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Primary Sources in Archives & Special Collections: What is a Special Collection?

Identifying and locating primary sources in the Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center.

What is a Special Collection?

A special collection is a group of items, such as rare books or documents, that are either irreplaceable or unusually rare and valuable. For this reason special collections are stored separately from the regular library collections in a secure location with environmental controls to preserve the items for posterity. Special collections also include rare items that are focused on a single topic, such as aviation or women's history. Special collections are created to benefit scholars by grouping related materials together in one repository. Often a repository will specialize in a limited number of subject areas for their special collections, to distinguish the institution from other libraries.

Special Collections

Examples of Special Collections

Some of the Special Collections in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center include:

Bruce Rogers Collection of rare books designed by Bruce Rogers or books relating to typography and book design.

William Freeman Myrick Goss Library of the History of Engineering includes rare books and pamphlets focusing on American science, engineering, and industry; with a special focus on railroad engineering and transportation history.

Krannert Special Collections of rare books and pamphlets on economic history, business, and political economy.

Psychoactive Substances Research Collection of books, journals, and papers of researchers relating to  the international history of psychoactive substances and their benefits to medicine and healing.

Indiana Collection includes books by Indiana authors, books published in Indiana, and rare and unusual books about Indiana and its history.