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Collection Development

Purpose and Scope of Special Collections

The Special Collections and Archives Division connects people with collections of physical and digital materials in support of a wide range of teaching, research, and learning. Through acquisition, stewardship, and community engagement, the Division joins the rest of the Libraries to support the core missions of the University.

Special Collections provides relevant and diverse perspectives by acquiring, preserving, and making accessible rare, fragile, and culturally significant materials for use in research, instruction, and outreach.  The department serves University of Missouri faculty, students, and staff, as well as members of the general public across a wide range of disciplines, from the sciences to the humanities.

We value the collections for their power to motivate learning, inform scholarship, change lives, and inspire wonder. We are dedicated to the long-term stewardship of the resources entrusted to our care.

Collecting Methods

Materials may be purchased through rare book dealers, auctions (by proxy), or private sale.  Funding sources include gifts, grants, and endowment income.  Materials may also be transferred to Special Collections from the general collection or from the University Libraries' specialized libraries, in consultation with the subject librarian responsible for the materials in question (see Selection Criteria for Transfers).

Donation, either from individuals or organizations, is a preferred method of acquisition for Special Collections.  Not all subject areas are being actively developed through purchases, but donations in key areas will be accepted; when this is the case, it is indicated in the subject descriptions below.  

The donation of materials that are outside the scope of the University of Missouri's existing collections may require additional time and discussion as acceptance will involve a commitment to a new collecting area.  If, however, the University Libraries are unable to accept a donation, the donation should be referred to an appropriate repository.

Collection Priorities and Limitations

Use of the collection has evolved to become primarily instructional in nature, and the university’s wide-ranging curriculum has revealed numerous gaps and weaknesses. These weaknesses intersect across the active collecting areas outlined in this document and should be considered high priorities for collecting:

  • Women authors, artists, and creators.
  • Literature, history, and art of underrepresented and marginalized groups in the United States.
  • Global history of the book, especially in non-Western contexts.
  • Materials related to non-Christian religious and philosophical traditions.
  • Materials related to social movements of the mid- to late-twentieth century.


Appropriate formats include but are not limited to the following:

  • Manuscripts
  • Books and pamphlets
  • Magazines, newspapers, and periodical publications
  • Photographic materials
  • Posters and graphic materials
  • Maps and atlases
  • Comic books and graphic novels
  • Ephemera

Active Collecting Areas

Materials may be placed into any appropriate location code or stored offsite (see Shelving Policies). Unless otherwise noted, the areas noted below are collected at the Instructional Support Level.[1]

American Social and Political History

  • Materials related to major social reform movements of the nineteenth and twentieth century, including abolition, temperance, civil rights, women’s rights, and anti-war movements. Materials will primarily be in English, but all languages spoken in the United States should be considered for inclusion.
  • Note: Although materials related to the history of Missouri are part of existing collections, Special Collections does not actively collect local or Missouri history and will not compete with other local repositories for acquisitions. 

Book Arts

  • Artists' books in all media, particularly those with innovative structures or use of materials.  The University's book arts curriculum is part of the Fibers program with a concentration on papermaking, structures, and one-of-a-kind books.  Materials that can be used to support teaching and research in this area are of particular interest.
  • Fine press books and ephemera that intersect with teaching and research interests more generally, in comic art, or in literature (see below).

Classical Antiquity 

  • Works by or about women in the ancient world, especially in illustrated editions that complement strengths in the book arts.

Comic Art and Popular Culture

  • Long-running superhero series (currently around 500 titles and 13,000 issues).  Gaps should be filled as possible to make these collections more usable in the curriculum. These materials are primarily acquired through gifts in kind.
  • Graphic novels (currently around 300 titles).  Collecting in this area has been scattered, but there is campus interest in alternative, literary, and non-fiction comics such as comics journalism, autobiography, medical and science communication, and editorial cartoons.
  • Comic zines, mini-comics, and self-published comics, particularly those by Missouri creators.

History of Books and Printing

  • Non-European book structures, illustration, manuscripts, printing, and other exemplars of the history of the book in a global context.
  • Specific European exemplars lacking from the collection, including:
    • Manuscripts with full-page illuminations
    • Embroidered bindings
    • Dos-à-dos bindings
    • Papier-mâché bindings
    • Extra-illustrated books
    • Adorned or dressed prints
  • Examples of printing tools and technology such as illustration plates, stereotype molds, metal type, etc.
  • High-quality facsimiles should be considered to relieve overuse of original items.

Literature and Languages

  • Literary works by British and American women and African American authors are in demand in the curriculum and are currently under-represented in the collections.
  • Ephemeral literature in English such as children's publications, chapbooks, ballads, and song sheets, particularly those authored by women.
  • Books, journals, graphic materials, and ephemera pertaining to the languages and cultures of Native Americans, particularly works by Native American authors. Dedicated gift funds may be used for this purpose.


  • Books, artifacts, graphic materials, facsimiles, and ephemera related to non-Christian traditions, including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Collecting in this area should be done in consultation with campus experts and/or local faith communities.

Theater and the Performing Arts

  • Primary and secondary materials related to Lanford Wilson and the works of other LGBTQ dramatists and playwrights. 

Travel and Exploration

  • Materials related to North American travel and exploration, particularly in the form of manuscripts, ephemera, or other unique materials. Acquisitions are made through gift funds dedicated for this purpose.

World War I and II

  • Posters, pamphlets, ephemera, photographs, government publications, manuscripts, and other primary sources dating from the WWI and WWII periods. 
  • Fascist propaganda, particularly posters, is lacking from the collection and has been requested by faculty. Acquire with caution if the opportunity arises.


Inactive Collecting Areas

The following are areas of historic strength in the collections. The department is not currently actively seeking materials in these areas, but donations will be considered.

  • Specific types of illustrated books (including the Dance of Death, emblem books, and illustrated editions of Ovid)
  • Seventeenth and eighteenth century British religious thought
  • Plato and the Neoplatonists
  • French history, politics, and law
  • French literature and languages
  • History of science

Potential Collecting Areas

Based on the University's academic strengths and teaching trends, broad potential to start new collections or interest areas exists in the following topics:

  • Media history collections.
  • Personal papers of journalists and School of Journalism alumni.
  • Documentary film and filmmakers' archives to support the Digital Storytelling and Documentary Journalism programs.
  • Original works and papers by Missouri comic artists and writers.
  • Nineteenth-century proto-comics and early forms of sequential art.

[1] As defined by the Library of Congress,