Special Collections and Archives cares for and makes available in perpetuity the unique and distinctive historic collections of the University of Liverpool. This includes printed books, pamphlets and manuscripts dating from the 12th to the 21st century, Europe’s largest catalogued collection of Science Fiction material (including the Science Fiction Foundation Collection), and nearly two miles of archives, including collections such as the University of Liverpool Archive and the Cunard Archive.
Special Collections and Archives material may be fragile, valuable, or unique; the Special Collections and Archives department is designed to accommodate this material through features such as increased security measures, specialist book supports for reading the material, and environmentally controlled store rooms. These measures ensure that the material will be available for future generations of researchers.
What are “Special Collections”?
“Special Collections” is the term used here at the University of Liverpool to describe material such as rare books, single sheet items, pamphlets, printed maps and music, manuscripts and early printed books. The materials have been retained as they have been deemed of local, national, or international significance. Material may be deemed as part of Special Collections if it meets one or more of the following criteria:
A publication or creation date of 1851 or earlier
A significant provenance
The physical format demands special storage conditions or care in handling
Special bibliographic significance (e.g. it is a private press item or a first edition of a notable literary work)
Special local significance to the University or to Liverpool
Material complementing manuscript or archival holdings.
This material is looked after and catalogued by a librarian.
Archives, here and elsewhere, are materials that are the product of an institution’s, group’s, or individual’s daily affairs. Photographs, letters, legal documents, business records, diaries, papers, plans, and films are a few examples of archival material; archives can be in a digital format and/or a physical format. The materials have been retained as they have been deemed as significant for researchers to access the activities of the creator party. This material is looked after and catalogued by an archivist.
The term “collection” refers to a set of individual items that have been grouped together as they possess common qualities, such as items of the same provenance, or of the same subject. For example, the Knowsley Hall Library is a single collection whereby the provenance is the same for every item, as the material all originated from Knowsley Hall. This grouping will often be reflected within the classification sequence (class numbers/reference numbers) and/or physical storage of the material. Terms such as “papers”, “library”, or “archive” may be used interchangeably and to the same effect.
What is the difference between “Special Collections” and “Archives” material?
The distinction is not always clear cut, however it is good to consider the physical format of the item. If you are looking for a published and printed work (e.g. a book or a pamphlet), start with a search in the Library catalogue. If it is anything else (e.g. a handwritten manuscript or a photograph), search within the archives catalogue.
Some collections here at Special Collections and Archives comprise of both book collections and archival collections. This will be detailed within the relevant Collection Highlights A-Z webpage.