Skip to main content

Guide to Using Special Collections at Yale University: Home


Welcome! The purpose of this guide is to introduce you to the wealth of special collections available for research at the Yale University Library (YUL) and the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA). In it you'll learn about...

  • What types of materials compose special collections
  • How to find special collections materials
  • How to register as a special collections user
  • How to request special collections materials
  • How to visit a special collections reading room
  • How to order reproductions of special collections materials
  • What sources are available for permissions and copyright information

The Primary Sources at Yale site provides additional information that will help you identify, find, and explore primary sources in all of Yale's libraries and museums.

What are Special Collections?

There is no single, comprehensive definition of special collections, but at Yale, all special collections share a few common characteristics:

  • Rarity: Books, archives, manuscripts, or other materials that are unique, often unpublished, and for which very few or no other copies exist. Because of their rarity, special collections materials are often irreplaceable and require higher levels of security. At Yale, special collections materials are stored in secure facilities only accessible by staff, do not circulate, and may only be used in secure reading rooms under staff supervision.
  • Format: Materials such as photographs, maps, handwritten texts, or physical artifacts that require special handling and storage environments to ensure longterm preservation and access for researchers.
  • Comprehensiveness: Collections of materials that aren't necessarily individually unique or valuable, but which together constitute an important body of information on a particular topic.

Similarly, there is no single definition of the types of materials that determine what special collections are. At Yale, special collections may consist of (but are not necessarily limited to) any or all of the following types of materials:

  • Manuscripts
  • Archives
  • Rare Books
  • Audio-Visual Materials
  • Artifacts and Artwork
  • Electronic files

At Yale, special collections are held by several of our libraries and museums. Some, like Manuscripts and Archives and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, only hold special collection materials. Others, like the Yale Center for British Art, hold special collections and museum collections, which are managed separately. Still others, like the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, hold special collections along with more conventional, circulating library materials.


Special Collections Units at Yale

Arts Library Special Collections, Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library

Email contact: | Phone contact: (203) 432-1712 | Staff Directory

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Email contact: beinecke.library@yale.eduPhone contact: (203) 432-2972 | Staff Directory

Divinity Special Collections, Divinity School Library

Email contact: divinity.library@yale.eduPhone contact: (203) 432-5289 | Staff Directory

Lewis Walpole Library

Email contact: walpole@yale.eduPhone contact: (860) 677-2140 | Staff Directory

Manuscripts and Archives, Sterling Memorial Library

Email contact: mssa.reference@yale.eduPhone contact: (203) 432-1735 | Staff Directory

Medical Historical Library, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library

Email contact: historical.library@yale.eduPhone contact: (203) 737-1192 | Staff Directory

Music Library Special Collections, Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Sterling Memorial Library

Email contact: Phone contact: (203) 432-0492 | Staff Directory

Yale Center for British Art Institutional Archives, Yale Center for British Art

Email contact: Phone contact: (203) 432-8395 |  Staff Directory

Yale Center for British Art, Department of Prints and Drawings, Yale Center for British Art

Email contact: | Phone contact: (203) 432-2840 |  Staff Directory

Yale Center for British Art,  Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Yale Center for British Art

Email contact: | Phone contact: (203) 432-2815 |  Staff Directory

See the Additional Collections at Yale tab on this guide for information regarding other Yale University special collections that do not share the Aeon registration/request system.