Using the Collection

This department, like departments of special collections of other institutions, contains manuscripts, archives, and early and rare books, which benefit from special handling because of their age, rarity, or value. We also house collections that are themselves of unique research value, because they concentrate on a particular author, publisher, topic, or genre and thereby permit scholars to explore a subject in great depth.

Our collections are housed in environmentally controlled vaults, and made available to readers in a supervised reading room. We welcome all users of our collections, from members of our campus community to visitors from Wisconsin and around the world. Please review the following information to ensure that our collections are available to you and other readers for many decades to come.

Access to the Collection

  • The Department of Special Collections is located on the 9th floor of Memorial Library. Entry to Memorial Library requires a valid UW-Madison Wiscard, University of Wisconsin System ID card, Community Borrowing card, or Visitor’s Pass, as explained in the Visit Memorial Library page. Appointments to consult the holdings of Special Collections are not necessary.
    • Special Collections materials will be used in the Special Collections reading room.
      • Reference works are available in the reading room once readers have created an Archives and Special Collections Account and checked in at the Special Collections desk with a valid photo ID. Readers can request other Special Collections books, manuscripts, and other materials — stored in temperature and humidity-controlled vaults — through their Archives and Special Collections Account and then consult them by appointment in our reading room.
    • Books, manuscripts, and other materials requested from the Special Collections vaults are available for use in the reading room 9:00 AM – 4:50 PM, Monday – Friday. Please make requests using your Archives and Special Collections Account.
      • A few especially fragile or oversize items, including the Coverdale Bible, the Audubon double-elephant folios, books from Newton’s library, Bradstreet’s Tenth muse, the Shakespeare Second Folio, and the first edition of Darwin’s Origin of species are available for consultation only by prior arrangement with the Curator.
  • Catalogs and finding aids: most of the Department’s holdings are cataloged in the Library Catalog. For the remainder of the collection, until the retrospective conversion of the card catalog and other finding aids to online form is complete, please consult the card catalogs and paper finding aids in the Department.

Requesting and Consulting Materials

  • Place briefcases, purses, backpacks, and coats in the 9th-floor lockers adjacent to the elevator. Keep your Wiscard or other photo ID with you.
  • Please check in with the Special Collections desk. You will be asked to show a valid photo ID.
  • Make a request for each title using your Archives and Special Collections Account.
  • Use only pencils, laptops, or tablets (no pens) in the Special Collections reading room. You will be supplied with a pencil.
  • You will be assigned a seat in the Special Collections reading room. Books and manuscripts will be supplied to you, along with appropriate supports, weights, and acid-free bookmarks.
  • Items may be kept on reserve for short periods.
  • As a rule, a maximum of four items may be checked out to a reader’s table at a time.

We ask that you please:

  • Open books and other materials only on the cloth or foam supports supplied
  • Use the book weights and acid-free bookmarks supplied
  • Ask before photographing or scanning materials
  • Ask for special approval before tracing illustrations
  • Use cotton gloves when directed by staff
  • Consult a staff member if you encounter uncut pages
  • Notify staff about damaged material
  • Leave loose materials in folders in their original order

We ask that you do not:

  • Lay books face down
  • Reshelve reference materials
  • Mark pages or write on paper upon a book
  • Place scanners on our holdings

Copying Text or Illustrations

Subject to current copyright laws and the condition of the work, limited digitizing or photography (without flash) of Special Collections holdings is often possible. If not, staff may be able to help you find an alternative. In any case, please consult with Special Collections staff before scanning or making photographs of Special Collections holdings.

  • Digitization: Available for some materials. Arrangements for this service must be made at the desk. In general, these images will be delivered as PDFs via email, though other formats, including TIF, JPEG, and PNG are available. All requests to duplicate Special Collections materials are now made through an Archives and Special Collections Account. Depending on the size and condition of the item and the extent of the request, we may need to digitize material in collaboration with the UW Digital Collections Center.
  • Photography: Digital and conventional cameras may be used in the reading room with the approval of Special Collections staff. Ask at the desk to make arrangements. Flash photography is not permitted.
  • Self-service Scanning: Two scanners appropriate for some (but not all) Special Collections are available. Please ask at the desk before using them.
  • Computers: Readers are permitted to bring a laptop into the reading room. Please leave computer cases in lockers. There are desktop computers available for public use as well.