Located on level 2B of Carl A. Kroch Library, the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections is open to the public—to students, faculty, visiting researchers, and members of the community. However, because the Division’s collections are old, scarce, and often fragile, they do not circulate, and are stored in a secure vault with carefully controlled temperature and humidity. Items will be retrieved upon request for use in the Division’s reading room in Kroch.
If you discover something in the Cornell Catalog that you would like to see or study, note down the complete citation for the item, including the call number or manuscript collection number. Bring your citation to the Division’s reference desk, where a staff member will help you register to use the collections and fill out a request form for the item. We will ask you to show us a valid piece of photo identification, such as a Cornell I.D., a driver’s license, or a passport.
Please note that many of Cornell’s manuscript collections and books are stored off-site at the Library Annex. If you request materials from the Annex, they will be available for you to consult in our reading room on the following business day after 1:00 pm.
While our collections are open to the public and we welcome all visitors, there are certain guidelines in place for the safety of the scarce, fragile, and often unique materials under our care.
Most of the rare books and manuscripts at Cornell have records in the Cornell Online Library Catalog. However, while almost all of the materials in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections have been cataloged, not all of them are online. This is especially true of the rare books. Roughly 10% of them are not yet in the online catalog; they are still only in the card catalog.
If you don’t find what you are looking for in the online catalog, or you want to be comprehensive in your search for holdings on a particular subject or author, also check the card catalog. The reference room of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections contains a card catalog for both rare books and manuscripts. Cards for Cornell’s rare book collections are duplicated in the main card catalog in the basement of Olin Library. Note that the Olin card catalog allows you to look up both rare and circulating books by subject, as well as by author or title. In the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, the Rare Books section of the card catalog allows searching mostly by author only. The sections for the History of Science Collections, the Fiske Icelandic Collection, and the Archives allow you to search by author, title, or subject. When in doubt, please ask a librarian, who will be happy to assist you in your search.
How to Find Manuscript Materials
Most manuscript collections have records in the Cornell Online Library Catalog. This is the best place to begin your search. If you are looking for unpublished materials, select GUIDED KEYWORD SEARCH as your search option. Then click on Set Search Limits to limit your search by Format (choose Archival Manuscript in the drop-down menu) and/or Collection Location (choose Kroch Rare and Manuscript Collections in the drop-down menu). Click on the Set Limits button. Then you will be returned to the Guided Keyword Search, where you can type in your search terms.
When looking for manuscript collections in the online catalog, remember to look at the “long” display of the record. The long display will give you a much more complete idea of what the collection contains and whether it will be relevant to your interests. The system will display the brief view the first time you select a record; from there you can select the long view display.
Please be aware that most manuscripts are cataloged at the collection level; this means that the catalog record summarizes what is in the collection as a whole. These catalog records do not describe every letter, postcard, photograph, pamphlet, or other document the collection contains. In many cases, though, there is a link from the catalog record to an online finding aid, or guide, which describes the collection in detail. If the finding aid is not online, and if you are located outside the Ithaca, New York area, you may ask to have a copy of a printed finding aid mailed to you by contacting the Division’s reference service at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don’t find the rare materials you are looking for in Cornell’s online catalog, please visit the reference desk in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections or send us an inquiry through email@example.com. We also welcome questions by mail, phone, or fax (see our contact information).
How to Find Rare Books
Most of Cornell’s rare books are listed in the Cornell Online Library Catalog. The catalog allows you to limit a search to materials held in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. Select GUIDED KEYWORD SEARCH as your search option. Then click on Set Search Limits. Under Collection Location, choose Kroch Rare and Manuscript Collections. If you like, you may also limit your search by date, language, format, or place of publication. Click on the Set Limits button to register your choices. Now you will be returned to the Guided Keyword search screen, where you can do your search.
For more information on searching the online catalog, click on the HELP button at the right end of the menu bar at the top of the screen. Please keep in mind that not all titles are online yet. If the book you are looking for is not online, that does not necessarily mean that Cornell does not own it. It may still be listed only in the card catalog. There is a card catalog in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections’ reference room on Kroch Library level B2, and another, more comprehensive card catalog on the basement level of Olin Library.
Many pre-1800 books held in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections can be found in the Cornell Online Library Catalog not only by author, title, or subject, but also by publication date, place of publication, any former owners who put their names in the book, press (if a small press), or binder (if known). For example, if you would like to look up all the books in the Division that were published in 1798, you can find them by searching “1798” as a subject heading. If you would like to find all of our books that were published in Bristol, England, before 1800, you can find them by searching “Bristol England imprints” as a subject heading. If you are looking for all the Dodsley imprints in our collection, you can find them by searching “London England imprints Dodsley” as a subject heading. To search by former owner, binder, or small press, simply do an author search on the name of the person or the press. Your search results will not be comprehensive, because some books published by a particular firm may have been issued anonymously, or without a place name or date given. Still, your search will give you a good start on investigating the Division’s holdings from the standpoint of printing history.
Books, manuscripts, visual, and audiovisual materials in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections can also be searched online by form or genre. Some examples of searchable form or genre terms are: diaries, scrapbooks, photograph albums, photographs, videotapes, broadsides, engravings, poems, songs, dialogues, sermons, or almanacs. To find out what holdings we have in a particular form or genre, do a subject search on that term (in the plural, e.g. diaries). Some broad categories such as plays, poems, or novels are subdivided by country and century. To search for 18th-century French plays, for instance, do a subject search on “Plays France 18th century.”
Some of Cornell’s more noteworthy collections are also described in detail in printed bibliographies. For example, there are printed catalogs of our Witchcraft Collection, Dante Collection, Petrarch Collection, and James Joyce Collection. Copies are available in the reference room of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, and in Olin Library.