About Rare Books at Stanford

The Rare Books Division of Special Collections exists to acquire, catalog, organize, present, interpret, and preserve books in a wide variety of fields and from all eras since the 15th Century, when printing with moveable type began, and to make our collections open and available to all. Originally, antiquarian and rare books were shelved in the general stacks or the Director's Office. In 1933, the library's scattered special collections, some 5,000 volumes, were placed in a seminar room on the top floor of the main library (now the Bing Wing of the Green Library Complex). This room was then named the Rare Book Room. The first librarian for the rare book and manuscript collections was hired in 1938, and some years later the room was renamed for Albert M. Bender, the San Francisco bibliophile whose philanthropy had long benefited the Stanford rare book collections. In 1948, the rare books collections, together with the manuscript, rare map, print, and ephemera collections, were organized into the Division of Special Collections. In 1970, the University Archives merged with the division, which then was renamed the Department of Special Collections. Special Collections and the Rare Books Division have evolved in organization over the years, and Rare Books is now one of four divisions in the department. It continues to grow through purchases and gifts, and its main objective continues to be the provision of our materials for scholarship and learning.

One of the first collections to be housed in Special Collections was the Felton Library, a collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century English and American literature, given as a gift in 1929 by Kate Felton Elkins in memory of her mother Charlotte Ashley Felton, to whom it had belonged. As an addition to this collection, Kate Felton Elkins donated the D.H. Lawrence collection in 1933, which includes correspondence, manuscript poems, and typescripts primarily for the period between 1915 and 1929.

In 1937, the Elmer E. Robinson Collection of American History and Government was established in the Rare Book Room. This collection included, in addition to its 1,500 volumes, some correspondence and a "small but fine" group of portraits, prints, and photographs.

Book preservation

The Rare Book Division has the responsibility to protect materials in its care from damage resulting from misuse, poor climatic conditions, pests, or other destructive agents, and from problems inherent in the volumes themselves. To ensure that our materials remain available for our constituents for as long as is possible, we work very closely and collegially with Stanford University Libraries’ Preservation Department.