Frequently Asked Questions

About Us

What is the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections?
The Rare and Manuscript Division is one of Cornell's 20 libraries, but our collections are unlike others on campus. They focus on rare, unique, or historically important materials. We have original manuscripts, rare books, photographs, and records about Cornell's founding and history, to name just a few. Please see our Collections page for an overview of our holdings.
Where are you located?
We are located on the 2B (lowest) level of the Carl A. Kroch Library, an underground library accessible through Olin Library on Cornell's central campus (see map). Upon entering Olin Library, walk directly ahead toward the green slate hallway where you will enter the Kroch Library. Pass the Asia Collections (on your left) and proceed to the rotunda. Just beyond the rotunda, take either the elevator (to your right) or the stairs (straight ahead) down two levels to level 2B. The receptionist will direct you to the Reference Room, Exhibition Gallery, or meeting rooms. We are wheelchair accessible.
When are you open?
Please see our current hours of operation, listed to the left.

About the Collections

Are your collections available online?
You can find records describing all of our collections by searching Cornell's online catalog. However, only a small percentage of our collections have been fully digitized to-date. Please see our Digital Collections page for more information.
Why do you have modern books like Stephanie Meyer's Twilight, Madonna's Sex and the Harry Potter series?
A book doesn't have to be "old" to be important. Items may be selected for the Rare Book collections because they are first or important editions; autographed (by author, owner, etc.); valuable, or significant for any number of reasons. We sometimes acquire new books because they document a subject we collect in depth (such as human sexuality), further our mission to preserve the history of the book, or anticipate the needs of students and researchers hundreds of years from now, who will want to experience, for example, what best selling fiction looked like in the early 21st century.
How do I find out about newly acquired items in your collections?
A list of our most recently cataloged acquisitions can be found using the New Books at Cornell form and limiting the Location field to "Rare & Manuscripts".
What is the oldest item in your collections?
The oldest items in our vault are cuneiform tablets, which are approximately 4,000 years old. (The Cuneiform Library website details the efforts to share images and other information about these artifacts.) We also have medieval, handwritten books dating from the 1200s onwards.
I have an item that I would like to donate. What should I do?
Thank you for considering a donation. Please contact us through our online reference form and your message will be forwarded to the appropriate curator.

Information for Visitors

Who can use your collections?
We are open to the public; anyone who fills out a registration card and provides photo identification can use our collections. For more information, please see our page on Registration and Guidelines for Use.
Do I need to make an appointment in advance?
Unless otherwise indicated in an item's catalog record, appointments are not required. Out-of-town researchers are advised to e-mail rareref@cornell.edu in advance, however, as many of our collections are housed in an off-site storage facility and will take at least two business days to arrive.
Can I browse through your collections? How do I see what you have?
Because the Division's collections are old, scarce, valuable, and often fragile, they do not circulate, and are stored in a secure vault with carefully controlled temperature and humidity. Researchers can identify the items they would like to see by searching the Cornell catalog. Our staff will retrieve items upon request for use in the Division's supervised reading room.
What does it mean when an item in the catalog has the location "Kroch Library Rare & Manuscripts (Request in advance)"? How far in advance should I make a request?
"Request in advance" means that an item is housed in our off-site storage space in the Library Annex and must be called in for use in our reading room. It will take at least two business days for an item to be delivered to our rare book and manuscript reading room.
How do I submit a request in advance? How many items can I request at a time?
You can request to view items in our collections via our online registration and request system. If you do not have access to a computer, you may request items by phone (607-255-3530) or in person. When deciding how many items from a collection to request, please consider factors such as how much time you'll have to examine the materials, how extensive the collection is, and the size of the boxes or volumes that comprise the collection. We ask that you make your request as specific as possible, using the catalog or our online collection guides when available.
Why are some items listed as "restricted," and how do I get permission to see them?
Donors of collections may choose to restrict access to materials for various reasons -- often when they contain sensitive or personal information. Please contact us well in advance through our online reference form for assistance in obtaining permission. We can forward messages to the specified office or person(s) for review.
How do I get copies of your materials?
Please see our Reproductions and Permissions page.
Can I bring in a digital camera to take pictures of items in your collections?
Researchers are permitted to bring their own digital cameras for photographing unrestricted materials. However, permission to photograph is subject to any donor-imposed restrictions and to copyright laws of the United States. Please be aware that you must disable the flash mechanism.
How do I obtain permission to use an image or a quote from your collections in a publication?
Please see the "Permission to Publish" section on our Reproductions and Permissions page.
Where can I find information about accommodations and parking in Ithaca?
Cornell University's Getting to Ithaca page includes maps, directions, and other useful information for campus visitors.
I couldn't find what I needed in your collections. Do you have suggestions about where else I might look?
If you're specifically looking for archival or manuscript materials, you might try a database like Archive Finder. You can also try WorldCat.org, which can access library catalogs around the world. Ask a reference librarian for assistance with either of these resources, or for specific help with your research.

Services

Do you offer research services for people who are unable to travel to Cornell?
Please submit a request explaining your needs via our online reference form. We can perform a limited amount of research for those writing from afar to determine if a research visit would help answer your questions. We can also provide you with the names of local, independent researchers if your research needs are more extensive.
I submitted a question/reproduction request a while ago, but haven't heard back yet. When can I expect a response?
Reference questions are generally answered within 1 week. The turnaround time for reproduction requests averages 4-6 weeks.
I have an item that I think may be valuable. Can you appraise it?
Cornell Library staff cannot provide appraisals or estimates of value. If your item is a book or manuscript, we suggest you consult the web site of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America; many professional rare book dealers offer appraisal services. You might also contact the Appraisers Association of America. For a general overview on book values, consult Your Old Books produced by the Rare Books and Manuscript Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries.
Can you help me get in touch with a Cornell alumna/alumnus?
If the person whose contact information you seek is living, visit the alumni office's CornellConnect page to try to transmit a message. We can only provide historical data relating to deceased alumni/ae.
What resources do you have for genealogists?
We have a variety of materials (particularly from upstate New York) including family papers, unpublished genealogies, church and school records, and land holdings. See the library's guide to Genealogical Research at Cornell for more guidance.
What resources do you have on Cornell's history?
Please see our page on Cornell University History. The subject guide maintained by Olin Library's reference librarians lists additional resources.
Do you have any advice for preserving or repairing books/photographs/etc.?
Please see the website of Cornell University Library's Department of Preservation and Collection Maintenance for information on the care of materials.
Do any other Cornell libraries have archival materials?
Catherwood Library's Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives holds rare and archival materials on the history of industrial and labor relations. The Weill Cornell Medical College Archives has archival materials documenting the Weill Cornell Medical College.