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Special Collections Collection Development Policy

For the full policy, please see the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections Collection Development Policy documentation (PDF).

Mission of Julian Edison Department of Special Collections

The Julian Edison Department of Special Collections strives to collect, preserve, promote, and make accessible rare, archival, and/or primary source materials that enrich teaching, learning, and research for the Washington University community and beyond. We build our collections based on existing strengths and identified opportunities for growth as determined by faculty interest, institutional priority, and anticipated future significance. We increase our impact through both internal and external collaborative initiatives, which seek to raise awareness, improve access, and expand the use of our holdings. We ensure diversity and inclusion in our collections and services through strategic and continual engagement with the University, St. Louis, and professional communities. 

We acknowledge that systemic oppression impacts the collecting priorities and activities of Special Collections. Our existing collections, with few exceptions, reflect predominantly white, patriarchal, cisgender, and heteronormative culture and history. In a reparative effort, we will engage in ongoing efforts to address these gaps in our existing collections and actively acquire collections that document the experiences, contributions, and reflections of underrepresented groups as they relate to race, gender, sexuality, ability, and more. It is our responsibility to broaden the traditions and voices represented in Special Collections in order to build a more complete human record.

Collection Development Policy Objectives

This policy outlines the activities and guidelines for carrying out the collecting aspect of our mission. Collection development in Special Collections involves identifying potential materials, appraising their historical and research value and the cost to maintain them, selecting appropriate materials, and acquiring materials through donor agreements or purchases.

Audience, Purpose, and Use of Materials

Collection development decisions are based on the research use and needs, both current and future, of our audience, as outlined below:

Students need access to materials that support the curriculum and introduce them to the excitement and rigors of original research, thereby enhancing their educational experience. Through original and primary source materials, students can better contextualize history and culture.

Faculty members conduct research in collections of unique materials that document a wide range of intellectual history. Faculty members also utilize the collections to provide their students with hands-on primary research experience within course curriculums.

Researchers, including unaffiliated researchers, graduate students, and established scholars, conduct research in their specialized areas of study. By housing and developing special collections, we reach and serve a broad research community.

Administrative units require ready access to the permanent record of the university, which includes documents that provide evidence of transactions and decisions essential to the functions of the institution; materials, which define and showcase the institution, essential to the activities of offices responsible for fundraising, promotion, and outreach; and materials and memorabilia which support significant interaction with past graduates.

Alumni maintain old ties and build new ones with their institution from ready access to the materials that document their connections. The archives refresh their knowledge about the history and mission of the institution which are perceived by many alumni as a significant factor in their development.

Community members utilize original materials that document the history of their community for various reasons, including family research and legal research. Local history materials capture the story of the community and can be used to share this story with younger generations.

Collecting Areas

The Julian Edison Department of Special Collections consists of Rare Books, Manuscripts/Modern Literature, Dowd Illustration Research Archive, Film & Media, Local History, and University Archives.

For more detailed information about the scope, existing strengths, opportunities for growth, and gaps for each of these collecting areas, please see the full Julian Edison Department of Special Collections Collection Development Policy documentation (PDF).

Acquisition Methods

Special Collections acquires materials through donations, a transfer from university departments, a transfer from the University Libraries’ general collections, and purchases. The decision to acquire materials will be based on an appraisal by Special Collections and University Archives professionals to assess the historic and/or research value of the materials and the cost to process, preserve, store, and maintain the materials. Collecting responsibilities ultimately reside with Special Collections with input from appropriate stakeholders.

Donations are welcomed, especially in the areas listed above. Please contact the department with any questions regarding your potential donation. Donors will be asked to complete and sign a deed of gift agreement.  Please note that we are not able to provide monetary appraisals for your donation, but we can provide suggestions for appraisers.

Please see the Donating to Special Collections page for more detailed information.

Materials that document the activities and history of Washington University and that have enduring historical value are transferred to the University Archives from University departments. Please see the collecting area above for further guidance on what is appropriate for the University Archives. Employees transferring materials from their university department will be asked to fill out a university records transfer form.

Materials in the general library collections may be identified as candidates for transfer to the Special Collections and University Archives, based on their market value, age, physical and intrinsic characteristics, condition, subject content, and bibliographic and research value. For more details, please see “Appendix A: Guidelines for the Transfer of Materials from General Collections to Special Collections” in the full Julian Edison Department of Special Collections Collection Development Policy documentation (PDF).

Purchases for the Special Collections are made on a limited basis to support the collecting interests listed above, and are approved by the Associate University Librarian for Special Collection Services and the Vice Provost & University Librarian, when appropriate. Faculty members may also be consulted as necessary. When materials are considered for purchase, consideration will be given to the relevance to the collection, the usability for research and instruction, condition, and cost. When possible, the price will be checked against available sources, such as American Book Prices Current, and online sites such as and Especially rare or valuable materials will be purchased from a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) whenever possible. Any questions of uncertain provenance will also be explored. If the materials are in poor condition, an estimate for a cost to conserve them may be required.

Other Considerations

For other considerations, appendices, and more about this policy, please see the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections Collection Development Policy documentation (PDF).