Michigan State University

F. A. Q. about Special Collections

Q. What is Special Collections (SPC)?

A. Special Collections was established in 1962 to hold, preserve, build, and make accessible rare materials and special collections in the MSU Libraries. All materials must be used in the Special Collections reading room to protect and preserve them for use today and in the future.

Q. What makes these books special?

A. Materials in SpC require special handling and security because they may be old, rare, fragile, expensive, part of a special collection, or in a format that would not stand up to normal usage.

Q. How can I determine if Special Collections has a particular item?

A. While Special Collections holds more than 450,000 books, numerous manuscript and archival collections, and an extensive collection of ephemera, we take great pride that most our collection is cataloged in the MSU Library's on-line catalog.

If you are having trouble locating the material you need, please contact Special Collections at (517) 884-6471, or berg@msu.edu.

Q. Can materials in SPC be checked out?

A. Materials in Special Collections cannot be checked out. They can be used only in the Special Collections reading room.

Q. Can I make photocopies there?

A. Photocopying of materials depends first of all on its condition. Many books have pages which have separated from the spine of the book and are, therefore, considered to be too fragile for photocopying. The paper in some materials is so deteriorated that trying to photocopy will sadly cause the pages to literally crumble.

Our second consideration for photocopying is the compliance with current copyright laws. If the piece passes both considerations, a staff member will do the photocopying for you at the cost of $.20/exposure.

Payment for copying must be done in cash, check, or with a MSU account number. If paying with cash, it’s a good idea to bring cash amounts less than $5.00 as we do not have change always available.

Q. Why are most of the science fiction books in Special Collections?

A. The Science Fiction Collection in the Special Collections Division is one of the 20 largest and best in the United States, and is often consulted by users coming from outside our community. In large part it is made up of ongoing donations from the Science Fiction Writers of America, a professional writers' organization. The books are accepted with the agreement that this will be a permanent collection. "Permanent" means, of course, that they may not circulate outside of our reading room. A very good collection, with hundreds of titles, is also maintained in the circulating collection.

Q. How did the comics collection begin?

A. The Comic Art Collection began with two large donations arranged by Russel B. Nye, in 1969 or 1970. Dr. Nye talked two of his graduating students into giving us their collections, the story goes, and they came to Special Collections after he had used them for research on his book, The Unembarrassed Muse (New York, Dial Press, 1970)

Q. What does ARVF stand for?

A. The American Radicalism Vertical File is a collection of pamphlets, clippings, website printouts and other miscellaneous stuff on topics of interest to students of radicalism. They are organized by issues, by peoples' names, and by names of organizations. The technical term "vertical file" just means the clippings are stored in ordinary filing cabinets in manila file folders, as opposed to a "shelf file," in which clippings would be boxed for stand-up shelving, or a "flat file" in which clippings would be stacked in boxes (like pizza boxes) and stored horizontally.

Q. What is the oldest book in Special Collections?

A. The oldest printed book in the MSU Libraries is held in Special Collections. Its title is Scriptores Rei Rusticae, which was printed in Venice in 1472, only a short time after the invention of the moveable type printing press by Gutenberg in Germany about 1455. Scriptores Rei Rusticae features classical agricultural treatises by Cato, Varro, Columella, Palladius, and others. Distinguished by its simple and elegant typescript, it was printed by Nicolas Jenson, one of the most important figures in early printing. Scriptores Rei Rusticae is an "incunable," (Latin for 'things in the cradle') to mean books produced in the infancy of printing, generally speaking all books published before 1501. Special collections has a total of 12 incunabula and each one is available to be seen in the reading room.

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