Special Collections and Museums Division
Collection Development Policy

The Special Collections and Museums Division of the Library, Museums and Press seeks to build its collections in support of the research and learning mission of the University of Delaware. These collections are open and available to faculty, students, and the public in support of scholarship and general interest. Developed over many years, the collection strengths described below represent the historical practices of these efforts. Looking to the future, the Division strives to continue building on its existing strengths while addressing gaps in its collections, namely by increasing the representation of historically marginalized groups. Specifically, the Division seeks to build upon its holdings related to Black experiences, LGBTQIA+ communities, and contemporary Indigenous communities. Only by developing collections that represent the plurality of the human experience can the Division best meet the needs of researchers and future scholars. Those who do this work acknowledge and recognize their implicit biases that impact the Division’s ability to achieve this goal. 

The document that follows is an overview of the Division’s core collecting strengths. Each department conceives of its collecting practice in unique ways. The first section of the document describes the collecting areas of Special Collections and the second section describes those of the Museums. The final section of the document provides information about specific formats, conditions, and other considerations related to collecting practices and responsible stewardship. 

Introduction to Special Collections

Special Collections, which includes printed materials and archival collections, focuses its collecting on areas that support the educational programs of the University, with an emphasis on the fine, decorative, and applied arts; English, Irish, and American literature; history and Delawareana, with a concentration in the greater regions of Delmarva and the Delaware Valley; the history of the book and technology around printing and papermaking; horticulture; and history of science and technology with concentrations in the history of chemistry and engineering.The Department adheres to the ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians when considering collection development decisions.

Art and Fine Art: Holdings encompass all periods and styles of fine, decorative, and applied arts. This collection is particularly strong in works on painting technique and instruction, the decorative arts of the 18th and 19th centuries, and architecture. The collection supports University research in art, art history, and the University of Delaware/Winterthur Programs in Early American Culture and Art Conservation. Special Collections also holds a small, but significant, collection of original artwork and a large collection of trade catalogs for furniture, hardware, and decorative items from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Several strengths in the art collections of Museums echo strengths in Special Collections, including material related to African American culture, the topic of illustration, photography, and caricature.

Literature: The American, British, and Irish literary holdings constitute one of the most important collections of its kind in the world, including first and early editions of significance for literary figures, and specifically those from the 18th-20th centuries. 

  • American: with particular strengths in Modernism, Harlem Renaissance, Beats and Counterculture literature, as well as related to all aspects of the creative literary process, which include inscribed presentation copies of works by many of the most celebrated authors of the 20th century. 19th century American fiction includes comprehensive collections for authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. The Waldo Frank Collection includes the author’s library of more than 400 volumes. The Paul Bowles Collection consists of multiple archival collections related to Bowles, with comprehensive print holdings, including translations and film adaptations. 
  • British and Irish: 20th-century poetry and contemporary Irish literature feature prominently in the collection. Of particular note is the work of British Romantic poets, notably Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their circle.
  • Mark Samuels Lasner Collection: focuses on British literature and art from 1850-1900, with an emphasis on the Pre-Raphaelites and the writers and illustrators of the 1890s. It comprises books, periodicals, letters, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, and artworks, including items by such figures as Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, Max Beerbohm, William Morris, Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Aubrey Beardsley. For more information, please visit:

Delawareana: Includes all things Delaware–history, literature, culture, politics, works by Delaware authors, and works about the state. Curators actively collect materials including maps, photographs, and archival collections related to the Delmarva peninsula, from its settlement by the Swedes in 1638 to the present. 

History: Curators have focused on building collections documenting American, British, and European history from the 16th century to the present. 

  • Subject areas of note include the history of Newark, Delaware, and the greater Philadelphia area; travel and exploration; leisure and recreation; material culture; world’s fairs and expositions; trade catalogs and commercial history. 
  • The Department also has a strong collection featuring 17th- and 18th-century French history, politics, and culture, with a particular focus on the period of the French Revolution and Napoleon.
  • The Lincoln Collection, which includes over 2,000 items including books, manuscripts, artwork, and other artifacts about the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln, is a cornerstone of the Department’s larger documentation of the American Civil War. For more information, please visit:

Politics, Policy and Government: both archival and print materials related to this topic are a collecting area of focus.

  • Archival collections documenting the work of current and former members of Congress; the papers of former Delaware state legislators; Delawareans who represent leadership in political, public policy or civic affairs at the local, state, national and international level; women political and civic leaders and women’s organizations in Delaware politics and civic life; political ephemera, especially political campaign ephemera; and papers of policy and civic organizations. 
  • The papers of individuals and organizations that have influenced Delaware’s environmental politics and policy is a priority within the broader political papers collections. 

African American Culture/the Black experience(s): Supports the study of African American history and culture. These primary and secondary sources cover a wide range of topics, within Delaware history, literature, and print culture. Specific periods include the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, the modern Civil Rights Movement, contemporary issues relating to civil rights, Black Nationalism, integration, and racial justice. The Ishmael Reed and Alice Dunbar Nelson collections anchor these holdings. Historical materials include items such as bills of sale for enslaved people, plantation inventory lists, manumission papers, and wills documenting the treatment of people as property, as well as books, pamphlets, and debates on the question of slavery.  

Printing History: Focused on the art and practice of printing books, including manuals on printing and lithography, as well as, printing specimens, such as wood blocks and engraved plates. 

Cookbooks and Food Culture: The core collection of significant works from the history of cookery, extensive regionally-relevant works, manuscript recipe books, and food history ephemera, is largely focused on works produced in America or intended for American audiences. Recent acquisitions have focused on broadening representation, with works by African American authors or those highlighting ethnic cuisines as they developed in America. 

Book Arts: The book arts collection offers many examples of significant and innovative developments in printing history, technology, and design. Holdings include material relating to the history of the book, fine press books, material relating to the history and technology of letterpress printing and bookbinding, from traditional fine binding to contemporary fine press books, and extensive collections of ephemera, and archival materials relating to printing, papermaking, and the book arts.

Science and Technology: The core of these holdings is the Unidel History of Chemistry Collection, which contains nearly 3,000 primary sources. There is also an extensive collection on dyeing and bleaching. Books that document the history of engineering include the most important works published during the Renaissance in a number of different branches of engineering: electricity, mining, hydraulics, and mechanics. Additional strengths include print materials related to horticulture, landscape architecture, zoology, and agricultural science. Numerous archival collections support the printed science and technology holdings. 

Introduction to Museums

There are three museums that each have a distinct area of focus: the Mineralogical Museum, which displays minerals; Mechanical Hall Gallery, where art is displayed, often with a strong emphasis on African American art; and Old College Gallery, which focuses broadly on works of art. The Museums adhere to best practices as articulated by AAM (American Alliance of Museums) and AAMG (Association of Academic Museums and Galleries) when building the collections.

The Mineralogical Museum began with the 1964 gift of the Irénée du Pont Collection that was assembled in the 1920s. The University Gallery was established in 1977 and brought together disparate collections that built upon an active art-collecting practice started at the University in the early 1900s. 

Curators use three general principles when strategizing about potential purchases and donations: (1) building on existing strengths, (2) filling gaps, and (3) seizing upon unexpected opportunities. Acquisitions are made with the University’s academic curriculum in mind and staff frequently consult with faculty members when making such decisions. Art and material culture in the Museums are resources for research, teaching, and all manner of intellectual and aesthetic inquiry. Simultaneously, curators strive to build collections that are relevant to the region. 

Art and Material Culture

Strengths in the art and material culture collections include American art in general, which echo an historic strength in the Art History Department’s curriculum and the scholarship of its faculty. Specifically, these holdings include:

  • Significant representations of African American art
  • Indigenous art with an emphasis on modern and contemporary Indigenous art
  • Photography, which, in part, reflects the legacy of William I. Homer at the University
  • European printmaking
  • Sculpture, which, in part, reflects the legacy of E. Wayne Craven at the University
  • Contemporary and modern art
  • Work by regional artists
  • Art by former faculty and by alumni

The collections of the Museums are already rich in works by a wide array of culturally diverse artists and groups that historically have been under-represented in museums and galleries broadly.  We continually aim to enhance these collections to increase inclusivity within the art collections of the Museums.  


Permanent Collection: The Permanent Collection includes approximately 1,250 minerals. These specimens are important objects for research, conservation, and interpretation to further the understanding and appreciation of minerals. Newly found specimens are the focus of current collecting efforts. Smaller collections of meteorites, carvings, and gemstones are part of the Permanent Display Collection, but future development is less of a priority.

Study Collection: This collection is important for teaching, demonstration, and hands-on experience, and is divided into categories:

  • Regional minerals
  • Crystals and crystal models
  • Systematic collection
  • Fluorescent minerals
  • Pigment minerals 
  • Gemstones         

Further Information and the Special Collections and Museums Division Collecting Practices

As responsible stewards of the Division’s collections, staff adhere to industry best practices for cultural heritage institutions. Staff apply such guidelines when considering the provenance of potential acquisitions and prohibitions against acquiring materials containing contentious materials, such as ivory. In addition, the Division adheres to regulations administered by the Native American Graves and Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  

The Division seeks to acquire materials that can be made available for research and general interest. Therefore, staff strive to limit the acquisition of items that require significant conservation or preservation treatments before they can be made available for use. The Division has storage constraints that necessitate being selective when considering the acquisition of 3-D or oversized objects. Please contact the Director of Special Collections and Museums, Lori Birrell, for more information if you may have materials you are considering donating. 

Broadly speaking, the Museums accept works of art in media including paintings, sculpture, drawings, pastels, watercolors, prints, collage and mixed media, ceramics, basketry, and selective examples of material culture (dolls, textiles, tools, etc.), photographs and minerals. Special Collections accepts audiovisual, correspondence, diaries, fliers, photographs, posters, and scrapbooks, print and rare books. When possible the Department prefers to acquire a creator’s entire corpus, rather than individual items or works. For example, staff prefer to acquire an author’s complete archive, as opposed to a single book manuscript. Or an organization’s business records, as opposed to materials about a single initiative. 

The Special Collections Department has a growing born-digital preservation program that enables it to acquire born digital content, such as computer files and media. Prior to donating collections with born digital content, please contact the Coordinator of Political Papers and Electronic Records, John Caldwell, for more information about what the Department can accept. 

Broadly speaking the Division does not accept: 

  • Materials on loan or deposit
  • Materials that will be closed in perpetuity, or that will impose unreasonable access/use restrictions (Special Collections will work with donors, however, to respect privacy concerns and negotiate reasonable, time-bound restrictions as needed.)
  • Personal medical, financial, or other records containing sensitive personal information
  • Collections that primarily comprise secondary or tertiary source materials, such as photocopies or newspaper clippings
  • Software or video games
  • Hardware, except as a temporary transfer device (for instance, a hard drive)
  • Furniture
  • Official records of the university are under the purview of the separately administered University Archives and Records Management Departments (

For further information about the Library, Museums and Press Collection Development practices, including appraisal and tax information, please visit: