The Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation (RBSCP) seeks to acquire, preserve, catalog, and provide access to rare books, manuscripts, and archival collections in keeping with the strategic priorities of River Campus Libraries and in support of the mission of the University of Rochester, “Learn, Discover, Heal, Create—and Make the World Ever Better.”

Introduction and General Guidelines

The Department collects in support of teaching, research in the humanities, hard, and applied sciences, and to preserve and document the recent and distant past of our university and our community. We actively develop our local history collections to reflect a diversity of issues and perspectives around race, gender, and place. We acknowledge that collection building is about developing relationships and trust, and we embrace alternative archiving and preservation models when appropriate. Our goal is to inspire innovative scholarship and to support the interests of new generations of students, faculty, researchers, and community members through our collection development.

Acquisitions are made by donation and using endowed funds. We acknowledge and honor our continuing partnerships with the Friends of the River Campus Libraries (FURL) and with many generous donors over the years. The River Campus Libraries website includes a directory of endowments.

We review our collection development policy at regular intervals and revise it as needed.

Last modified: November 22, 2022

In evaluating purchases or potential donations, the following factors are considered.

  • Research value and historical significance, including evidential and informational content, accessibility, and connection to other holdings.
  • Relevance in teaching and exhibition.
  • Material characteristics, including age, volume, format, and physical condition.
  • Administrative considerations, including staffing as well as preservation, storage, and processing costs.
  • The potential to support new areas of research and teaching.
Guidelines for the acquisition of rare books and special collections

This is a general policy that provides broad guidelines for collection development in RBSCP, including the University Archives and the Rossell Hope Robbins Library’s collections acquired in collaboration with RBSCP. Its purpose is not to document all of RBSCP’s collection strengths and areas of distinction, but to present current selection criteria in specific areas of continued growth. Our special collections span a range of genres, time periods, and formats. Please visit the Rare Books and Special Collections and University Archives pages to see a listing of our major subject areas. Geographically, our local collecting area includes the city of Rochester and the counties of Monroe, Cayuga, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Wayne, and Wyoming. We selectively add to our print collections through gift and purchase. These works are cataloged in DiscoverUR and can be searched by author and/or title. 

Historical descriptions of some individual collections and subject strengths can be found in issues of the University of Rochester Library Bulletin. Contact the curator of each subject for more information.

Special Collections

Black History and Culture

We actively collect in this subject, and our focus is on acquiring more material that represents the broader topics of Black history and culture. While the bulk of our collections relates to African American history and culture, the full scope of our collections includes material from individuals who are of African descent. The majority of the material on this subject is centered in Rochester, with limited material, especially 20th century material, related to the national and international scene. Our 19th century material is focused on abolition and abolitionists.   


We actively acquire materials directly related to Rochester’s “Flower City” heritage & legacy.  These include published catalogs/serials, books, photographs, and ephemera; records of nurseries, plantsmen, farmers, and allied trades; groups/individuals whose work is centered on the local landscape; the records of local garden clubs. Many of these businesses, especially the nurseries, were foundational to Rochester’s growing economy and literally shaped the landscape of the city.

LGBTQI+ History and Culture

We actively collect material related to LGBTQI+ individuals and community organizations.  RBSCP is interested in developing collections from a wide range of subjects, from grassroots organizing to the lives of individuals in the local community. Our focus is on growing our collections in a more inclusive way, including increasing the representation of LGBTQI+ people of color, transgender people, and 21st century queer folks in our collections.

Medieval and Early Modern Material

We actively collect both manuscript and print materials across a range of formats, including books, documents, rolls, and fragments. Areas of focus include the history of science, religious reform movements, women, travel, and magic and alchemy. We actively look for materials that demonstrate evidence of creation and use. Our early print collections provide an overview of the development of European printing. We are actively seeking to develop our trans-Atlantic and non-Latin language holdings. We see significant opportunities for developing the collection in breadth and depth.

Political History

We actively collect the records of elected officials from our geographic collecting area, including those elected at the town, city, county, state, and federal levels. We also selectively acquire material to add to our existing political collections. We are actively acquiring print and manuscript material that connects our political collections with material in our other subject areas, especially Black History and Culture, Women’s History, and Rochester and Monroe County History.


We actively collect the records of religious figures and organizations from within our geographic collecting area. In addition, we very actively continue to build our already strong Spiritualism collection. We collect materials directly related to the Fox Sisters and, more broadly, to the development of the American spiritualist movement from 1848 to the present. This includes works regarding the material culture of spiritualism, accounts by/about mediums and other seers, spirit writing/automatic writing, and phrenology.

Rochester and Monroe County History

We actively collect material in a range of formats related to all aspects of local history, including 19th, 20th, and 21st century manuscripts and published works (such as books, brochures, menus, and annual reports) relating to the city of Rochester and Monroe County. The city and county are the primary focus of our local history collections although we also collect material from the surrounding counties (Cayuga, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Wayne, and Wyoming) when appropriate. Over time, the department has acquired local history material that is more diverse in scope and focus, but there is still much work to be done to make our collections more representative of Rochester’s residents.   

Science and Technology

Reflecting a historic strength of the University and the region, the department has significant holdings of businesses and individuals involved in scientific research and technology. We actively collect material related to Rochester’s rich contributions to the development of photography and the photographic industry as well as acquiring exemplars of professional and amateur photography in a variety of formats. This includes acquiring new collections and building on existing ones (i.e. Kodak, Bausch & Lomb, and Ward’s Natural Science Establishment], as well as individuals employed by those companies and University faculty, including Rudolf Kingslake, Chester Carlson, and Joseph C. Wilson.

Social Justice and Activism

Defining activism as any concerted effort to affect social change, we actively collect material in print and manuscript formats with a focus on the city of Rochester and the surrounding counties. Our focus in the 19th century includes women’s rights, abolition, temperance, prison, land, dress, education, diet, and immigration reform, animal rights, and Indigenous rights. Our growing holdings in the 20th and 21st centuries include women’s rights, racial justice, poverty, the labor movement, civil rights, and groups working on issues such as redlining, education, employment, and unjust housing practices. We collect the records of individual activists and activist organizations, correspondence between activists, material related to the intersection of politics and social change, and material related to those who would keep the status quo in place.

Women’s History

Our collections are strong in material that demonstrates how the role of women and girls changed throughout the 19th century and we are very actively developing our holdings of 20th and 21st century material to move these collections forward in time to include material related to reproductive rights, the ERA, and second-, third-, and forth-wave feminism.

Our collections are also strong in print and manuscript material related to suffrage and women’s history more broadly, including material related to Susan B. Anthony and the women in her personal and professional circles, material related to the suffrage movement within our geographic area, exemplars of material related to the fight for women’s rights statewide and nationally, and material related to issues affecting women, including the law, education, employment, and politics.

University of Rochester History

The University of Rochester Archives functions as the repository for both governance and historical documents of the University. Acquisitions by transfer from other University departments are guided by policy set by the University of Rochester Board of Trustees, and a separate University Records Retention policy delineates how departments should handle specific materials and whether they may be transferred to the Archives.

Faculty papers from our earliest professors to the present time continue to be acquired on a selective basis. In addition to these administrative and academic categories, materials that preserve the history of the University’s life in all its facets are actively acquired.

See: University Archives

Guidelines for the deaccession of rare books and special collections 

The River Campus Libraries administers RBSCP to collect, preserve, catalog, and provide access to a research and teaching collection in trust for current and future members of the University of Rochester community and the scholarly public.  

These guidelines provide for limited and selective deaccessioning or disposal of material from RBSCP collections under clearly defined and controlled conditions, in compliance with any legal restrictions, the necessity for possession of a valid title, and the donor's intent. 

Procedures for the deaccession or disposal of materials will be at least as rigorous as those for purchasing and accepting gifts-in-kind and should be governed by the same basic principles. 

Deaccessioning or disposal may be carried out when:  

  1. Material is damaged or deteriorated beyond its historical or monetary value, no longer retains its physical integrity, identity, or authenticity, or is in a format that can no longer be read and where the cost of transferring it to a new format outweighs its historical value; or when  
  1. Material is duplicated by another example or examples in better or more desirable condition, or has been transferred to another format (e.g., microfilm or digital) and the original has no further use, historical, or artifactual value; or when  
  1. Material is clearly and definitively, in the judgment of RBSCP staff, not appropriate to the needs of the RBSCP collection and its users.  

Procedures for considering deaccession or disposal of archival materials will be guided by the Guidelines for Reappraisal and Deaccessioning(Society of American Archivists, 2012).   

For materials other than archival collections, RBSCP will be guided by the Disposals Policy for Rare Books and Manuscripts(Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, United Kingdom, 2013), in particular the recommendation that core manuscript and book collections generally will not be considered for deaccessioning. Regardless of format, all decisions will be further guided by the ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians (Rare Book and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association, 2003).   

Proposals for deaccession must be reviewed by the RBSCP Collection Development Committee (made up of staff with curatorial responsibilities, the University Archivist, and the Director, RBSCP). Deaccessioning will not occur without approval by the Director, RBSCP. All non-routine deaccessioning decisions require approval from the Dean of River Campus Libraries who may seek advice from University of Rochester legal counsel, and/or others at the Dean’s discretion.