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Rare Book Collections: Rare Books

Rare Books Collection

engraved frontispiece and title page, John Middleton, on Aristotle's PHYSICS (1670)

Housed in the William H. Cowles Rare Books Library and the 10,500 square-foot Special Collections vault, the Rare Book collection constitutes over 16,000 items. Over 3,000 volumes constitute The Gonzaga Collection, focused on theology, philosophy, and the classics, in works mainly from the 16th-18th centuries, but including some as old as 1475.

The history of the book can be studied through the rare books at Gonzaga. Moreover, fine printing is well represented. For instance, the vault holds nearly 500 volumes from Ye Galleon Press of Fairfield, Washington, and numerous works produced by the Benedictine nuns at Stanbrook Abbey.

Reference works are located in the Reading Room of the Cowles Rare Books Library. The circular bookcase that encloses the hub of that room was designed to house the complete National Union Catalog (NUC), both the pre-1956 set in 754 volumes and all supplemental series (through 1978). Valuable to researchers, the NUC contains bibliographic records on many titles held in U.S. institutions not yet entered into OCLC's WorldCat system.

Records of most rare books in the collection are searchable through the library's Library Search, and more volumes are continually being catalogued.

Accessing the Collection

We provide research services on an appointment basis, weekdays, evenings, and weekends. Schedule an appointment at 509-313-3873 or

Requests to access materials from University Archvies and Special Collections are submitted using [[Aeon]]. Requests may be submitted before your visit, or can be completed with the assistance of UASC staff during a reference appointment.

Use of Rare Books

Due to their value, condition, and uniqueness, UASC materials do not circulate and must be used in the Cowles Reading Room. These collections require handling and security precautions to ensure their long-term preservation. Regulations include the following:

·  A valid photo I.D. and registration with the AEON circulation system are required.

·  Bags and personal belongings must be stored in a locker (keys provided).

·  Pens and notebooks may not be used. Only loose paper, pencils, and laptop computers are allowed in the Reading Room.

·  Food and drink are not allowed. Water bottles may be stored in lockers.

·  Cell phones cannot be used while in the Cowles Reading Room in order to provide a quiet study area.

·  Notebooks, bags, and similar personal items may be inspected before visitors leave.

·  Gloves may be necessary when handling photographs.

·    Digital photography is permitted only for research purposes, and the resulting images cannot be transferred to others, further reproduced, published, or displayed without the express written permission of the rights holder. Flash or external lights are not allowed.

A "cradle" is an angled book rest that allows you to read a book without opening it flat. This prevents stress on fragile bindings and reduces actual touching of the volume. As a rule of thumb, use a "cradle" or "book pillow" for any volume produced before 1900. When using a folio volume (a book more than 30 cm. in height), take care to support the entire length of the book, in order to avoid damaging its spine. If no folio-sized cradle is available, ask staff to help arrange a safe means of support for the book. If using a book pillow, make sure to adjust its filling to support the full length of the book's spine.

Never put pressure on an old book. Open the book gently, only so far as is easy for the binding. Never force a book to open flat, as this can cause damage. Also, do not hold a page down too firmly with one hand while taking notes with the other. "Snakes" are supple weights that can hold a page in place gently but steadily; they are available from staff.

Use only pencil and paper or laptop computer for taking notes. For your convenience, pencils, pencil sharpeners, a magnifying glass, and acid-free paper strips are available from the circulation desk in the Cowles Rare Book Library.

For temporary book marks, use only acid-free paper strips. The use of "post-its" is strictly forbidden, because their glue is acidic and can leave a damaging residue.