Definition: Special Collections
Special collections have characteristics that set them apart from other types of collections in libraries. These special aspects may include:
- Rarity: books, manuscripts and other materials that are old, scarce or unique.
- Format: photographs, slides, films, audio recordings, maps, artworks, artifacts and other objects that need special handling.
- Comprehensiveness: accumulation of materials that are individually not unique, but collectively make up an important resource because of their relevance to a particular topic or individual.
These characteristics also mean that special collections are not readily replaceable and require a higher level of security and special preservation environments to insure their survival. In contrast to museum collections assembled for visual display, special collections focus on research as their primary mission. Thus, they complement general research collections and are often located in institutions that house both kinds of collections.