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Collection Development Guidelines for Special Collections

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.


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
  • Personal papers and archival collections

Collecting Priorities for All Subject Areas

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 historically excluded groups in the United States, with a focus on Black communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and Native American communities.
  • 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.

Active Collecting Subject 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

Collecting Priorities: 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.

Current Strengths: Confederate Currency Collection, Council of National Defense Collection, Daniel Webster Speeches Collection, Fourth of July Orations Collection, Historic Textbook Collection, John G. Neihardt Collection, John Tinney McCutcheon Collection of Editorial Cartoons, Plat Books of Missouri Counties Collection, World War I and World War II Poster Collection, Sanborn Maps of Missouri Collection, September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack Collection, Twentieth-Century Political Pamphlet Collection, Underground Newspaper Collection, Walter Williams Library

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

Collecting priorities:

  • 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).

Current strengths: Artists’ books and fine press materials in the Rare Book Collection, fore-edge paintings in the Helen Montgomery Jenkins Collection, Limited Editions Club Collection, Press Ephemera Collection.

Classical Antiquity 

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

Current strengths: Albert and Mary Louise Lord Collection; Anthony C. DeBellis Collection of Humanistic Literature; Cuneiform tablets, incunabula, illustrated Ovid editions, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the Rare Book Collection; Pages from the Past Collection; Fragmenta Manuscripta Collection; Thomas Moore Johnson Collection of Philosophy; Walter Miller Library.

Comic Art and Popular Culture

Collecting priorities:

  • Long-running Marvel and DC superhero serials.  Gaps should be filled as possible to make these collections more usable in the curriculum. These materials are primarily acquired through gifts in kind.
  • Comic zines, mini-comics, and self-published comics, particularly those by Missouri creators.
  • Original artwork, proofs, and papers of cartoonists.
  • Nineteenth-century proto-comics and early forms of sequential art.

Current strengths: Allen C. Bluedorn Collection, Bonnet-Brown Comic Art Syndicate Collection, Comic Book Collection, Edgar Everett Martin Papers, Frank Stack Papers, John Tinney McCutcheon Collection of Editorial Cartoons, Missouri Creators Comic Collection, Mort Walker Collection, Ralph Barton Collection, Underground Comics Syndicate Proofs Collection.

History of Books and Printing

Collecting priorities:

  • 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
    • Scrolls or rolls.
  • 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.

Current strengths: Anthony C. DeBellis Collection of Humanistic Literature; Frank Luther Mott Collection of American Best Sellers, 1662-1945; Incunabula and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the Rare Book Collection; Pages from the Past Collection, Fragmenta Manuscripta Collection.

Literature and Languages

Collecting priorities:

  • 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.

Current strengths: Center for the Literary Arts Collection; Dime Novels; Frank Luther Mott Collection of American Best Sellers, 1662-1945; Kipling materials in the Helen Montgomery Jenkins Collection; Historic Textbook Collection; Lanford Wilson Collection; Mary Lago Collection; Walter Williams Library; William Least Heat-Moon Papers.

Funding: the Trogdon Endowment provides funding restricted to use for non-Christian works by Native American authors and/or North American travel and exploration (see below).

Media History

Collecting priorities:

  • Papers of prominent journalists, including School of Journalism alumni.
  • Documentary film and filmmakers' archives to support the Digital Storytelling and Documentary Journalism programs.
  • Publishing archives related to print journalism.

Current strengths: Betty Winfield Newspaper Collection; Frank Luther Mott Collection of American Best Sellers, 1662-1945; Samir Husni Magazine Collection; September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack Collection; Underground Newspaper Collection; Walter Williams Library.


Collecting priorities:

  • 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.

Current strengths: Daniel Webster Speeches Collection, 1806-1932; Fourth of July Orations Collection; Howey pamphlets, sermons, and practical theology materials in the Rare Book Collection.

Theater and the Performing Arts

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

Current strengths: Lanford Wilson Collection; Diane Gorodnitzki Photographs of Lanford Wilson; Theatre Program Collection.

Travel and Exploration

Collecting priority: Materials related to North American travel and exploration, particularly in the form of manuscripts, ephemera, or other unique materials. Care should be taken not to duplicate materials in the State Historical Society of Missouri’s collection.

Current strengths: Gary E. and Janet J. Venable Antiquarian Atlas & Map Collection; John G. Neihardt Collection; Martin and Margaret Hiller Collection of Audiovisual Materials on China, 1945-1948; Poster Collection; materials on travel in the Rare Book Collection; William Least Heat-Moon Papers.

Funding: the Trogdon Endowment provides funding restricted to use for non-Christian works by Native American authors and/or North American travel and exploration.

World War I and II

Collecting Priorities:

  • 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 for teaching purposes. Acquire with caution and in consultation with campus experts if the opportunity arises.

Current strengths: Council of National Defense Collection; Poster Collection; materials in the Rare Book Collection; rare government documents (to be evaluated for transfer).

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

[1] As defined by the Library of Congress,

Revision history:

7/10/2023: Last yearly review

7/5/2019: Submitted and approved by Collection Steering Committee