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Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is committed to preserving the materials in its collections and making them accessible to students, scholars and the wider community.

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COVID-19 and the Hollings Library

The Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections holdings can be accessed by APPOINTMENT ONLY.  For the fall semester, the Smith Reading Room will have regular hours, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and all users will be required to register and request items in advance. Users should contact us to confirm their visit with the Irvin Department.

For more information, please see our Policies and Procedures at the bottom of this page.

For remote research assistance or to plan a future visit, please make a virtual research appointment or contact


Our holdings include approximately 500,000 items and over 50 archival collections, ranging from early medieval manuscripts and incunabula to historical scientific works and modern literature. You can explore our holdings by searching the library catalog or by using one of our finding aids. You can also browse a selected list of the department’s named collections, all accessible through the catalog and finding aids, but also made available through this keyword searchable list.

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World-class Collections Shine New Light in the Classroom

Frankenstein is never a dull read, but when Dr. Jeanne Britton unrolls enormous 18th- and 19th-century maps for her English 419 class, Mary Shelley’s novel really springs to life.



Policies and Procedures

Due to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19), access to the Irvin Department’s collections will be by appointment only. The Smith Reading Room will have limited hours, from 11 am – 2 pm, and all users will be required to register and request items in advance. Given the fluid and evolving nature of the situation, we reserve the right to change the access policy, and users should contact us to confirm their visit with the Irvin Department.

Once arrangements have been made, a member of the department will plan to meet with the researcher at the front of Thomas Cooper Library on the appointed day and time of the researcher’s visit.

Researchers need to register for the Smith Reading Room prior to their first visit during the academic year. Be sure to bring a photo ID (academic identification, driver’s license, or passport). The online registration form describes the special conditions under which Irvin Department materials may be used.

Researchers and other visitors should also be aware of the general policies of the Hollings Library, including the prohibition on food and drink. Only pencils, paper, laptops and cameras are allowed in the Smith Reading Room. Self-service lockers are available for securely storing coats, purses, bags and other personal items.

Researchers must request items in advance of arrival. Items can be requested via the online catalog, or by emailing the department in advance of visit. Items will then be on hold in the Smith Reading Room for supervised use. Descriptions of items are available in the libraries’ online catalog and through finding aids. Given the safety precautions under COVID-19, items must be used within a single visit, afterward items will be quarantined for 3 days to avoid any potential transmission.

Some materials in the department’s care are housed offsite in remote storage and may need to be recalled further in advance of use. These items generally appear in the library catalog as: “Columbia Annex: Ask at Rare Books & Special Collections, Thomas Cooper Library (Library Use Only).”

Researchers not connected with the university, or traveling from a distance, are asked to contact the department ahead of their visit to ensure that the needed items and relevant staff help is available when they arrive. Researchers can request materials from the Irvin Department stacks and/or Irvin Department materials from the Annex in advance of their visit by emailing

Due to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19), the Irvin Department will be suspending all in person classroom activities. Faculty and instructors who wish to develop a distance education option for their courses to have digital access to special collections material are encouraged to contact Michael Weisenburg:

In addition to helping faculty and instructors adapt already existing digital material from the Irvin Department’s collections for a variety of courses, we are committed to offering livecasting options and developing short videos of rare material for course delivery via BlackBoard and other content management systems. Please contact Michael Weisenburg at least two weeks in advance of when you would like your students to have access to digital material, and we will work with you to tailor the presentation to the needs of your class.

Public events and tours are suspended through the end of the year. We will be developing some digital outreach material for the general public. Those interested in our holdings are encouraged to browse our digitized collections, read our past blog posts, and view videos on our YouTube channel.

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