Collection Development Policy


To fulfill its mission to promote teaching, learning, and scholarship in the humanities, the Newberry Library acquires and preserves a broad array of research materials relating to the civilizations of Europe and the Americas. 

Throughout its history, and strongly shaped by transformative early gifts, the Newberry has refined its collecting emphases to create an interrelated set of 11 subject areas and formats, designated as “core collections,” in which we have deep, world-class holdings: American History and Culture; American Indian and Indigenous Studies; Chicago and the Midwest; Genealogy and Local History; the History of the Book; Maps, Travel, and Exploration; Medieval, Renaissance, and Early Modern Studies; Modern Manuscripts and Archives; Performing Arts; Postcards; and Religion.

The Newberry develops these collections with particular attention to acquisitions that may serve multiple fields of study and be of use to a wide variety of users. Moreover, as an institution committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, this development acknowledges as a priority the expansion of core collections to include voices and representation of all individuals, groups, and communities. 

To advance these objectives, collecting at the Newberry emphasizes collaboration—among curators, selectors, and other staff with responsibility for developing and managing the collection; with Newberry staff and others whose research, instruction, and outreach activities are based on the collection; and among Newberry staff, Trustees, and private collectors who are interested in the Newberry.

General Factors

Collection development involves an evaluation of potential research value that includes current and emerging scholarship and usage; an examination of former ownership history (provenance); the relationship of an acquisition to the Newberry collection as a whole; the availability of related material in area institutions; institutional capacity to process, catalog, preserve, make accessible for use, and store a potential acquisition; and such other factors as may bear on a prudent and coherent overall strategy for collection development. The acceptability and appropriateness of donor-imposed constraints on, or conditions of, gifts or bequests are also considered and for the benefit of both parties, should be included in a Deed of Gift. 

Responsible collection development must therefore begin before a decision is made to purchase or accept a gift, continues through the transaction with a dealer or donor, and extends beyond accessioning. Adding single items or large collections constitutes a commitment to sustain them over time, including making them accessible onsite, digitizing them as budget and other circumstances allow, and caring for their physical and/or digital condition. Newberry staff responsible for such decisions must understand the full range and cost of these activities and consider the institution’s capacity to meet the obligation in their deliberations consulting, as appropriate, with the Trustees.

Collection Scope

It is expected that collection development will focus on the areas covered by the core collections. Within that scope, curators and selectors, under the direction of the Vice President for Collections and Library Services, use their expertise in collection strengths, current and emerging scholarship, and usage to determine the priorities for acquisitions, subject to the constraints of funding sources.

Significant departures from the defined scope are to be reviewed by the President and Librarian, and, as appropriate, presented to and considered by the Trustees’ Collections Committee and the full Board of Trustees for approval.

Primary Materials

As a research library, the Newberry collection is distinguished by its areas of strength. The library’s future acquisitions should be focused on original or other primary materials that deepen or extend the current or potential research value of those areas.

Formats collected include printed books and serials; manuscripts; maps; music; photographs; pamphlets; ephemera; type specimens; correspondence; and audio, visual, and electronic files. Although duplication of individual titles held at area institutions is not encouraged, such duplicates may be acquired if they relate to items already at the Newberry or fit into a comprehensive collection of titles and editions by an author or in a particular subject area that is otherwise unavailable to scholars, especially in the Midwest. Age, condition, scarcity, and relevance to existing holdings should be considered as decisions are made about the acquisition of all primary materials.

Secondary Materials

To optimize the use of primary materials by researchers, and to support staff research, it is necessary to provide selective secondary materials, e.g., scholarly editions, reference works, and serials, as well as some facsimiles and other materials. As appropriate for the subject area and nature of the work, electronic formats may be considered. Due to the high cost of secondary materials, selectors and curators should emphasize foreign or scarcely held scholarly monographs and serials that are unavailable through Interlibrary Loan. They should also consider the availability of serial titles in trusted and stable online databases such as JSTOR; although these usually have an embargo of several years, such delayed access may be sufficient for most researchers in areas where access to the current literature is less essential.

Digital Materials

To expand access to its collection, promote user engagement, and support digital scholarship, the Newberry digitizes collection materials and develops tools to facilitate their use. Curators and selectors are responsible for identifying and proposing individual items and parts of or whole collections that would, in digital form, provide access to unique or rare materials or enable new scholarship.

The Digital Initiatives Advisory Group and the Digital Initiative Steering Committee establish digitization priorities, considering funding, staff and equipment constraints, copyright status, and the condition of the materials; however, the paramount goals are to expand access, audiences, and new forms of potential research. New acquisitions of manuscripts and archives, and some published materials, may be in digital format, or “born digital.” In such instances curators and selectors must consult with their colleagues and the Vice President for Collections and Library Services in evaluating institutional capacity to manage, store, and deliver them.

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