The Archives and Special Collections Library collects, preserves, and makes available to its constituencies unique, rare, and special collections. It is one of several units on campus involved in the Vassar tradition of helping students to “go to the source.”
The Vassar College Library has collected special collections from its earliest years of operation. In 1982 a Special Collections Department was founded within the library. In 2007, the department became the Archives and Special Collections Library. As such, it functions as one of the libraries in the Vassar College Libraries system. The collection has been shaped to a considerable extent by talented and diverse alumnae/i. Their generous donations have produced collections of wide scope (see below), with special strengths in several areas.
First and foremost, the Library serves the Vassar community: students, faculty, administrators, and graduates. It also serves constituencies beyond the campus, including scholars and researchers, and the local community.
The Library is composed of three general areas: the College Archives; Manuscripts; and Rare Books. Each of these general areas is made up of sub-areas, as noted below:
Origins; President; Trustees; Administrative Offices; Committees and Boards; Academic Departments and Programs; Special Programs and Projects; Buildings and Grounds; Campus Organizations; Alumni/ae Organizations; Events and Issues; and Non-campus Organizations.
Anthropology and Anthropologists; Art and Artists; Autographs; Children and Children’s Literature; Economics and Economists; Education; Family; History and Historians; Journalism; LGBT Life and Culture; Literature; Local History; Math, Science and Medicine; Music; Nature and Natural History; Native Americans; Philosophy and Philosophers; Politics; Printing and Publishing; Religion; Slavery; Theater, Drama and Film; Travel; Vassar College; War and War Crimes; Women Authors and Poets; and Women’s History
African-American History and Literature; American History and Literature; Atlases; Aucassin and Nicolette; Bibles; British Literature; Children’s Books and Courtesy Books; Cookery and Household Books; Dogs in Literature; Fine Printing, especially in the Hudson Valley; Gardening and Herbals; Incunabula; Natural History; Quaker Literature; Robert Owen; Travel Literature; Vassar Alumnae/I and Faculty; Vassariana; and Women’s History and Literature. In addition, Rare Books houses portions of the libraries of Elizabeth Bishop; John Burroughs, Henry Justice on the Periodical Press; Mitchell Kennerley; Mary McCarthy; Ivan Turgenev; Matthew Vassar; Jean Webster; and Helen Wright on Autographed Books.
The sub-areas, in turn, are made up of individual collections. Listings of the individual collections may be found on the Library’s website.
The Library seeks to build its collection in cooperation with other special collections institutions nearby and around the country. Decisions about acquisitions are made only after considering the collecting goals of these institutions. When appropriate, the Library refers owners of collections to other institutions.
The Library welcomes input on collecting possibilities from members of the Vassar community and others. Primary responsibility for collecting rests with the Head of Special Collections. The Head may consult with the Director of Libraries and the Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs.
All records produced by offices, departments and committees of the college that have historical value are candidates for selection. Also of interest are personal papers of students and alumnae/i that document their time spent in college. All forms of media are considered.
Materials should either form extensions of existing collections, or display a significant relationship to the college, usually through having been created by Vassar alumnae/i, parents, faculty, or administrators. Collections created by Vassar alumnae/i or faculty should document important topics and have significant research value. Resources should be available to properly catalog, preserve, and house the materials. All forms of media are considered.
Books should be rare or valuable, or possess physical characteristics that are worth preserving. Of special interest are books that relate to established collections and that fill gaps in this area. Books should directly support the curriculum. Resources should be available to properly catalog, preserve, and house them. The “Library Material Transfer Policy” provides details on transferring items from the Main Library.
The Library considers its primary focus to be the development of the college archives; the collection of student theses is a major initiative. In the area of manuscripts, special attention is given to developing the existing major collections, including those relating to alumnae Louise Seaman Bechtel, Ruth Benedict, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary McCarthy, Edna St. Vincent Millay, as well as John Burroughs. Books relating to specific printing presses and book artists of the Hudson Valley represent ongoing commitments.
Plans are underway in the Main Library to develop an institutional repository, which may contain electronic records produced by the college.
Last updated April 2011
 For more on the history of Special Collections at Vassar, see “Ron Patkus on Vassar College Special Collections, available at: http://vcencyclopedia.vassar.edu/interviews-reflections/ron-patkus.html