Home / Special Collections / Research / Using the Collections

Using the Collections

Special collections is open to the public, but contains many valuable and unique items that require special security measures. Before you visit, read through the information on availability of materials, what to do when you arrive, and what to do when you leave.

For planning purposes: Special Collections will be closed in early June for a software implementation. If you have questions about our planned closure, please contact speccoll@uw.edu

Research Appointments

Appointments are required for users who wish to view collection materials. We welcome walk-ins for research consultations or to view materials in the reference collection.

Frequently asked questions

How can I tell what is "collection" material and what's in the "reference collection?"

In the library catalog, items that are in the reference collection will specifically say "Special Collections Reference." All other items are in closed stacks and will require an appointment.

Speaking of, what does "closed stacks" mean?

Closed stacks means that users cannot browse material and take it off the shelves. Instead, they submit requests and staff go retrieve material for them. This is part of why we require appointments! In the past, users have had to spend valuable research time waiting for material to be retrieved. Appointments allow us to retrieve material ahead of time, ensuring that it is waiting for the user when they arrive!

How many appointments can I schedule?

Users can schedule up to four appointments at a time. Once you've finished with one appointment, you can schedule your next one.

How much material can I request?

Users can request up to four items per appointment. For our purposes, an item refers to whatever we take off the shelf - so it can be a single volume, a single box of archival material, or a single vertical file.

Why item limits?

Special Collections, like many places, is experiencing a staffing shortage. Item limits allow us to keep the requests to a manageable level for the staff we do have, while still providing access to our users.

Can I request extra items or get extra appointments?

You're welcome to request exceptions to our item or appointment limits! We can make one time exceptions on a case by case basis depending on specific factors such as: timeline, availability of materials, availability of staff, and space. We do not guarantee that we will be able to to grant your exception. Please email speccoll@uw.edu to discuss exceptions.

How do I make an appointment?

You can make one online!

Do you have a remote option?

We do! Take a look at our newest service, the Virtual Reading Room!

Will you continue with appointments?

Yes!  Many of our collections require advance notice to use - whether because they are stored offsite and require us to arrange delivery, or because they have restrictions that require screening. Having users make appointments and submit requests ahead of time gives us the opportunity to front load this work, ensuring that researchers are actually able to view the material when they arrive instead of having to wait, or worse, being told that they can't view the collection at all! In short, appointments have helped us streamline many processes so we can work more efficiently.

Availability of Materials

Special Collections is open by appointment to members of the UW community, visiting scholars, and the general public and contains many rare, valuable, and unique items that require special security measures to assure they will be available for years to come. We ask your patience and understanding in striking this sometimes difficult balance between making these materials accessible and preserving our rare and fragile items.

All collections are non-circulating. Except for some reference resources on open shelves, all materials are housed in secure, non-browsing stacks and are retrieved for users upon request.

Most collections are available at all hours of opening. The majority of materials are stored on-site and can be retrieved quickly. Some manuscript and archival materials stored off-site are retrieved on a set schedule. Advanced planning is needed to see these items.

A small portion of the collections have donor imposed or legal restrictions. Access to Manuscript collections is governed by terms agreed to by the donor of the records and the Libraries at the time of the gift. Most accessions are available for public use, but some may only be used by advanced academic researchers or are subject to other restrictions. University Archives collections are open to the public, subject to the terms and conditions established by transfer agreements or deeds of gift. Please note, however, that many collections of university records contain temporarily non-public material that are restricted to use only by University officials.

When you arrive

When you arrive to Special Collections, you will be asked to check all of your belongings.

You may bring loose paper, pencils, laptop computers (without cases), tablets, cell phones, and cameras (without cases) into the Reading Room. You may not bring pens, food or drink, ring binders, sprial notebooks, folders, cases, bags, notepads, or containers of any kind. You may not bring in any external camera equipment or personal scanners.