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Rendering of the reception area in the new Booth Family Center for Special Collections.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What’s special about Special Collections?

The Special Collections Research Center is home to the Library’s rarest and most valuable items. Students and scholars from Georgetown and around the world conduct research on the Library’s rare and unique primary resources in the Center.

The Center is organized in four units: Rare Books, Manuscripts, the University Archives, and the University Art Collection. Particular strengths include Jesuit history; intelligence and espionage; early American Catholicism; English recusant history; music manuscripts; English and American literature, with emphasis on English Catholic literary figures; Native American linguistics; diplomacy and international affairs, with concentrations on the Middle East and on Panama and the Canal; American printmakers; and, of course, Georgetown history. And much else besides!

Highlights include:

  • first editions of many of the most transformational works in the history of human thought, including Euclid’s Elements of Geometry (1482), Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica (1687) and John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1690);
  • the original autograph manuscript of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer (ca. 1873-1876);
  • notable first editions, some with handwritten inscriptions, of many great works of literature, including James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861) and Henry David Thoreau’s first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849);
  • books from the libraries of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Charles Carroll of Carrollton;
  • the “First Folio” edition of the plays of William Shakespeare (1623);
  • one of the world’s most extensive collections of British novelist Graham Greene;
  • autograph manuscripts by Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann and many other composers;
  • a manuscript copy of the text of the national anthem in the hand of Francis Scott Key (1842);
  • nearly 15,000 fine prints, including proofs and the original woodblocks to Lynd Ward’s God’s Man (1929), the first American graphic novel; and
  • the founding documents of the University, including John Carroll’s Proposals for Establishing an Academy (1787).

To learn more, visit the Special Collections Research Center online.

How long will the renovation take?

The renovation is estimated to take approximately a year to complete. We anticipate that the Special Collections Research Center will reopen during the spring semester of 2015.

What will the renovation change?

See the project details for a full summary of the features of the new Center.

Will Special Collections still be open for researchers and classes?

During the renovation, the Special Collections Research Center is operating out of temporary quarters on the first floor of Lauinger Library. There are limited reading room facilities for researchers and appointments are required. Most collections are stored off-site and although most can be retrieved on request, advance notice is required. To make an appointment, call 202-687-7444 or fill out the request form.

Special Collections will be closed for short periods during relocation.

Where are the materials while the Center is being renovated?

The majority of Special Collections’ materials have been moved to a secure, climate-controlled off-site facility, a process which began in 2012. A few items will remain in secure storage in Lauinger Library.

Will the renovation affect the operation of Lauinger Library?

We do not expect that the renovation will have an impact on Library resources or services outside of Special Collections. However, the project may require periodic closings of portions of the fifth floor and may be noisy and dusty at times. The Library will do its best to communicate these instances far in advance to minimize disruption for our users. If you're looking for quiet study areas, the lower levels of Lauinger Library should remain undisturbed. The Blommer Science Library and Bioethics Research Library are also excellent quiet study spaces.

How much will the renovation cost and how is it being paid for?

The renovation will cost $5 million and is funded almost entirely through philanthropy. The Library received a record $3 million gift from Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth (P'2012) to support the renovation, in addition to a $1 million gift from Barbara Ellis Jones (C'1974), a $500,000 gift from the Lauinger family and numerous other gifts from Library friends and supporters. Learn more here.

Why is the renovation necessary?

The Special Collections Research Center has grown significantly over the last 20 years and has exceeded its available space. At the same time, there have been vast improvements in the technology and techniques for preserving and protecting these sorts of materials, rendering the 1960s-era infrastructure currently in the Center woefully outdated. We’ve also seen changes in pedagogy that call for a more collaborative, hands-on approach for which the old Center and reading room were ill-equipped. This renovation will make badly-needed updates to the infrastructure and provide accommodation for uses and technologies that the original architects could not have anticipated in the 1960s.

What time(s) will construction be taking place?

Construction will take place from 6:30 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday. The majority of the construction will be completed during the summer of 2014.