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 users of our collections, and ask that you understand that we are adapting our services during the COVID-19 pandemic while ensuring that our collections are available to you and other readers for many decades to come.

Access to the Collection

  • Appointments to consult the holdings of Special Collections can be made by all UW-Madison faculty, staff, and students: go here to start an appointment request.
    • Special Collections materials will be used in the Special Collections reading room.
      • Reference works are available in the reading room once readers have made an appointment to use Special Collections, created an Archives and Special Collections Account, and checked in at the Special Collections desk with current Wiscard. 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 by appointment 1:00 – 3:50 PM, Monday – Friday. Please make requests using your Archives and Special Collections Account.x`
      • 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.
  • Please check in with the Special Collections desk. You will be asked to show your current Wiscard.
  • Make a request for each title in the vaults 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, arranged in accordance with social distancing guidelines. Books and manuscripts will be supplied to you, along with appropriate cloth or foam book and manuscript supports, book weights, and acid-free bookmarks.
  • Items may be kept on reserve for short periods.
  • As a rule, four volumes may be at a reader’s place in the Special Collections reading room.

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 handling some fragile items
  • Ask a staff member to cut uncut pages
  • Notify the staff about damaged material
  • Leave loose materials in folders in its 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.

  • Digitizing and Microfilming: Available for some fragile titles. Arrangements for these services must be made at the desk.
  • 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. No flash, please. A copy stand is available.
  • Self-service Scanning: Two scanners appropriate for some (but not all) Special Collections are available. Please ask at the desk before using them.
  • Computers: Many users bring their computers for transcribing materials. Please leave computer cases in lockers.

Digital Images

Images can only be made from an item in Special Collections if the condition of the item permits. Special Collections may be able to make a limited number of digital images from items in its collections. In general, such images will be .jpg files at 300 dpi, delivered as e-mail attachments. All requests to duplicate Special Collections materials are now made through an Archives and Special Collections Account.

If you wish to use your own camera or smartphone/tablet to take photos of Special Collections holdings, please consult with us first.

We have both a book-edge scanner and an overhead larger-format scanner available for your use. Please consult with us before using them. Some of our holdings are too fragile or too tightly bound to permit scanning.

Depending on the size and condition of the item and the extent of your request, we may refer a scanning request to the UW Digital Collections Center.