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Using the Collections

Special collections is open to the public, but contains many valuable and unique items that require special security measures. Before you visit, read through the information on availability of materials, what to do when you arrive, and what to do when you leave.

Availability of Materials

Special Collections is open to members of the UW community, visiting scholars, and the general public and contains many rare, valuable, and unique items that require special security measures to assure they will be available for years to come. We ask your patience and understanding in striking this sometimes difficult balance between making these materials accessible and preserving our rare and fragile items.

All collections are non-circulating. Except for some reference resources on open shelves, all materials are housed in secure, non-browsing stacks and are retrieved for users upon request.

Most collections are available at all hours of opening. The majority of materials are stored on-site and can be retrieved quickly. Some manuscript and archival materials stored off-site are retrieved on a set schedule. Advanced planning is needed to see these items.

A small portion of the collections have donor imposed or legal restrictions. Access to Manuscript collections is governed by terms agreed to by the donor of the records and the Libraries at the time of the gift. Most accessions are available for public use, but some may only be used by advanced academic researchers or are subject to other restrictions. University Archives collections are open to the public, subject to the terms and conditions established by transfer agreements or deeds of gift. Please note, however, that many collections of university records contain temporarily non-public material that are restricted to use only by University officials.


When You Arrive

Registration cards

When you come to Special Collections, you will be asked to fill out a registration card at our Reception Desk. The first time you come, you must provide your full name, address, and phone number. All visitors are asked to fill out a registration card, no matter how brief their visit. People who accompany you into Special Collections but do not use any collection materials must also register. After signing in, you will be given a user number, which you should keep with you during your visit. This number is used on retrieval forms and helps staff match you with requested materials.

Checking your belongings

After you sign in, you must check all of your belongings into a locker with the following exceptions. You may bring loose paper, pencils, and laptop computers without cases into the Reference Area. If silenced, cell phones are permitted. You may bring cameras without cases into the Reference Area, but you must first check with Reference Desk staff before taking any photographs. You will be given a locker number corresponding to your user number. Liquids cannot be stored in lockers unless secured in spill-proof containers.

Coats, jackets, sweaters

We request that you check your coats, jackets, or sweaters at the front desk. If the temperature in the room is too cold for comfort, we will allow you to wear the garment, but you must keep it on. If you take it off, a staff member will ask you to check it at the Reception Desk.

What you may bring with you into Special Collections

  • Single sheets of paper

We will provide loose paper if you do not have any with you. You may remove pages from binders, or tear the pages out of notebooks/notepads and bring them into the Reference Area, as long as the pages are loose. Pages that are stapled or paper clipped in one place may be brought into the reading room. Pages stapled together in several places, i.e. along one margin similar to book, must be separated before you can take them into the Reference Area.

  • Pencils

We require you to use pencil only when filling out forms and for making notes [unless you have a laptop]. We do not allow use of pens, because ink often gets on people's hands and then transfers to books or other materials. We provide pencils and pencil sharpeners throughout the Division.

  • Laptop computers without cases
  • Certain approved books - maximum of 2

Books required for your research that come from other areas of the Libraries or your own collection may be used in our reading room with staff approval. These are generally restricted to special needs, e.g. when comparing texts, or using a language dictionary. In the case of such approval, Reception Desk staff will have you fill out a form to distinguish these materials from the Special Collections materials. These books will be checked upon leaving the Division.

  • Cameras without cases

Researchers must read, agree to, and sign our camera use policy before taking photographs in the Reference area.

What you may not bring in to Special Collections

  • No food or drink
  • No pens
  • No ring binders, spiral notebooks, folders, cases, bags, notepads
  • No books from outside our collections will be allowed into the reading room, unless approved by a staff member
  • No containers of any kind

Using rare, manuscript, or archival materials

You may be asked to show photo identification and may be asked to complete a project description form at the Reference Desk before viewing certain materials.


When You Leave

When you are ready to leave, we ask you to return your user number/locker number to the Reception Desk where you checked in.

Returning general Special Collections' books

Books requested from the Reference Desk should be taken back to that desk when you leave. If you haven't finished your research, the books can be put on hold for you; you may have them on hold for a week.

Returning rare books, reading room books, photograph collections, manuscripts and University Archives materials

The above materials are distributed from the Reference Desk and should be returned to the Reference Desk or the location to which the Reference staff directs you. These materials can also be put on hold for you for a week.

Maps and architectural drawings

These items can be left on the table where you are looking at them. You should inform Reference Desk staff if you are done with these materials, if you want them put on hold, or if you wish to order copies/reproductions.