Michigan State University

Though MSU Libraries remain closed to the public due to COVID-19, we are preparing to welcome students this fall, and we are working on changes inside our Library to welcome people safely. Our goal is to reopen to the public August 24. Until then (and after), we will continue to offer virtual services. Many resources remain available. Please see our Online and Distance Learning resource page for specific Library resources. Reference services are still available via chat and phone. We do have temporary policies for returning/renewing material.

Discover Special Collections

MSU Special Collections Registration and Request System

We are very excited to introduce the MSU Special Collections Registration and Request System. During summer 2016, our familiar paper-based request system was replaced by an automated system. Among the many benefits, users will be able to request material directly from the library’s online catalog (and eventually from our finding aids, too). What’s more, users will be able to request material remotely and in advance, from wherever you and your web-enabled device find yourselves. Keep your eyes peeled for a “Request It!” button appearing in the catalog records for Special Collections items. If you’ve ever electronically requested special collections material at another library, chances are you’ve used this system before (the proprietary name of the software is Aeon, though it goes by different names at different institutions). This will be a change for all of us, users and staff alike, so we thank you for your patience as we transition to this far more powerful Registration and Request System.  

Pre 1866 Books in Special Collections

When MSU Libraries formally created its Special Collections department in 1962, the initial collection of books was formed largely by transferring the oldest books from the circulating collection—anything published before 1800—into a protected area. Half a century later, we’re undertaking a similar transfer, only this time with a younger cut-off date. With few exceptions, all books published before 1866 are being moved into Special Collections. When completed, the library will have safeguarded roughly 15,000 books, many of which are fragile, valuable, and often both. Among the variety of reasons for settling on this particular cut-off date, perhaps most important was the balance struck between the desire to protect as many at-risk books as possible with the sheer volume of transfers that library staff time could accommodate. These 15,000 books will include everything published through the end of the American Civil War; a large swath of the library’s early collection, including some from the personal library of past MSU President Theophilus Abbot; and the remainder of the library’s circulating books that were published during the hand-press period—that is, from a time when books were still made entirely by hand.

Provenance Project

The Provenance Project at MSU Special Collections is an ongoing effort to systematically catalog marks of ownership and marks of use in rare books here at Michigan State University.  A team of library employees and volunteers documents and studies the copy-specific features of these rare books, such as bookplates, owner signatures, bookseller’s notes, library markings, unique bindings, handwritten annotations, and more. By looking at these clues, we hope to learn more about the “life stories” of our books: where they have been, who owned them, and how they might have been read and used.  A detailed provenance record can also shed light on the world outside of our books, giving us crucial insight into the habits of readers, the popularity of particular works and genres, as well as the history of the book and the book trade. One volume that rewards such close study is our 1537 printing of the Florentine Chronicle by Giovanni Villani.  A previous owner has filled the margins of this important historical work with extensive annotations, providing commentary on the text and illustrating several of the author’s key points.


Originally started in 1962 as a Catholic literary quarterly by Edward Keating, Ramparts soon became associated with the New Left of the 1960's under the influence of such editors as Warren Hinkle, Robert Scheer, and James F. Colaianni. Ramparts was an early critic of the Vietnam War publishing the first national article denouncing the use of napalm and exposed the CIA use of American universities including Michigan State for training Vietnamese security forces. Indeed, one of the most famous Ramparts covers pictures then Vietnamese First Lady Madame Nhu as an MSU cheerleader as part of an expose regarding the cooperation between MSU and the CIA that occurred during the 1960's. Ramparts also provided a venue for discussion of the arts and culture including contributions from poet Allen Ginsberg, reporter Hunter S. Thompson, and John Lennon. Publication ceased in 1975.


Richard Ford papers

Richard Ford, who graduated from Michigan State University in 1966, is widely recognized as one of the pillars of contemporary American fiction. Ford is the author of the novels Let Me Be Frank with You, Canada, Lay of the Land, Independence Day, The Sportswriter, A Piece of My Heart, Wildlife, and The Ultimate Good Luck,  as well as several  collections of short stories, numerous essays, and reviews.

The Ford Papers reflect the entire span of Ford's writing career to date. They include manuscripts and drafts; personal and professional correspondence; notes, articles, screenplays and essays; interviews and reviews; various media; personal memorabilia; and copies of all of Ford’s domestic and foreign published works. Richard Ford is currently the Emmanuel Roman and Barrie Sardoff Roman Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Writing at Columbia University.