Collecting Emphases | Newberry

Collecting Emphases

Musical composition in honor of Henry VIII. folio 16v, VAULT Case MS minus VM 1578 .M91

The following areas exemplify significant collecting strengths at the Newberry and are meant to emphasize the array of materials currently acquired by the library. However, please note that these descriptions do not entirely demonstrate the extent and totality of the Newberry’s collection and should be seen as general guidelines for collecting, rather than limitations. The rich dimensions of the Newberry collection can be explored further through the online catalogs and guides.

American Manuscripts and Archival Collections (1700 – present)

The Newberry Library collects personal papers of individuals and families, records of businesses, clubs and other organizations, and photograph and ephemera collections that augment our core collections – Chicago and the Midwest, Local History and Genealogy; Maps, Travel and Exploration; Music; North American History, Literature and Culture; North American Indian and Indigenous Studies; and Printing and Book Arts. We focus on the cultural, social, political, and economic history of Chicago and the Midwest from settlement to the present day. Areas of special interest include literature, the performing arts (dance, theatre, and music), journalism, politics, social activism, railroads, religion, and travel. We acquire collections of letters, diaries, and other primary source materials documenting the daily lives of men, women, and families, and local and national events like the Civil War and the Century of Progress. We look for collections that complement our existing holdings and single items that fill gaps in major collections.

Continental European History, Literature, and Culture

The Newberry collects Continental European materials from the Middle Ages to the era of Napoleon, with special emphasis on authors, works, and important editions not already found in the library’s collection. These of special interest include humanism, the development of the vernaculars, the history of reading, censorship, theological texts, religious non-conformity, and liturgy. Emphasis is also given to the history of the French Revolution, history of education, and heraldry. The library also collects printed ephemera from the fifteenth to the early nineteenth century, works intended for the use of children, and Hebraica. Geographically, our most thorough collections are for Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal; but Germany and the Low Countries are also well represented for the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries; and there are important religious and linguistic materials for East Central Europe as well.

English History, Literature, and Culture

The library collects primary source materials for the British Isles from the late fifteenth through the early twentieth centuries. We primarily build on existing collection strengths. In literature, these include poetry and drama of the Early Modern period and novels, periodicals, and anthologies of the eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries. Strengths in history include political and religious tracts and broadsides of the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, as well as satirical prints and ephemera. The emphasis is on imprints not held in Chicago.

Genealogy and Local History

The Newberry collects genealogies, local histories, and genealogical source material for families and regions across the United States, with additional strengths in Canadian and British Isles resources. We particularly emphasize the history and historical literature of Chicago and the Midwest. We especially collect currently published local histories, genealogical reference books, and Chicagoana. In original historical sources, we give preference to unique manuscript materials such as diaries, church records, and organizational records.

History of Printing and the Book Arts

Our purchases in this area have several components. First, the Newberry maintains a thoroughgoing collection about the history, technologies, and aesthetics of the printed book from Gutenberg to the present, as well as about calligraphic manuscript production in the same period. We purchase historical studies of printing, calligraphy, paper making, book binding and related arts, book design, the book trade, book collecting, and library history. Secondly, the Newberry seeks out new calligraphy, fine and artistic printing, books important for the evolving technology of book illustration, contemporary printed ephemera, historical and modern type specimens, and ephemera relating to radicalism. The library also acquires personal and institutional archives (historical and contemporary) related to printing, design, illustration, and publishing, especially in the Midwest. Lastly we maintain a historical collection of technical printing literature from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Latin American History and the Spanish Empire in the Philippines

While the Newberry is strong for all of Central and South America, we especially emphasize the colonial period in Mexico, Peru, and Brazil. We acquire indigenous language materials from all of Central and South America. For western European language materials, we emphasize narratives of exploration and travel, rare liturgical imprints, and cartography linked to colonial activity. Our Philippine collection centers on colonial history, literature, and linguistics.

Maps, Travel, and Exploration

The Newberry acquires atlases and individual maps from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries, with particular emphasis on Europe, the Americas, Hawaii, the Philippines, and polar regions. Topical specialties include American travel and transportation cartography, both individually and as part of archives; county atlases, complementing our strength in local history; and maps and atlases representative of the history of mapmaking and map use. For individual maps, we tend to emphasize items that were separately published (i.e., not taken from atlases or other books). The library extensively collects historical travel narratives and guides from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century, focusing on Europe, the Americas, Hawaii, the Philippines, and polar regions. We also broadly collect general geographical works and textbooks published before 1900 and, more selectively, after 1900. We acquire supporting reference literature in the history of cartography, including facsimiles, to the fullest extent possible, and more selectively for the history of travel.


The library concentrates on western European materials, emphasizing music manuscripts and imprints from the Renaissance to the mid-nineteenth century, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century librettos and ephemera relating to the history of opera, liturgical books, the history of music notation, and music theory from the Middle Ages to the early nineteenth century. We also have special interest in Spanish colonial liturgies. In Americana, we feature rare hymnals, psalmody, and nineteenth and early twentieth century popular sheet music.

North American History, Literature, and Culture

The library collects primary source materials for every period from the Europeans’ first arrival to the Americas to the Chicago Literary Renaissance and beyond. We primarily build on existing strengths, including the Colonial Period (with particular emphasis on British, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies), the American Revolutionary era and the Early Republic, the Civil War era, and the Gilded and Progressive Age. We also maintain a special focus on Chicago history and literature, and the history and literature of the American West. The emphasis is on rare imprints not held in Chicago and the Midwest, ephemera, and historical reference tools. Attention to North American history, literature, and culture can also be found within our Modern Manuscripts collections.

North and South American Indian and Indigenous Studies

The Newberry strives for a comprehensive collection that encompasses a broad range of primary source materials and current monographs for Indian history, literature, and culture in North America, primarily from the sixteenth century until the early twentieth century. Examples of special focus include Indian captivity narratives and indigenous language material (manuscripts and printed books). The library also acquires twentieth and twenty-first century primary sources that relate to American Indian history and culture in Chicago and the Midwest, including the personal papers, archives, and publications of American Indian activists, writers and scholars, Indian organizations, social welfare and advocacy groups, and academic specialists.


In a variety of formats and languages, the Newberry collects general reference works that provide support for basic research in all fields of the humanities, as well as more specialized reference sources keyed to collection strengths. Our emphasis falls partly on bibliographies, biographical resources, checklists, and indexes. In order to provide authoritative quick access and summaries, we also collect atlases, dictionaries, gazetteers, encyclopedias, guides, and handbooks.