Collection History and Development

History and Mission

The Rare Book Collection at the University of Florida was not formally established until 1951, as part of the university’s desire to greatly and quickly expand its research capacity. Institutionally, the boundaries of the collection were very flexible: the term “Rare Books” serving less as a collecting principle than as a reflection of the scarcity, preservation needs, or research value of individual holdings. In these early years, specialized materials were acquired by academic departments and by library and university administrators, particularly in the areas of history, religion, literature, and the book arts. It became part of the Department of Special Collections between 1962-79, and again from 1987 to the present.

As the University Libraries grew, the Rare Book Collection received materials that were considered fragile and valuable by the branches, or which were donated by faculty members or departments that had maintained their own research collections. This convergence greatly strengthened its holdings of medicine, natural history, art, as acquisitions and donations continued to reinforce its original foci on Western literature, theology, and history. The collection, as a whole, documents an important phase in the development of American higher education after the Second World War, as well as the institutional legacy of the university and its faculty from the time of its nineteenth-century foundation down to the present day.

A legacy must not be confused with a monument, nor considered a destiny. The collecting preferences of individual departments, as well as the general cultural assumptions around collections of rare books, has produced a versatile collection of European and American materials, but the purposes for which these books were brought to Gainesville are not the ones that govern their current and future use. The continued growth and life of the collection depends on building connections between the old and the new, both in the holdings of the collection and the approaches and needs of its users.

Through the acquisition of new materials and the active promotion of existing collections, the Rare Book Collection:

  1. Strengthens and deepens connections between the other collections of SASC and its own holdings,
  2. Enhances the instructional mission of the Libraries and the University, beginning at the undergraduate level and extending beyond the campus to external presentations and partnerships.  
  3. Creates and solidifies connections between academic departments and faculties on and off campus.

Diversity Statement

We seek to collect materials that reflect the breadth of human experience related to the educational mission of the University of Florida. We are committed to acquisition practices that reflect sound stewardship of institutional and community resources. We practice ongoing review of existing collections to ensure diversity and representation in description, access, and outreach. Curators collaborate across collections to better represent distinct and overlapping identities and experiences, and to redress gaps in individual collections or across collections.

Gifts and Donations

The Rare Book Collection does accept gifts of material that support our active collecting areas. All potential donations must be reviewed by the curator, either in person or via a descriptive inventory, prior to acceptance by the university. We cannot accept large generalist libraries, or even specialized collections, in their entirety.

In general, the Rare Book Collection also does not accept the following types of materials:

  • Signed or inscribed copies of literary works that duplicate existing holdings.
  • Deluxe or collectors editions of canonical works of literature.
  • Scholarly reference or specialist works that do not meet an immediate teaching or research need.
  • Photographs and photo albums.
  • Framed or decorative artworks, including framed prints.
  • Author’s papers, letters, or manuscripts (these should be referred to either the Literary Manuscripts curator or the University Archives)

Curators and associated faculty need to agree on the acceptance of a collection, and inventories of the books must be provided for review before a decision can be made.

Please consider donating to support our student fellowships and research opportunities.