Collecting Policy for Special Collections

Updated 12 July 2023

For the sake of dealers, booksellers, and potential donors, we've provided the following information about our collecting philosophy and priorities. This document applies primarily to our non-Rhode Island collections, but more information about our RI collections and how we're building them is available elsewhere on our website. More extensive information about our full range of collections (including those we are not actively expanding at the moment) is also available on the site.

Why Do We Collect?

As a public library our mission is to provide access to primary source materials to everyone, and the only requirement for admission is a sense of curiosity. Our belief in accessibility extends beyond simply making our existing collections available. We collect materials from around the world and across history to ensure that our collections have the breadth and depth to give every potential researcher a reason to visit.

As we acquire material we seek to align our collections with library-wide DEI goals: To honor the humanity and dignity of all people, serve our community with integrity, democratize access to information and support diverse communities. Historically, our collections have been built by and for a predominantly white audience and its interests. Our current collecting seeks to redress the balance and better fulfill our mission to be a resource for all visitors. As we expand into new collecting areas and add to existing collections we focus whenever possible on representing and supporting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and/or People of Color), LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities through the material we purchase or accept as donations.

What Do We Collect?

We are actively building collections in the subject areas below. Our intention is to build on the strengths of existing collections while also opening up new avenues for collecting that complement overlapping subject areas. Some of our collecting areas are dictated by the guidelines of the endowed funds used for their acquisitions.

History of printing, particularly typography

  • Typographic specimen books: Our existing collection is strong in Anglo-American and European specimen books dating from the late 16th to the mid-20th century. Our current focus is on areas previously underrepresented in the collection, including Asia, India, Latin America and Central / Eastern Europe as well as specimens published in the late-20th and 21st centuries.
  • Experimental printing and the historical development of technologies of the book trades.

Whaling and maritime history

  • Logbooks and journals, particularly those kept by people of color or relating to voyages captained by people of color.
  • Whaling manuscripts and ephemera, particularly those related to voyages recorded in the logbooks.

African-American children's books

  • Our existing collections of historic children's books are notable for their wide geographical and cultural range, but are lacking in books by Black authors or intended for Black readers. The first half of the 20th century is a particular focus of interest.

Body modification, tattoo and corsets

  • Located at the junction of maritime history and art and design, the history of tattoo also often captures the lives of individuals marginalized by society.
  • Although the collection includes material dating from the 16th to the 21st century, our focus is the early history of machine tattooing at the turn of the 20th century.
  • Formats include books, photographs, and ephemera, including flash. 20th-century artifacts (signage, etc.) is typically not collected.
  • Our corset collection complements our existing collections on the history of textiles and women's history as well as our whaling collection, through the role of baleen and whalebone in corset construction.

Women's experiences

  • Stories women tell about their own lives, captured in manuscripts, diaries, journals or books.

Irish Culture & History

  • Particular focus on materials that overlap with other collecting priorities (e.g. the history of printing)

Arthur Rackham

  • Books illustrated by Rackham
  • Supplementary material about Arthur Rackham

What Do We Not Collect?

Special Collections does not acquire the following:

  • Material whose provenance is legally or ethically questionable.
  • Collections offered for permanent deposit or long term loan or whose availability to researchers is otherwise restricted.

Due to limits of funding and space, some materials may not be collected or accepted as donations, even though they have intellectual or monetary value. Special Collections is always grateful to anyone who considers donating and appreciates their understanding if we choose not to accept their material. The following types of material are typically not collected:

  • Encyclopedias and dictionaries
  • Bibles
  • Authors' collected works
  • Literary collections that do not fit into one of our existing collecting areas

How Do We Collect?

  • We collect through donations and purchases made with funds donated or endowed for acquisitions. Potential donors interested in viewing our standard deed of gift template are encouraged to contact Special Collections.
  • Information about our approach to collecting community archives is available on our website.
  • We collect in a spirit of collaboration with local institutions and organizations with overlapping collections. In appropriate situations we will recommend a donor or bookseller offer their material to a more suitable organization.
  • Material is added to the collection with the expectation that it will remain in perpetuity. Some decisions not to accept donations or purchase items are based on that long-term expectation.