University Special Collections Management and Development Policy

1 Purpose and scope

1.1 The University maintains its Special Collections held within the Cadbury Research Library as a way of identifying, collecting, and preserving those rare books and original archives and manuscripts that the University considers to be of importance and relevance to the University’s research, learning and teaching agenda. Built up over a period of 120 years, the collections housed in the Cadbury Research Library now consist of approximately 200,000 pre-1850 books dating from 1471, a significant quantity of post 1850 books and over four million archives and manuscripts, all of which distinguish the Cadbury Research Library as a major UK research library.  The collections include materials that are unique, irreplaceable and priceless.  The holdings of the Cadbury Research Library are a key asset for the University in attracting potential researchers, staff and students. The policy relates to holdings of archival and rare book material at the Cadbury Research Library, and to holdings of archival and rare book material at the Shakespeare Institute Library.

1.2 The purpose of this Policy is to guide the way in which the University’s Special Collections are developed and managed, in order to ensure:

  • They are made available as far as possible for mainstream use and appreciation in learning, teaching and research, contributing through these ways to enhancing the University’s reputation
  • They are made available or exhibited as far as practicable for use and appreciation more widely by others outside of the University
  • They are grown in appropriate ways and appropriate subject areas, whether by transfer from the general library collection, or by purchase, donation or legal deposit

1.3 This Policy may be considered in conjunction with the following separate policies:

  • Library Collection Management and Development Policy
  • University Archive Management and Development Policy
  • Conservation Policy
  • Exhibitions Policy
  • Digital Preservation Policy
  • Collections Information Policy

2 Definitions

2.1 The term ‘Special Collections’ is used to refer to the University’s holding of rare books, archives and manuscripts.  The term ‘Special Collections Department’ refers to the area of the University that is responsible for managing the Special Collections.  The term ‘Cadbury Research Library’ refers to the facility which houses the University’s Special Collections. The term ‘University Archive Collection’ refers to the business archive of the University of Birmingham, a separate collection of historical records and documents about the University, the management of which is subject to the University Archive Management and Development Policy. The University Archive Collection is also held within the Cadbury Research Library and managed by the Special Collections Department.

2.2 A rare book is one which may have the following characteristics:

  • Market rarity
  • Out of print
  • Financial value
  • Published in a limited or special edition
  • First edition
  • Unique characteristics (e.g.: personal copy of influential figure; signatures and/or annotations; bookplate denoting ownership) 

Rare books are held separate from other University library collections, and treated differently in terms of acquisition, cataloguing, storage and access.  The possibility that, under this policy, some of the rare books collection may be partially formed by transfer of books, periodicals and pamphlets from the general library collection, means that all of those subject areas covered by the Library Collection Management and Development Policy are potentially of relevance to this policy.

2.3 The archive and manuscript collection is composed of original archives and manuscripts in a variety of media, including paper, photographs, sound or film, whether electronic or digitised or born-digital format.  This collection does not benefit from potential transfers from the general library collection, and is therefore unique and distinct in its content. Data supporting university research is managed by the Library Scholarly Communications Team and is considered separately from this policy. 

3 Collecting areas

The University will generally seek to collect rare books, archives and manuscripts which support, complement or enhance the ability of the Special Collections to support learning, teaching and research at the University.  Additions to the Special Collections may be by transfer from the general library collection, by purchase, or donation, or by legal deposit under agreement. 

Significant collection strengths across archives and manuscripts and rare books include:

  • British politics, especially nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • World War One and World War Two history
  • Middle Eastern manuscripts
  • Church of England and British Nonconformist history, especially nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • Mission studies, Christian youth movements and Christian education
  • English literature and drama especially nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • Public and local government administration
  • Athletics history and the Olympic games
  • Russian history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • History of medicine and public health
  • Child welfare, education, and health
  • West African history and literature
  • British and Western European Music, eighteenth to twentieth centuries
  • Gender Studies
  • Special Education
  • Birmingham and West Midlands / Local history 

3.2 These areas form the basis of the service’s collecting remit and indicate the focus of active acquisition, building on these strengths or introducing related areas. Active collecting supports our mission to support the University’s research, learning, and teaching agenda, and to support the national and international research community by seeking to acquire material which ties into this agenda. 

3.3 All material offered to Special Collections is considered on its own merit and research value as well as in relation to our collecting remit, and is reviewed within this framework. The policies of other collecting institutions are also considered (see 6.4)

4 Collection strengths

4.1 Archives and manuscripts

The manuscript collection is a unique and distinct collection. It does not receive transfers from other areas of the library apart from occasional transfers of manuscript material that has previously been treated as a printed book. Material is selected for permanent preservation for its evidential value and its importance for historical research. Highlights of our archives and manuscripts include: 

The Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern Manuscripts: The largest collection of illuminated Middle Eastern manuscripts, after the Vatican and the Bibliothèque Nationale in France consisting of ca. 3,000 Arabic and Syriac manuscripts, a number of Hebrew/Jewish works, coins, seals and clay tablets.  This collection has been awarded ‘Designated Status’ by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which identifies it as being of national and international importance. It includes ‘The Birmingham Qur’an’ manuscript and other early Qur’an manuscripts.

The Church Missionary Society:  The collection is a rich source of information not only for ecclesiastical history and missiology but for the secular history and anthropology of the many countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, in which the Society has operated.  It contains the earliest recorded documents from pioneering explorations into Africa or Asia. 

The Chamberlain Collection:  Comprises the papers of Neville Chamberlain (UK Prime Minister 1937-1940), Joseph Chamberlain (Founder of the University), and Austen Chamberlain, including letters describing Neville Chamberlain’s meetings with Adolf Hitler, as well as papers of Joseph Chamberlain’s daughters. 

The Avon Papers:  Papers belonging to and about the life of Anthony Eden (UK Prime Minister 1955-1957), including material on the Suez Crisis. 

Save the Children Fund archive: Encompasses the whole spectrum of the organization’s work, both in the UK and overseas, in terms of child welfare, education and health, children's rights, and wider humanitarian relief; its work with other international and voluntary aid agencies and its relations with governments; and its involvement in social and political debates. 

Young Men’s Christian Association archive: Comprises minutes of the YMCA National Council and many of its committees, records relating to local branches and to YMCA activities, charting the development of the organization and its work from the 1840s onwards, including substantial material relating to the YMCAs war work during the First and Second World Wars. 

University Archive: Records of the University of Birmingham and of its predecessor institutions, Mason Science College and Queen’s College (originally Birmingham School of Medicine), and of affiliated institutions including the Selly Oak Colleges Endowment Trust and Westhill College. 

This material is the subject of the University Archive Management and Development Policy.

4.2 Rare books

The rare books collection is partially formed by transfer of books from the main library collection and its scope covers all of those subject areas covered by the Main Library collection as detailed in the Library Collection Development and Management Policy.  The existing rare books collection can conveniently be divided into separate areas: 

General collection:  a substantial number of early printed books published before 1920, including some fine incunabula, and the original collection purchased by Dr Heslop for the Mason Science College.  It includes particularly strong collections of literary, theological, historical, scientific and medical texts and good collections of eighteenth-century theology, philosophy, history, travel and mid- to late-nineteenth century novels, and First World War literature especially drama. 

Historic University of Birmingham collections: Shakespeare Collection containing books on literature, criticism and history from the Renaissance to the early twentieth Century particularly relating to drama and theatre: Barber Art Collection containing books on the History of Art from the fifteenth to nineteenth Centuries; Botany Reference Collection.  

Religious collections: St Mary’s Warwick parish library; Bengeworth parish library; Thomas Wigan, Minister of Bewdley Collection; Rendel Harris Quaker Collection; Little Malvern Court Catholic Collection. 

Fine Print collections: John Baskerville Collection; Foulis Collection; Kelmscott Collection; Birmingham School of Printing Collection 

Named Collections: Jephcott Polar Collection; Wyndham Lewis Collection; Hensleigh Wedgwood Collection (linguistics); Colonel Cave First World War collection; Norman Painting Collection; Shapiro Donne Collection; Boulton D. H. Lawrence Collection; John Drinkwater Collection; Left Book Club Collection; Bournville Village Trust Collection; Havelock Ellis Collection; John Grenville Collection; Noël Coward Collection; Walter Allen Collection 

Archive Collection books: British Institute of Organ Studies; Sunday School Union; UK Youth

5 Acquisition methods 

5.1 Donation is the University’s preferred method of adding to the Special Collections. Donations are made by Gift Agreement and become property of the University of Birmingham, though the donor retains ownership of copyright unless this is agreed at the time of donation. 

5.2 Material held on indefinite loan or deposit will be subject to an agreement that specifies the conditions of loan or deposit, the respective responsibilities of the University and of the owner, and arrangements for the regular review of the loan or deposit agreement including its termination. The University reserves the right to decline any offer of material. Terms of deposit will be agreed on a case-by-case basis. 

5.3 Deposit agreements will take into account space and other resource factors arising from receiving, storing and making available the material on deposit.  No material will be accepted without clear and valid title of ownership. 

5.4 The University will usually wish to consider deposit agreements that involve a funding contribution from the owner towards the cost of keeping and making the material available for wider use and appreciation. The University undertakes to accession and process acquisitions of archive and manuscript material and to produce a summary description of newly acquired collections, with a preliminary box list where appropriate, to be made available via Special Collections’ online archive catalogue. 

It will usually only be possible to produce full catalogues for large archive collections with financial support of the depositor or donor, or with external funding. 

5.5 Prospective donors/depositors are asked to put offers in writing (email or letter) for consideration by the Director of Special Collections or in consultation with the team of Archivists or the Head of Rare Books and Special Collections Engagement. Unsolicited offers of material will be considered by professional staff. Conditions on acquisition are set out in Gift Agreement and Permanent Loan Agreement documents (see Appendix X). 

5.6 Contact is maintained with donors and depositors, though this is reliant on them advising Special Collections of any change in contact details. An option to return unwanted material to the donor/depositor or to dispose of it securely with the donor/depositor’s permission is offered but must be specified at the point of acquisition. Efforts are made when acquiring new collections to identify family representatives willing to act on behalf of the donor/depositor if circumstances change in the future. Donors/depositors are encouraged to notify Special Collections of any change of address. Guidelines for prospective donors/depositors are available. 

5.7 Printed material may be transferred from the general library collection based on age, financial value, and rarity (see 5.8) or to the University Archives according to suggested retention schedules set out in the University Archives Management and Development Policy. 

5.8 Special Collections buys material at auction, by private agreement, and from dealers as a limited budget allows. The ownership of copyright in the material is not transferred, unless it is specified as part of the purchase. Purchases primarily relate to identifiable gaps in teaching resources and course development but are occasionally made to supplement exhibitions. Most purchases are of printed material, but archive material may occasionally be purchased. The Head of Rare Books and Special Collections Engagement usually considers purchases, together with the Director of Special Collections, with wider discussion with the team of Archivists on a case by case basis.

6 Collecting criteria

6.1 All material being considered for addition to the Special Collections will be assessed by the Special Collections Department for its potential long-term historical value.  Such material will be assessed in this way, using such criteria as:

  • Relationship to other material held in the Special Collections
  • Relevance to subject areas being taught and researched at the University
  • Potential relevance to subject areas that might be taught and/or researched at the University in the future
  • Impact on storage space and other resource implications related to work required to make the material accessible and related to its long-term care
  • Potential to enhance the University’s reputation
  • Potential loss to scholarship and cultural appreciation if not incorporated 

Additions to the Rare Books collections are subject to the following additional criteria:

  • Additions being considered by transfer from the general library collection will usually but not exclusively pre-date 1920; periodicals and journals will be considered on a selective basis
  • Rarity of copy
  • Suitability as material to support the academic study of the history of printing and publishing, taking into account physical characteristics, production techniques, provenance, publisher, and patterns and history of publishing
  • Quality and value of binding 

6.2 The Special Collections Department will select material for transfer from the University general library collection in conjunction with collecting criteria set out in this policy 

6.3 When considering possible additions to the Special Collections, particularly in relation to archives and manuscripts, the University will take into account the likely interest in the material by other collections and repositories in the region and nationally.  The intention would be to ensure the material was placed in the most appropriate collection or repository where this would provide the best level of access to the material, and/or support the integrity of a particular collection or repository. 

6.4 Manuscript material primarily concerning the City of Birmingham and the historic county areas will usually be offered first to Archives and Collections at the Library of Birmingham, or other relevant local and regional record offices.  Exceptions to this may be in cases where the material directly relates to the University or its predecessor organisations, or to prominent personalities of relevance to the University’s Special Collections holdings, or to the subject coverage of such holdings. 

6.5 All types of media including paper, photographs, electronic or digitised or born-digital material will be considered for incorporation.  Film and sound recordings will normally be referred to the appropriate film and sound archive unless they are otherwise part of a larger collection.  Three dimensional artefacts will be considered for acceptance where they are an integral part of an archive collection and separating them would result in loss of archival value, or where they have a particular relationship with other material held in the Special Collections. Special Collections liaises with Research and Cultural Collections and with other bodies within the University which hold cultural material, including the Barber Fine Art Library; the Lapworth Museum of Geology; and Winterbourne House and Garden. 

6.6 Digitised or born-digital material will be considered for acceptance only where it falls within the subject areas set out in this policy. The separate Digital Preservation Policy and Digital Preservation Strategy documents govern the selection, acquisition, and management of digital records. Capacity to acquire records in digital format is currently limited and lack of digital preservation systems and workflows impacts collections development in digital formats. 

6.7 The University will not acquire hazardous material; damaged material which cannot be repaired or conserved at reasonable cost; or records where there is concern over legal ownership. Archive collections that consist entirely or largely of photocopies or facsimiles of original material will not usually be accepted unless the whereabouts of the original are unknown, or where the original is known to have been destroyed and no other version exists. Archive collections where the majority of the material requires lengthy closure periods will not normally be accepted. With the exception of additions to the University Archive, records created in the last ten years will not be accepted as accruals to organisational archive collections unless the organisation has ceased to function or if the records would otherwise be at risk of destruction.

7 De-accessioning and disposal from Special Collections

7.1 The University reserves the right to keep its Special Collections under review using criteria consistent with those to be used to consider additions to the Special Collections. Where material is deemed as the result of such reviews to be no longer appropriate for the Special Collections, the University will consider such material for de-accessioning. 

7.2 The University retains the right to return or dispose of unwanted deposited or donated material, and would normally identify such material in the process of accessioning and cataloguing large archive collections which could not be fully appraised before their receipt. Unwanted material would generally include duplicated items and non-copy-specific texts available elsewhere, including photocopies and facsimiles. Digital Preservation Strategy documents will address the de-accessioning of born-digital records. 

7.3 The University will only remove or dispose of material from the Special Collections where it has a legal right to do so.  The preferred method of removal is by donation elsewhere such as another collection or repository.  Duplicate copies of items within manuscript collections will normally be returned to the donor or depositor or with their permission offered to another repository or destroyed.  The University may consider de-accessioned items for sale if it is within the University’s right to sell.  In general discarding or destruction as is judged to be suitable by the University will only be considered as a last resort, since the University’s preference is to make efforts to keep the material available to researchers as far as possible. 

7.4 All decisions regarding de-accessioning and disposal of material will be made by the University on the advice of the Special Collections Department.

8 Loan of material from Special Collections

8.1 Subject to prior approval by the University and, where relevant, depositors, material from Special Collections may be loaned to other registered archives, museums and libraries on the condition that the borrowing institution takes full responsibility for the care of the material whilst on loan and for the costs of its transport, insurance and, if necessary, conservation. The detailed Exhibition Policy sets out loan conditions for particular collections. 

8.2 The use of copies of original material will be encouraged unless borrowers can provide satisfactory reassurance that original materials to be considered for loan can be held in accordance with BS EN16893, the Standard for the location, construction and modification of buildings or rooms intended for the storage or use of heritage collections, and with BS4971, the Code of Practice for the conservation and care of archive and library collections.

9 Access to Special Collections

9.1 Access to Special Collections material is provided free of charge to all researchers including staff and students of the University through the Cadbury Research Library.  Researchers will be issued with a Readers Card on production of proof of current name, current address and signature.  Proof of identification could include one or more of the following: driving licence, pension or benefit book, utility bill, correspondence from the University, cheque guarantee card, passport, University identity card.  

9.2 Users will be required to sign an application and undertaking form which, inter alia, outlines their responsibility under University and statutory legislation (including under the EU General Data Protection Regulations 2016 (GDPR), the Data Protection Act 2018, and the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988). 

9.3 The material in the Cadbury Research Library will be open to the public unless a specific exemption applies.  Such exemptions will be determined by means of reference to the GDPR, the Data Protection Act 2018, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.  Use of or access to fragile material may also be restricted for preservation reasons, and specific conditions of use and access are set out in the Preservation Policy. 

9.4 Specific access conditions apply to ‘The Birmingham Qur’an’ (Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts Arabic Islamic MS1572a). These conditions are displayed on the Cadbury Research Library website. A small number of archive collections may require additional permission to view, according to the terms of the deposit agreement (e.g.: Avon Papers; SCF Archive). 

9.5 All users of the Cadbury Research Library will be expected to conform to conventions designed to protect the physical wellbeing of the material, and to receive instruction in handling archive and rare book material. Users should expect to be supervised whilst consulting the material. Surrogates are to be consulted where material has been microfilmed.

10 Governance and management of the Special Collections

10.1 Responsibility for the governance of all matters relating to the University’s Special Collections as an area of University responsibility is delegated by Council via the Senate to the Research Committee of Senate.  

10.2 Responsibility for the on-going conservation, preservation and management of the University’s Special Collections is delegated by the University to the Director of Special Collections through the Registrar and Secretary.  The Director of Special Collections exercises such responsibility on behalf of the University, and is accountable to the University through the Research Committee for the range of actions taken and services provided in support of this Policy.

Approved and Adopted by University Executive Board on behalf of University Council.