Special Collections – Collection Development Policy

Revised April 2009

Table of Contents

Scope of Collections

Established in 1983, Special Collections serves as JMU Libraries’ primary repository for rare, irreplaceable, unique, or otherwise valuable materials in various formats which warrant special handling or care to assure their long-term availability.  Historically, Special Collections has acquired materials that document the Central Shenandoah Valley, the history of James Madison University, as well as other unique materials that support the curriculum of the University.  Special Collections strives to build on current collection strengths as well as encourage new initiatives.

Local History Collection

Special Collections contains a variety of published and unpublished local history materials, where “local history” is defined geographically as the Central Shenandoah Valley counties of Page, Shenandoah, Rockingham, and Augusta.  Items relevant to this area are selected for acquisition if they contribute to an understanding of political, social, economic, environmental, or artistic aspects of life.  Because the collecting interests of several other local institutions focus on works dealing with the history of the Mennonite Church, Church of the Brethren, and family genealogies, such works are selectively acquired for Special Collections. The Local History Collection includes:

  • Books: relative to the geographic area and/or works published or printed by local presses
  • Manuscripts and personal papers
  • Archival collections
  • Oral histories
  • Photographs
  • Maps
  • Print materials: Substantial publications of local presses and literary works by local authors, including business history and church history
  • Ephemeral  material: Such as conference programs, tourist brochures, and dedications

JMU Historical Collection

In the absence of a University Archives, Special Collections houses materials that document the history of the University.  Special Collections does not collect noncurrent office records or function as a University Archives.  Neither does it function as a museum; as such, non-textual materials [with the exception of photographs] are generally not accepted.  The JMU Historical Collection includes:

  • Archival collections: Records such as files that document the function of an administrative office or student organization.
  • Manuscripts and personal papers:  Collections that document faculty research, or the personal papers of faculty and alumni.
  • Major monographic and serial publications: Special Collections retains major university publications such as the Bulletin, Breeze, Bluestone, Curio, Madison, and Student Handbook.
  • Books:  Relative to the history of the university
  • JMU-affiliated authors:  Where the content of the work is relative to the history of the university, or is a work of local or regional interest under the criteria for books and print materials expressed under Local History Collection.
  • JMU Historic Images Collection
  • Oral histories
  • Theses and dissertations: One bound copy of each JMU thesis and dissertation is designated for Special Collections.
  • JMU vertical file: Special Collections collects a small amount of significant ephemeral material for the JMU vertical file, mainly from the campus publication office.  Items chosen for the vertical file give an overview of University activities, show the physical, academic, or cultural growth of the University, or highlight major annual University events.

Curriculum Support Resources

Materials that do not fall within the categories of Local History or JMU History, but that support established curricula at the University, may also be acquired and housed in Special Collections based on the criteria noted above in the Scope of Collections.  Curriculum Support Resources include:

  • Medieval and Early Modern printed books, manuscripts, and incunabula
  • Contemporary artist’s books
  • 19th and early 20th Century Juvenile Literature
  • Print and non-print materials that are irreplaceable, limited editions/small press publications, or in a format that warrants special handling or care to assure long-term availability.

Collection Priorities

As with the general Collection Development Policy, Special Collections reflects and supports the Libraries’ mission and the University’s goals.  Special Collections supports the use of primary source materials within the JMU curriculum and the wider community of scholars.

Selection Responsibility

Materials may be acquired through purchase, transfer, or gift, but selection for placement in Special Collections lies with the Head of Special Collections, often in consultation with liaison librarians on behalf of departmental faculty.   These relationships figure prominently in the selection process, as expertise in a particular subject area, genre, or format is essential for building relevant collections.

Collecting Guidelines

Special Collections acquires or provides access to a variety of print materials, unpublished manuscript and archival collections.  Acquisitions will be evaluated by the same criteria as for other library materials; however, additional selection criteria specifically applicable to Special Collections will be considered, including but not limited to:

  • Quality of material
  • Authoritativeness
  • Circumstances of creation
  • Enduring value:  evidential, informational, intrinsic
  • Cost of Retention: processing, storage, preservation, technical support
  • Format appropriateness
  • Copyright and fair use


For gifts of print materials, see the JMU Libraries Gift Policy.  For gifts of archival collections, personal papers, or manuscript materials, please contact the Head of Special Collections.  In addition to Special Collections’ Deed of Gift, the following publications from the Society of American Archivists are helpful for understanding these types of donations:

Collection Management

The Head of Special Collections, and support staff, in consultation with liaison librarians as well as Technical Services support staff, will conduct ongoing assessments of the content of Special Collections to ensure adequate and appropriate resources to support the mission of Special Collections, the Libraries, and the University.


Special Collections normally acquires only one copy of a published work or printed material.  Exceptions may be made for variant editions or for editions containing significant marginalia.


Special Collections materials do not circulate.  Special Collections adheres to the Libraries’ general policy regarding replacements.

Weeding [Re-appraisal]

Special Collections does not typically weed collections.  Should Special Collections determine the necessity of re-appraising its collections, or portions thereof, the following criteria for current collecting guidelines would be used in tandem with the Libraries’ general criteria for liaisons evaluating material to be weeded:

  1. Collection level: How vital is the item for JMU coursework and research?
  2. Intrinsic value: Is the item a seminal work in its field?
  3. Format: Is the format obsolete?
  4. Duplication: Is demand sufficient for multiple copies of the item?
  5. Physical condition: Is an item damaged in such a way that prohibits its use? Should it be reformatted?
  6. Research value: Are materials still valuable for research interests?
  7. Uniqueness: Is the item irreplaceable, unique, or otherwise valuable?
  8. Usage: How often has the item/collection been retrieved for use in Special Collections?  Can we anticipate future use?


Materials in Special Collections receive conservation/preservation treatment at the point of acquisition and are reviewed after each use for preservation concerns that may arise over time and as resources allow.

Cooperative Collection Development

JMU Special Collections participates in Archival Resources of the Virginias (ARVAS) is a consolidated database of finding aids that provides information about the vast array of manuscript collections and archival materials housed in Virginia and West Virginia Special Collections welcomes collaborative or cooperative collecting and/or discovery initiatives.

Source(s) of Authority: Director, Digital Projects and Distinctive Collections / Head, Special Collections