Using the Collections

Special Collections is open to students, staff, faculty, and alumni of Washington University, as well as community members and outside researchers.

Search the catalog for Rare Books


  • Complete a Patron Information form (once an academic year).
    • You can return this by email, or completed on your first visit.
  • Complete a Paging Request Form to indicate the materials you want to use.
    • You can return this by email, or fill it out in person
  • We recommend making an appointment to ensure the items you want are available.
  • All materials are used in the Special Collections Reading Room; items cannot be borrowed or checked-out
    • Staff will bring you the items requested and go over how to handle the items safely.
    • Each visit you will be asked to sign-in and indicate the time of your arrival/departure.
    • You can keep items on hold if you want to return and use them again
Rare Book collections are accessed at Special Collections in Olin Library.  After entering the library stay on the first floor, go past the main stairs, and look for a door on your left.

Some departmental libraries on campus also have specialized collections.  Please contact these department libraries directly for more information.

  • camera (with the flash off)
  • cellphone (on silent or vibrate)
  • paper
  • pencils
  • laptop / tablet (without its case)
  • USB drive

We have closets that you can use to store your other belongings that cannot come into the reading room with you, such as:

  • bags & purses
  • drinks (including water bottles)
  • food
  • pens

A full and detailed list of our policies for use of Special Collections materials is also available.

  • Ask questions!  Special Collections staff is available to help you.
  • Take notes with pencil and paper, or type on a laptop / tablet.
    • Computers are also available in the reading room ( WUSTL KEY or visitor log-in).

Making copies:

  • Bring your camera or camera phone to snap digital photos of materials (allowed for most materials - please ask first)
  • Some reproductions can only be done by staff due to fragility, size, or format.  Fees for such requests vary.

Learn more about researching with special collections here.

The Department of Special Collections encourages classes from the Washington University community and surrounding institutions to make use of the materials held in special collections. Curators are happy to work with faculty to set up class sessions that will allow students to engage with the rare book collections. Sessions range from general introductions to the collections to hands-on, in-depth research with materials.

To make arrangements for a class visit or other study opportunities, contact the department at, or call us at (314) 934-5495. Please provide your name, the name of the class, a desired date and time for your visit, information about the sorts of materials you’d like to have available, the approximate number of attendees, and whether you’ll require a data projector. We’ll be back in touch when we’ve checked on classroom availability. The classroom is heavily used, so be sure to reserve early.