Policy UL-SP03 Special Collections and Commonwealth Campus Libraries

Main Policy Content


To state the University Libraries' position on the acquisition and management of special collections at Commonwealth Campus Libraries (CCLs).


This policy is applicable to all Commonwealth Campus Libraries in the Penn State system.


Special Collections:

Books, archives, manuscripts, visual works, artifacts, or other materials that are unique, often unpublished, and for which very few or no other copies exist.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. Special collections materials are typically stored in secure facilities only accessible by staff, do not circulate, and may only be physically used in designated reading rooms under staff supervision.

Special collections may also be comprised of materials that require special handling and storage environments to ensure long-term preservation and access for researchers. Examples include photographs, negatives, maps, physical artifacts, or various audio and video formats.

In certain cases, special collections may be comprised of materials that aren't necessarily individually unique or valuable, but which together constitute an important body of information on a particular topic, for example the Eiche Collection of Children’s Literature at the Penn State Altoona Campus, or the Charles L. Blockson Collection of African-Americana and the African Diaspora at University Park.

Traditionally, special collections are associated with physical/analog materials, however contemporary special collections may also include born-digital materials, such as websites, email, digital photographs, and electronic records of various types.

University Record:

Information that documents a transaction or regularly conducted activity of the University and that is created, received or retained pursuant to law, University policy, or in connection with a transaction, business, or activity of the University. The term includes documents, papers, letters, books, drawings, maps, plans, photographs, tapes, film or sound recordings, microforms, digital or analog files, information stored or maintained electronically, and data- or image-processed documents. (See Policy AD35 for full definition.)


Cataloging and Metadata Services:

Cataloging and Metadata Services (CMS) provides bibliographic cataloging for materials in the Penn State University Libraries and creates metadata for digital collections. They catalog special collections materials represented in the Libraries Catalog for both the Eberly Family Special Collections Library and for Commonwealth Campus Libraries (CCLs). As needed, CMS will work with campus partners to catalog materials through electronic surrogates or arrange shipping and transportation of materials from CCLs to University Park for cataloging when needed.

Commonwealth Campus Libraries:

Employees at the Commonwealth Campus Libraries (CCLs) have primary responsibility for managing and providing access to the special collections in their care. They may choose to acquire special collections that are relevant to campus, local, or regional history, in accordance with the guidelines found in this policy.

Eberly Family Special Collections Library:

The Eberly Family Special Collections Library (SCL), located on Penn State's University Park Campus, builds, stewards, and facilitates engagement with significant research collections and primary source materials across the Commonwealth Campuses and holds the University Archives for all campuses.

As the primary special collections repository in the Penn State University Libraries, SCL maintains procedures for acquiring, managing, and providing access to collections which can be leveraged by CCLs to support their work with special collections. SCL also administers systems that can be utilized by CCLs, including ArchivesSpace, an open source archives information management application for managing and providing web access to archival metadata, and Archive-It, which supports the curation of web archive collections.

Office of Records Management:

The mission of the Office of Records Management is to achieve compliance, economy, and efficiency in the creation, maintenance, use, and disposition of University Records. The Office provides services, resources, training, and guidance on the creation, management, access, retention, and disposition of university records. The Office of Records Management stewards and updates records retention schedules, manages the Inactive Records Center (IRC), conducts records management assessments, and helps implement electronic records keeping systems.

Preservation, Conservation and Digitization:

The mission of the Preservation, Conservation and Digitization (PCD) department is to provide services for the long-term preservation and care of physical and digital collections held within the Penn State University Libraries’ system. Some of these services include the following: condition assessments, rebinding, collection housing, digitization, media transfer, file conversion, optical character recognition (OCR), and disaster planning and response for physical and digital collections. PCD collaborates with SCL and CCLs to coordinate and provide services at PCD’s locations, home locations, or an approved third-party vendor facility as needed.

PCD operates the Conservation Centre, and manages access repositories for Digital Collections and Pennsylvania Newspapers, as well as a digital preservation repository (see UL-AD19 Digital Preservation Policy). PCD provides consultation, guidelines, and training for a variety of collections care tasks, including environmental standards, distributed digital project activities, and digital preservation.

University Archives:

The University Archives serves as the institutional memory of the University and plays an integral role in the management of Penn State's information resources in all media and formats. To fulfill the responsibilities of that role, University Archives identifies, acquires, and maintains records of enduring value that chronicle the development of the University and ensures these records continued existence.

The University Archivist works with all areas, campuses, centers, colleges, departments, institutes, locations, programs, schools, offices, and units of the University to appraise records they create in the course of University activities and to select those that need to be preserved for future research and scholarly use.


Decisions to acquire special collections will be made by the appropriate CCL employee, in consultation with their Head Librarian and the Associate Dean for Commonwealth Campus Libraries or Senior Director for Commonwealth Campus Libraries and, as needed, the Head of Eberly Family Special Collections or University Archivist. CCLs should seek to avoid, where possible, overlap with the collecting mission of the SCL as defined in its Collection Development Plan.

Donation of special collections materials at all locations must follow University gift-in-kind procedures, as documented by SCL in consultation with Libraries Development. When evaluating special collections material for possible acquisition at CCLs, the following factors should be considered:


  • Alignment with the University Libraries’ institutional mission and obligations
  • Conditions of ownership and transfer
  • Condition of materials and preservation needs
  • Access requirements and potential barriers to future research
  • Resources required for sustainable maintenance
  • Relevance for supporting campus teaching and research needs

Campus history:

Materials that relate to the history of the campus, e.g. its development; degrees or areas of study; major events or celebrations; campus renovations. CCLs may maintain a basic historical overview collection for reference and instructional purposes as well as local public relations.

University Records are subject to Policy AD-35: University Archives and Records Management which governs the retention period and disposition method for most record types. The University Archives maintains record groups for University Records at all campuses and should be considered the primary repository for these materials. The maintenance of University Records at Commonwealth Campuses may be considered upon consultation with the University Archivist.

University records management policy does not apply to the personal papers of faculty or alumni, nor to the records of University-affiliated student organizations. While the University Archives can be a repository for these types of campus history collections, they may have more value and be more accessible if kept at campuses whose histories they represent.

Special regional interest:

Records that relate to the history of the geographic region surrounding the campus. The bulk of these collections will be focused on their use for reference and instruction on campus but may also serve to support local community historical research. CCLs should not replicate materials held by viable local cultural heritage organizations but, when appropriate, may support complementary collections, especially where the history of the campus intersects.

Local community history:

Records that relate directly to a predecessor institution or family, are identified either by the locale or the region, and/or represent the individual site history, for example the Hammermill Paper Company records at the Behrend Campus. These collections are maintained for their relationship to the campus and are valued for their unique application to that specific location.



and effective dates):

  • September 13, 2023 – Revised to reflect University Libraries’ current organizational structure and approaches to acquiring and maintaining special collections at the CCLs.
  • June 9, 2008 – Revised to outline types of special collections
  • July 11, 2006 – Revised to reflect campus reorganization
  • June 5, 2000 – New policy

Last Review Date: September 13, 2023

Effective Date: June 9, 2008

Date Approved: June 9, 2008 (Dean's Library Council

Last Review Date:  November 2009