This site attempts to protect users against Cross-Site Request Forgeries attacks. In order to do so, you must have JavaScript enabled in your web browser otherwise this site will fail to work correctly for you. See details of your web browser for how to enable JavaScript. Skip to Main Content Library - University of Liverpool
Toggle mobile navigation

Due to refurbishment works in the Sydney Jones Library, Special Collections and Archives is closed to users from Monday 3 June until Monday 16 September (inclusive). We're still available for your enquiries via email.

Special Collections & Archives: About Usaccredited archive service logo

SC&A includes manuscripts and archives, medieval to modern; early and finely printed books, and science fiction collections.

What is Special Collections and Archives? 

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   Book spines on shelf
  • 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.

Find out more information:

What are “Archives”?

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.

Find out more information:

What is a “collection”?

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?

Rolled plansThe 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.

More information on using the catalogues effectively is available on the Support for Teaching and Research webpage


 Contact us

Opening Times

Saturday & Sunday - Closed


How to find us

The Special Collections & Archives reception area and reading room is on the ground floor of the Grove Wing, Sydney Jones Library.

The Sydney Jones Library is building 423 on the University campus map.