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Collection Rare Book Selections

About the Rare Book and Special Collections Division

The Rare Book and Special Collections Division maintains well over 100 separate collections and materials in this digital collection contain books from nearly every one of them. The following collections are some of the best known and most used:

Personal Libraries

Comprehensive Author Collections

Subject Collections


The Illustrated Book

Collections with Unusual Provenance

Generic Collections

In addition to these special groupings, the general or classified collection--about one-third of the holdings--reflects the division's strength and contains at least a few books about virtually every subject that the Library of Congress as a whole collects.

The researcher will find records for only a portion of the division's holdings in the online catalog. The division's central card catalog contains over 650,000 cards, providing access to almost all of its collections by author or other form of main entry and in some instances by subject and title as well. Additionally, more than 100 special card files describe individual collections or special aspects of books from many collections not available in the regular catalogs--for instance, by date, place, and printer for books from the early years of printing (before 1521 for European books, before 1641 for books in English or printed in Great Britain, before 1801 for American imprints, and before 1820 for Spanish American imprints), by former owner, by press (for modern fine printing), or by association interest. Printed catalogs provide access to individual special collections or have been annotated to indicate the division's holdings.

The division has always depended on the generosity of donors to create collections which have national and international stature. Lessing J. Rosenwald made it clear in his 1947 letter to Librarian of Congress Luther Evans that "The National Library deserves and demands the strongest rare book collection that it can possibly build." The donation of material, a vital part of our collecting operation, builds on existing strength and also charts new scholarly directions. Special funds, such as the Lessing J. Rosenwald Fund, the Margaret W. Winkelman Fund for Illustrated Books, and the Alfred Whital Stern Fund for Lincolniana, make a considerable impact on the growth of the division by developing collections and advancing scholarship using these rich resources.

The division's permanent reading room, modeled after Philadelphia's Independence Hall, houses the divisional catalogs, reference collection, and reference staff. The reading room is located in the Thomas Jefferson Building, room 239. Across the hall is the division's Lessing J. Rosenwald Memorial Room.

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