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Welcome to Special Collections

A guide to visiting the Special Collections department at the University of Iowa Libraries.
Welcome to Special Collections

Special Collections is comprised of multiple collections, including the rare book, manuscript, and map collections, as well as University Archives, Iowa Women's Archives, and the International Dada Archive.

Within its overall collection of five million printed volumes, the University of Iowa Libraries holds:

  • over 300,000 rare books
  • over 25,000 linear feet of manuscripts
  • unique archival records
  • hundreds of thousands of documents, photographs, and ephemeral publications
  • thousands of non-commercial sound recordings, motion pictures, and videotapes
  • thousands of "born digital" records

These non-circulating collections may be old, fragile, highly valuable, or easily disorganized, so they must be retrieved for readers from closed stacks and their use is supervised. Special Collections does not include the Arthur and Miriam Canter Rare Book Room or the John Martin Rare Book Room, but is closely associated with them and shares the Aeon reader registration system with them. Registering as a reader in one of these locations will register you in all three. Reading room policies are similar at all locations.


Message From the Head of Special Collections

Welcome to the University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections & Archives, where we maintain materials—rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, digital files, and more—that will help you do new scholarly research, teach your class, learn about your family’s history, or even improve your cooking. Our collections run broad and deep, from the second century BCE to the present, and we like to think they contain a little something for everyone. We hope that you feel welcome in our reading rooms, and that you will reach out to one of us should you need assistance with a research question, want to host a class, or even just want to see “something cool.”

The Special Collections & Archives department operates differently from a typical library. Patrons cannot take materials home, but instead must use them in the reading room. Additionally, there is a set of guidelines for using materials in the reading room. We recognize that these differences can be perplexing, especially for first-time visitors to Special Collections. This guide is intended to help you “learn the ropes”, (1) to identify what you need amongst the rich resources within this department, then (2) to request it for use in the reading room or in a class, and finally, (3) how to handle the materials safely and efficiently when working in Special Collections. We hope that you find it useful as you explore our holdings, but as always, we welcome your questions.

Margaret Gamm,
Head, University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections