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Special Collections Research Center


Rare Books

A rare book is one that requires special handling and security because of its age or physical features. Most books printed before 1800 are in Special Collections, others are first editions of important works or known to be scarce because of the circumstances of their publication. Rare books may have significant bindings, illustrations, or ownership history; they may be too fragile to circulate; or they may be examples of artists’ books or other experimental formats. Use the catalog  to search for rare books, or learn about rare books in Special Collections.


Archives are the official records of a government, organization, or institution such as the University of Chicago. Archives contain letters, memos, reports, printed publications, statistical data, photographs, videos, audio recordings, and physical artifacts.  Modern archives are growing to include records in all formats including word processed documents, email, digital images, and databases. Search for archival collections in the catalog, or learn about the University Archives in Special Collections.


Manuscripts are original letters and documents written by hand on papyrus, parchment, palm leaf, paper, and other materials.  Modern manuscripts are created using word processors, email programs, and other electronic tools.  Manuscript collections often contain materials in a variety of formats including pamphlets, posters, photographs, recordings, and videos. Use the catalog to search for manuscripts, or learn about early manuscripts and modern manuscripts in Special Collections.

*A note on searching Archives and Manuscripts

You can also do a more detailed search of contents of archives and manuscript collections using the Archives and Manuscripts Finding Aids database.