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Jean & Alexander Heard Libraries

Special Collections
and University Archives

Collection Development Policy

History of Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA)

Special Collections

Special Collections originated as the Treasure Room or Rare Book Room in the south wing of the fourth floor of the Central Library. Later, the Treasure Room was moved to the 8th floor. The Special Collections department was formally organized in 1965. It was part of the department's mission to establish and maintain an archive of university-related material to document the history of the university.

Still occupying space on the fourth floor of the Joint University Libraries (JUL, later, Central Library), it focused on collecting material on the history of the university, manuscripts, and rare books in order to provide primary source material for graduate research. When the H. Fort Flowers wing of the library was built in 1969, Special Collections was moved to the new wing and featured a Fugitive Room which showcased the Jesse E. Wills Fugitive/Agrarian Collection, a collection of books by and about the Fugitive and Agrarian literary movements at Vanderbilt in the 1920s. Jesse Wills, a member of the Fugitive literary group and chairman of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust from 1967 to 1976, was one of the primary founders of this addition to the department and actively sponsored the acquisition of material to support it.

Today, SCUA contains more than 75,000 rare books; 500,000 photographs; and over 1000 manuscript collections. It also serves as the primary access point for the University Archives, a depository of papers and publications that document the history of the university, containing 14,000 linear feet of university archival materials. Open to the general public, the library serves patrons all over the United States as well as international scholars.

University Archives

The Archives’ collection policy is based on the Society of American Archivists’ guidelines for college and university archives. We preserve university records for the purposes of:

  • Maintaining a clear account of university life and achievements, administrative policy, and actions and educational programs.
  • Reinforcing an image of the university that stimulates financial support and encourages an appreciation of the university’s past and its role in the history of American higher education among students, faculty, and alumni.
  • Making available a body of records useful for student and scholarly research in history and other disciplines.

When Special Collections was established in 1965, part of the department's mission was to establish and maintain an archive of university-related material to document the history of the university. At the time of its establishment, records and university publications were stored in multiple campus locations. Woodrow W. Wasson, Vanderbilt's first university archivist, brought these diverse materials together in one location. Ultimately, the volume of the collection became so great that a separate storage facility, now known simply as the Library Annex, was used to store much of the material.

In addition to university department records, the Archives also includes copies of student publications, dissertations, and publications issued by Vanderbilt University Press. Active collecting of faculty papers is a mainstay of recording the history of the university. Faculty collections that contain internal university records traditionally collected by the university archives are added to the appropriate archives record group. A faculty papers collecting policy explains the rationale for the addition of these materials to the university archives. In 2019, a new procedure was implemented to evaluate faculty papers under consideration for inclusion in the collection.

After the merger of Peabody College and Vanderbilt University in 1979, the Archives expanded to include the records and publications of Peabody College. Due to the confidential nature of some of the material, only portions of the Archives are available to the public.

Photographic Archives

The Photographic Archives of Vanderbilt University was founded in 1973, shortly after the university's centennial celebration. Originally housed in Alumni Memorial Hall, the Photographic Archives was transferred to the University Archives in 1981. The mission of the Photographic Archives is to collect and preserve photographs that document the history of the university. From an initial collection of a few hundred images, the collection now numbers over 500,000 photographs.

Collecting Rationale

Special Collections serves as the repository for rare materials in the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries, supporting research by a wide range of scholars including undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and other researchers whose work relies on primary resource materials, including rare books and manuscripts. Over the years SCUA has built collections of manuscripts, books, films, photographs, sound recordings, and other formats in several areas. These areas have been chosen with faculty and other specialists and in response to exceptional opportunities to obtain collections, many of which continue to be focuses for targeted collecting and are profiled below.

Acquisitions that do not fall into existing collecting areas are sometimes made in anticipation of new emphases. In addition to scholarly research value, staff also consider items' instructional, exhibition and/or outreach potential.

SCUA accepts from other divisions of the Vanderbilt Libraries transfers of materials that require special protection and care. Criteria considered in such transfers include fragility, age, association values, and market value. These materials are accepted regardless of whether the subject area(s) represented are ones targeted by SCUA as collecting phases.

Serving the research needs of Vanderbilt University's faculty and students is SCUA's primary responsibility. To this end, SCUA seeks to collect in subject areas receiving substantial and sustained attention within the university community and those representing ongoing departmental research interests or that are the focus of interdisciplinary programs.

SCUA also considers service to scholars on the national and international levels an important mission. Special Collections seeks to play a role in the broader research community by building collections in areas not well covered by other repositories. Consequently, SCUA draws visiting scholars to the Vanderbilt campus and enhances the university's overall reputation as a center for scholarship.

This policy is designed to meet the goals of Vanderbilt University and SCUA. This policy will be periodically reviewed, evaluated, and changed as necessary to meet these goals. The sources for review and revision will include information supplied by Vanderbilt Libraries’ annual reports, user surveys, library budget information, faculty and graduate student interviews, changes in Vanderbilt academic programming, and other relevant information.

Collecting Methods

Responsibility for collecting materials for Special Collections rests among members of the department who, to complement their own subject expertise, often consult with resource specialists elsewhere within the Heard Libraries system. The Director of Special Collections is responsible for the general supervision and coordination of collection development activities.

Donation is the preferred method of acquisition for Special Collections, which solicits gifts of materials from individuals and organizations. Vanderbilt alumni, faculty members, and other members of the university community help in identifying potential donors.

When materials are not available through gifts, acquisitions are made through the purchase of items selected from dealer catalogs, by way of auctions, and from private individuals or organizations. Purchases are funded by endowment income, gifts, Friends of Vanderbilt’s Libraries donations, and library appropriations.

Collecting Procedure

SCUA staff have been acquiring materials for the university for over sixty years. The library is staffed by experts in the following subject areas: rare books; southern literature, history, and culture; modern French studies; performing and fine arts; Latin American studies (particularly Colombiana); politics and journalism; Civil Rights; and Vanderbilt University history. SCUA staff actively collaborate with university faculty and other university libraries’ subject specialists to vet acquisitions.

Before bringing an item into the collection, several key factors are rigorously considered:

  • General guidelines followed by the library:
    • Books published before 1700 in Western Europe
    • Books published in the United States before 1820
    • Books of unusual size or shape requiring special handling or protection
    • Books from editions limited to 300 or fewer, but not vanity press publications
    • Books valued individually at $1000 or more
    • Significant (usually first) editions of major writers
    • Significant association copies
  • Source of the item
    • Gift or donation
    • Auction
    • Bookseller
    • Library transfer—SCUA actively works with other libraries in the Vanderbilt library system to identify and transfer materials from open stacks when they become fragile, valuable, and/or rare.
  • Cost considerations
    • Ascertain available funding
      • University policy is to spend endowment money first
      • University policy advises that we spend half of the budget by December and that we finish spending by May
      • All funds must be encumbered by the end of the FY
    • Conduct due diligence to determine fair pricing
    • Confirm the item is not available through a donation
  • Additional factors considered in collecting:
    • SCUA chooses its target collecting areas with an awareness of collecting activities of other U.S. repositories, especially those in the Southeast. In making acquisitions, the library generally seeks to avoid dividing collections among institutions. When offered donations of materials beyond the scope of its primary collecting areas, SCUA may refer donors to more appropriate institutions.
    • SCUA places no overall geographical, linguistic, or chronological limitations on the scope of materials to be collected. Rare, useful, and unique materials that are offered to the library will be considered. No formats are excluded, although the library does not seek to acquire objects better suited for museum collections. Such memorabilia may, however, be accepted as part of larger collections if useful for exhibition or instructional purposes.
    • Acquisitions that do not fall into existing collecting areas sometimes are made in anticipation of new emphases. In addition to scholarly research value and instructional use, collectors sometimes also consider items’ exhibit and/or outreach potential.
  • Preservation and access considerations:
    • Condition of the item (i.e.: fragility and format)
    • Accessibility
      • The library will accept no collections permanently closed to users.
      • SCUA endeavors to make all its collections available to all potential users.

Gifts and Donations

The Vanderbilt University Libraries depend on gifts and donations to acquire, organize, and make accessible the resources that support research and generate knowledge. We appreciate the support of benefactors who understand how important a world-class library is to the education of students who will one day shape our future.

To commemorate an occasion, memorialize a relative or friend, or honor a graduate, Vanderbilt Libraries has an Adopt-a-Treasure program. This program provides an opportunity to support the acquisition or conservation of rare library materials. SCUA maintains a list of items in need of conservation work ranging from simple enclosures to extensive repairs

Vanderbilt Libraries welcome gifts of books and other cultural heritage materials that complement existing collections. Because of the high cost of storage and processing, the libraries are unable to accept all donations. Although exceptions may be made for rare and unique items, materials that fall outside of our collecting policy or duplicate our current holdings generally cannot be accepted. 

SCUA Collecting Funds

Collecting areas are reviewed regularly by the SCUA Collection Development Team. As circumstances change, the collecting areas will be reevaluated and modified as appropriate.

  • SPECCOLL_OT (annual allocation)
    • This fund can be used for one-time special collections purchases and is not restricted by any subject area.
  • Sam M. Fleming Southern Civilization Fund SOUTHCIV_OT (endowment)
    • This fund can only be used to purchase materials that fall into the categories of Southern literature, history, and culture.
  • Doris & D. F. Fleming Fund DDFLEMING_OT (endowment)
    • This fund can only be used to purchase materials that fall into the categories of Southern literature, history, and culture.
  • Dorothy Loomis Fund for Fugitive and Agrarian Materials LOOMISCOLL_OT
    • This fund can only be used to purchase materials that relate to the Fugitive and Agrarian literary groups at Vanderbilt.
  • Harris D. Riley Civil War Fund HDRILEY_OT (endowment)
    • This fund can only be used to purchase materials that relate to the American Civil War.
  • Waddlington Fund for Conservation
    • This fund can only be used for the conservation and preservation of printed materials, manuscripts, artworks, and other physical materials.

SCUA Collection Overview

Brief collection development statements for individual subject areas follow:

  • History of Playing Cards and Games
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Literary works in which cards play a role, history of playing cards, historic playing cards.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: The George Clulow and United States Playing Card Company Collection, Harold S. Vanderbilt papers, Parkhurst and Jane Wood Bridge, Book, and Periodical Collection.
  • Latin America
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Primary and secondary materials on Latin America and Caribbean subjects with an emphasis on Colombian history, literature, and culture; Brazilian history; Mesoamerican and Andean archaeology and anthropology; and Latin American artists books. Collecting in areas designed to support the teaching and research needs of the Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies and the Center for the Americas.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: Colombian history, J. León Helguera Colombiana Collection, Manuel Zapata Olivella papers, Delia Zapata Olivella papers, Laurence Prescott book collection, Brazilian history, 17th through 19th century Latin American travel accounts, Mesoamerican facsimiles of codices, Argentine tango and Argentinean and Chilean history.
  • Southern Literature
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Papers and published works of southern literary figures, criticism and secondary works, and projects associated with the creation and development of southern literature.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: The Sam M. Fleming Southern Civilization Collection of primary and secondary published works by leading southern writers, works on southern education, history, politics, religion, and civil rights; manuscript collections of John Egerton, John Crowe Ransom, Alfred Leland Crabb, Peter Taylor and others add depth to this collection, reaching from the early twentieth into the twenty-first century.
  • Southern History and Culture
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Southern leaders in business, education, race relations, social change and reform.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: The Sam M. Fleming Southern Civilization Collection of history and culture of the South from 1865 to the present using primary and secondary published works; featured topics are religion, civil rights, journalism, history of women, politics, and education. Noteworthy manuscript collections include James G. Stahlman, Father James H. Flye, George N. Mayhew, Kelly Miller Smith, and Alexander Heard.
  • History of Education in the South
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Primary and secondary published works and manuscripts and records on the development of education and educational needs in the South.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: Records of the University of Nashville, George Peabody College, the Peabody Education Fund, the Wallace University School, and the manuscript collections of prominent professors of education. The University of Nashville Book Collection supplements this history with a complete library of a nineteenth century southern university.
  • Fugitive and Agrarian Writers
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Manuscript materials or works published by these two literary groups and their protégés. Items to fill in any gaps in primary or secondary published works.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: Jesse Ely Wills Collection of published works by the Fugitives and Agrarians and by their protégés; manuscript collections of John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Jesse Ely Wills, Herman Clarence Nixon, Walter Clyde Curry, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, Peter Taylor, Brainard Cheney, Richard Weaver, and Marion O'Donnell, among others.
  • American Civil War
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Published materials, manuscripts, diaries, and materials relating to the history and figures of the American Civil War.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: The Harris D. Riley Civil War Book Collection, the Stanley F. Horn Book Collection along with numerous American Civil War era manuscripts, diaries, Confederate imprints, and the anti-slavery pamphlet collection.
  • Civil Rights (American South)
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Adding to and filling in gaps in primary published materials and deepening the secondary published items. Locate activist's manuscripts and strengthen women's rights collections.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: The manuscripts and records of James M. Lawson, Jr., Kelly Miller Smith, Edwin Hamlett, Mary K. Todd, Martha Sue Thrasher, Nashville Peace Action/Peace and Justice Center, Southern Student Organizing Committee Collection, Rainbow Community Center, Donald F. Beisswenger, and John Seigenthaler; extensive primary and secondary published American Civil Rights materials in the Sam M. Fleming Southern Civilization Collection.
  • Journalism (American South)
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Southern journalists' manuscript collections, southern journals, and imprints from small presses.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: John Seigenthaler, James G. Stahlman, Grantland Rice, Fred Russell, James Squires, Kathy Sawyer, Bill Kovach, Frank Sutherland, Louis T. Nicholas, Christine Sadler Coe, Julian Goodman, Jack Corn, Jack Hurst and John Egerton. Newspaper cartoonists Charles Bissell, Tom Little, and Fred O. Seibel.
  • Politics (American South)
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Southern politicians, especially from Tennessee, as well as materials about state and local government officials and women in politics.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: The [Lamar] Alexander Papers, James and Mary Sasser Papers, Alexander Heard Papers, Southern Politics Collection, Edmund M. Morgan, Jr., J. Dewey Daane, John Seigenthaler collections; an extensive collection of primary and secondary publications in the Sam M. Fleming Southern Civilization Collection.
  • Performing Arts and Fine Arts
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Twentieth century artists, performers, critics, and patrons of the arts.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: Performing arts collections - Francis Robinson, Delbert Mann, Marshall Chapman, John Lark Taylor, Francis Craig, Louis T. Nicholas, George W. Boswell; Grand Ole Opry Collection, WSM Radio and Television Collection; collections of sheet music and music textbooks. Fine arts materials- Self Taught Artists Resources (S.T.A.R.) records, Contini-Volterra Photographic Archive, and the Fletcher S. Brockman Collection.
  • University History
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Vanderbilt University alumni, faculty, and administrators’ manuscripts and printed materials are collected as a means of documenting the internal life and culture of the university community. External and internal papers, records, photographs, artifacts, and published items pertaining to Vanderbilt University as a major institution.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: Papers of alumni, faculty, and administrators of Peabody College, Vanderbilt University and its antecedents. For more information on the Archives and its holdings, see the University Archives’ web site. To view the collection development policy for the Archives, see the University Archives Collection Policy.

Secondary collecting areas:

  • Vanderbilt Family
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Papers and published materials by and about the Vanderbilt family, especially the early generations.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: Cornelius Vanderbilt scrapbooks, Harold S. Vanderbilt, Cornelius Vanderbilt IV, and William H. Vanderbilt papers and research materials from published genealogies of the Vanderbilt family.
  • Tennessee History
    • Current Collecting Focuses: Tennessee politicians, historians, writers and journalists along with published materials about the arts in Tennessee.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: James Robertson, James Safford Papers, John Egerton Papers and the Walter Durham Papers; the Robert A. McGaw Tennessee map collection; and the Stanley F. Horn Collection.
  • Fine Press and Small Press Books
    • Current Collecting Focuses: American small press books, especially southern presses. History of small press publications. Private Presses.
    • Existing Collection Strengths: British and American small press books and pamphlets, history of small press publications, and Palaemon Press broadsides, Janus Press, and published works by artist Barry Moser.