Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Columbia University's Rare Book & Manuscript Library is located on the 6th Floor of Columbia University's Butler Library. The library holds the special collections of Columbia University, as well as the Columbia University Archives. The range of the library's holdings spans more than 4,000 years, from cylinder seals created in Mesopotamia to contemporary artists' books. In addition to printed and manuscript resources, the library contains cuneiform tablets, papyri, ostraca, astronomical and mathematical instruments, maps, works of art, photographs, posters, early printing presses and papermaking equipment, type specimens, sound and moving image recordings, theater set models, puppets, masks, ephemera and memorabilia. The Rare Book and Manuscript Library includes unique and rare materials related to all subject areas.


The history of the rare book and manuscript collections dates from the founding of King's College, now Columbia University, in 1754. The library holds materials related to both the first and third presidents of the University, Samuel Johnson and his son William Samuel Johnson, donated by the family in 1914. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the University acquired significant materials though gifts from Stephen Whitney Phoenix, Richard J. H. Gottheil, Brander Matthews, Robert H. Montgomery, David Eugene Smith, and George Plimpton. These gifts included medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, materials related to the history of accountancy, education, and mathematics, and the Dramatic Museum collections. The University’s first major collection purchase was Professor Edwin R. A. Seligman’s library on the history of economics in 1929. This purchase, and the creation of the Friends of the Libraries Group in the late 1920s, was the impetus for growth in the 1930s. The University moved to make provisions for the care of these types of materials, and the Trustees allowed for the establishment of the Rare Book Department on July 1, 1930. By the end of the 1930s, the library was housed on the sixth floor of Butler Library. As the library increased its collecting of archives and manuscripts, the name of the division was changed from the Rare Book Department to the Department of Special Collections in 1946. Its current name was adopted in 1975.

Although many of these collections contained significant manuscripts, the collecting of manuscripts and archives in their own right took on greater importance after World War II. The library acquired several significant manuscript collections in the 1930s and 1940s, including those of editor Park Benjamin and author Stephen Crane. This work continued into the 1950s, during which time the library acquired significant collections related to American history and diplomacy, including those of John Jay. Over the years, the library has acquired archival materials in several key collecting areas—economics and banking, graphic arts, history, human rights, literature, performing arts, printing history, and publishing. In addition, the library includes a number of separately curated archival units, such as the Carnegie Philanthropy Collections, the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European Culture, and the Herbert H. Lehman American History Collections.


The library’s collections are particularly strong in English and American history and literature, children's literature, economics and banking, education, graphic arts, human rights, journalism history, librarianship, mathematics and astronomy, New York City politics, philanthropy, printing history, social welfare and social work, theater history, and the performing arts.


The Rare Book & Manuscript Library has eleven units:

Columbia University Archives

These are located within the Rare Book & Manuscript Library on the 6th floor of Butler Library; they collect, preserve, and make available for research the administrative records of Columbia University, as well as personal papers, publications, and memorabilia related to the University’s history.

Archival holdings date from the 18th through the early 21st centuries and document the evolution of University governance and administration; the history and development of individual schools, colleges, and academic departments; the professionalization of higher education and the development of academic disciplines; curriculum development, including the formation of the Core Curriculum; the careers of noteworthy faculty and officers; the design and construction of the Morningside campus; and the University’s relationships with city, state, and federal governments. Administrative records available for research in 2007 are those that were created prior to 1982. In addition the UA retains University publications from bulletins to yearbooks; a library of books and pamphlets on Columbia’s history; scrapbooks and memorabilia; in excess of 60,000 images, as well as some 50,000 negatives (both glass plate and film); a collection of lantern slides; and biographical information on students, faculty, and alumni.


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Coordinates: 40°48′23″N 73°57′47″W / 40.8064°N 73.9631°W / 40.8064; -73.9631

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