may be greatly affected by condition. Copies that are badly worn, much repaired or rebound, are not generally included in rare book collections, unless the age of the material preempts condition as a criterion. The durability of most documents produced since the mid-nineteenth century has declined drastically. It is now increasingly difficult to locate even representative examples of many nineteenth- and twentieth-century printing and binding processes in fine original condition. So many volumes have required rebinding, for example, that the richness of the original decorative art applied to bindings and printed endpapers is increasingly difficult to find and study. Dust jackets frequently contain important information (e.g., text, illustrative design, and price), and their presence greatly affects both the market and research value of 20th century books.


  4. Bibliographical, Research or Market Value
    The rarity or importance of individual books is not always self-evident. Some books, for example, were produced in circumstances which virtually guarantee their rarity (e.g. Confederate imprints). Factors affecting importance and rarity can include the following:
    1. desirability to collectors and the antiquarian book trade;
    2. intrinsic or extrinsic evidence of censorship or repression;
    3. seminal nature or importance to a particular field of study or genre of literature;
    4. restricted or limited publication;
    5. cost of acquisition.