Written in 2016 by the SC Collections Group. Reviewed 1/2017.


Special Collections, as part of the University of Iowa Libraries, advances direct engagement in learning, research, and creative work through providing staff expertise and exceptional collections on our campus and worldwide. We acquire, preserve, and make available primary sources in many areas and across many disciplines and historical periods. We nourish creative research, learning, and teaching for a broad audience. We emphasize the artefactual nature of our materials, but encourage additional interaction with them by providing digitized versions.

Collection Scope

Special Collections houses several groups of collections: Special Collections, the Iowa Women’s Archives, University Archives, and the International Dada Archive. These collections contain a wide variety of materials housed in the Main Library, with some materials held off-site. Special Collections works extensively with the Acquisitions, Cataloging, and Preservation Departments to maintain the integrity and accessibility of the collections.

Special Collections


Special Collections contains over 300,000 books, discoverable through the library catalog. The largest book collection in Special Collections is the x-collection, which comprises the core of the Collections. The core book collection houses books and fragments dating from 2,050 BC through the present, and focuses heavily on the history of the book. Incunabula, fine press, artists’ books, early printed books, and more may be found in this collection.

Numerous sub-collections focus on individual areas in greater depth. “Closed” collections—those that do not receive additions except from their original donors— include the Stein 19th Century Book Collection, the Ranney Memorial Library, the John Springer Collection on Typography, the Typographic Laboratory Collection, the Julie Englander Collection of Contemporary Literature, the Reed and Glenn Schaeffer Walt Whitman collections, the Brian Harvey Canine Collection, the Rusty L. Hevelin Science Fiction Collection, the Dalvan M. “Dal” Coger Collection of Science Fiction Materials, and the Al Lewis Science Fiction Collection.

Other sub-collections continue to grow as donations and purchases are made, including the Charlotte M. Smith Collection of Miniature Books, the Szathmary Culinary Collection, the Brewer-Leigh Hunt Collection, the James W. Bollinger Collection of Lincolniana, the Thomas Olive Mabbot-Poe Collection, the Ingham Collection of Western Americana, the Chinese Writers Collection, the Iowa Authors Collection, and the History of Hydraulics Collection.


Special Collections hosts over 1,000 manuscript collections described in finding aids. In addition, the xMs, Ms, and MsL collections house individual cataloged manuscripts not attached to a larger collection, searchable in the library catalog. Items in the collection range from the 12th Century through the present, with particularly strong holdings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Items from several collections have been digitized, and are discoverable through the Iowa Digital Library. Many of these have also been made accessible for transcription and translation through DIY History.

Manuscript collection strengths and active collecting areas include the Civil War, World War II and to a lesser extent World War I; fine presses; books and bookmaking; bound medieval manuscripts; television and movies, including scripts; Iowa businesses and farming; Iowa authors before the turn of the twentieth century; Iowa history; Iowa politics and politicians; Henry A. Wallace and the Progressive Party; Leigh Hunt; early to mid-twentieth century British writers (Blunden, Murdoch, Wilson, Gawsworth, Kilham-Roberts); editorial cartoonists; railroadiana; circuit Chautauqua; travel; hydraulics; the culinary arts; zines and science fiction; Edgar Allan Poe; Lincoln; writers archives; clergy and the church; and right wing social documents.


The University of Iowa Map Collection merged with Special Collections in 2013 as a result of the changing uses and users of paper maps. The collection is international in scope and subject coverage is broad, partially due to the 2011 merger of the Geoscience Library’s collection with the Map Collection. Special Collections now houses over 250,000 maps and charts in the largest map collection in the state, as well as approximately 150,000 aerial photographs of Iowa counties, Iowa county atlases and plat books, foreign and other atlases, and various geographic reference books. As a federal regional depository and Iowa state document depository, the collection serves the general public, both within and from outside the state.

We comprehensively collect representations of the Johnson County area, regardless of an item’s publication date. We collect extensively for the state of Iowa, and consistently seek historical representations of the state. As the distance from Iowa increases, we collect with decreasing comprehensiveness. We collect maps of areas outside Iowa according to patron demand, curriculum needs, collection strengths, and the significance of the maps’ roles in historical cartography. Emphasis is on obtaining historical maps, atlases, aerial photographs, and other cartographic representations. Current paper materials and aerial photographs are collected on a case-by-case basis, contingent upon whether users are likely to prefer paper or digital representations. Historic, historical, and thematic atlases, geographic and cartographic dictionaries, gazetteers, books on the history of cartography, and other appropriate reference works are collected for use of Special Collections staff and patrons.

The International Dada Archive

The International Dada Archive is the world’s foremost institution for the documentation of the Dada movement and the most comprehensive collection of materials related to Dada. Founded in 1979 by the Program in Comparative Literature and the School of Art and Art History, and supported initially by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Jerome Foundation, the Archive’s operations were integrated with the University Libraries in 1984, and formally became part of Special Collections in 2012.

The Dada Archive’s collection is spread across the University Libraries. Primary documents from the Dada era (roughly 1916-1923) and other rare or expensive materials are housed in Special Collections; later editions, catalogs, secondary literature, and other circulating materials are housed primarily in the Main and Art Libraries. Publications before 1923 are scanned for the Digital Dada Library.

In addition to Dadaist material, the Archive extensively collects publications on related twentieth-century avant-garde movements, such as expressionism, futurism, and surrealism. The Archive collects in all published formats and all languages, but does not routinely purchase manuscripts. Primary documents from 1916-1923, including monographs and journals by the key Dadaists, are the biggest priority for collection development. The Archive comprehensively collects the work of several writers and artists; a complete list of these artists and writers is available on our website.

Iowa Women’s Archives

The Iowa Women’s Archives holds more than 1100 manuscript collections that chronicle the lives and work of Iowa women, their families, and their communities. These personal papers and organizational records date from the nineteenth century to the present. Together with oral histories, they document the activities of Iowa women throughout the state and beyond its borders.
Established in 1992, the archives is named for its founders, Louise Noun and Mary Louise Smith, who conceived the idea of a repository that would collect solely on Iowa women. In 1991 Louise Noun auctioned the Frida Kahlo painting “Self-Portrait with Loose Hair” to permanently endow the archives.

The archives collects papers by and about women from all walks of life as well as records of their clubs and organizations. Any items that reflect the experience of Iowa women are of interest. The archives defines “Iowa women” as those who were born or educated in Iowa or resided here for some part of their lives.

The Iowa Women’s Archives is particularly strong in material pertaining to rural and farm women, African American women, Latinas, and Jewish women, as well as in collections in the areas of women and politics, second wave feminism, LGBTQ rights, and girls’ and women’s sports.

University Archives

The University of Iowa Archives collects, preserves and provides access to information about The University of Iowa that is of enduring historical, fiscal, administrative, or legal value. It was founded in 1931 by Ruth A. Gallaher, Ph.D., of the State Historical Society of Iowa. The University Archives is a unit of the Department of Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries.

The University Archives collects the following types of materials in a variety of formats, including print, electronic, visual, audio, and moving image: university publications; administrative records from academic and administrative departments and student organizations, including annual and summary reports and correspondence; speeches and presentations; performances and events; faculty/staff meeting minutes and agendas; personal papers of selected faculty members, alumni, former students, and others associated with the University; directories; and archival copies of master’s theses. The University Archives also, at the discretion of the archivist, collects realia/memorabilia and other types of records relating to the University of Iowa.

Acquisitions Overview

Items of interest, both for purchase and donation, are those that will enhance our collection strengths and facilitate our mission to provide access to and preserve inclusive, diverse, and distinctive collections. New areas of focus may develop over time and as opportunity allows. If you believe that you might have something of interest to us, please get in touch with us at lib-spec@uiowa.edu.

Special Areas of Interest

Current special areas of interest include:

For All: Material from underrepresented groups, particularly in the Midwest; 20th century Avant Garde; Peace and antiwar activity; Civil Rights; Modern war material with a primarily regional focus

Special Collections: Medieval and early modern manuscripts; Incunabula and early printed works; Artists’ books; History of books and bookmaking; Miniature books; Edgar Allan Poe; Cookery, especially Latin American; Science fiction and fandom; Iowa politics and business; Performing arts; Popular culture

Iowa Women’s Archives: History of Iowa women

University Archives: University of Iowa history

Formats Collected

Few format limitations exist for gifts or purchases. Holographic and typescript manuscripts are collected, but such formats as digital files, photographs, audio cassettes, videocassettes, reel-to-reel, film, floppy disks, CDs, wax cylinders, LPs, and many other formats are accepted. If it demonstrates pertinence to the subject at hand, format is not a factor, within reasonable limits.

Realia is collected in very limited numbers and under special circumstances, generally as part of a larger collection. Some examples of objects in the collections include equipment (such as Buffalo Bill Cody’s briefcase or George Yewell’s palette) and Fluxus works (many of which have been imaged and can be seen here: http://fluxus.lib.uiowa.edu/).

Materials selected

Each collection acquires materials in different ways. All collections accept donations when appropriate. Special Collections staff add gift items in keeping with the University of Iowa Libraries Gifts‐In‐Kind Policy, and are ultimately responsible for deciding whether a gift is added to the collection.
Special Collections purchases are generally made based on potential use and University community requests, with an emphasis on the frequency of potential class use. Iowa Women’s Archives and University Archives rarely purchase materials.
“Completion” of a publisher or author’s works is rarely a goal, except in special circumstances. Overall, we aim to provide research collections of great depth in our areas of focus.

Implementation and Review Schedule

This policy will be reviewed at the beginning of each calendar year. A comprehensive review will take place every five years, with the next comprehensive review occurring in 2020.