Special Collections

Book Collections

The book collections housed in the Special Collections and Archives department reflect a wide range of subject matter, published dates, and formats. The Rare Book Collection, for example, contains illuminated manuscripts from the 13th c. as well as artists’ books from the 21st. A collection of rare books on astronomy and astrophysics on loan from the Dudley Observatory is also kept in this area. The primary purpose of these collections is to enhance and expand the College curriculum. Department staff are eager to work with classroom faculty to identify materials that would be useful for their classes. Faculty may bring classes to Special Collections to show students the volumes relevant to their course work. Please consult department staff at (518) 388-6620 or specialcollections@union.edu for further information.

These collections in Special Collections were established in a variety of ways. In some cases they were given in entirety to the College; in others they were created by the library staff to accommodate individual volumes of particular note (age, value, condition, rarity, association, etc.) which needed to be housed apart from the Library’s circulating collection. Some of the collections are steady state with no growth anticipated, while others are growing slowly with additions from various avenues. In general, titles are added to the collections through one of three avenues: purchase, primarily from funds supplied by the Friends of the Library, gift, or transfer from the Library’s circulating collection. Anyone considering a book donation to Special Collections is asked to contact department staff beforehand.

Artists' Books

For the past decade the Special Collections and Archives department has been actively collecting artists’ books. Artists’ books are loosely defined as works of art expressed in book form. Sometimes the structure of the object is not at all book-like but the piece is still concerned with book-related issues such as integration of text and image, sequence of text and images, and shape. The edition is usually very small, often fewer than 50 copies. Some artists’ books are produced using manual techniques such as hand setting type. Others may incorporate inkjet or laser generated typography. The best way to search for these objects in the Library’s online catalogue is to enter the phrase “artists’ books” in the query box on the Library’s homepage and perform a keyword search and limit the search to Special Collections. This type of search will produce titles about artists’ books as well as actual artists’ books held in the collection.

The Bailey Collection of American Wit & Humor

This collection of several hundred volumes was given to the College in 1921 by Union alumnus, trustee, and treasurer Frank Bailey Class of 1885. Although modest in size, this collection contains wonderful examples of late nineteenth and early twentieth century American (United States) humor. Many of the titles in the Bailey Collection reflect a humor that is unsophisticated and naïve. Among the authors included in this collection are Burgess Gelett, George Ade, Will Rogers, and Mark Twain.

John Bigelow

John Bigelow, Union Class of 1835, was a statesman, writer, and “advocate for the public good.” During his lifetime Bigelow amassed a large collection of books. These volumes were given to the College Library during the 1950s. They reflect Bigelow’s wide range of interests and include volumes on topics such as American history, French revolutionary history, Central America, and Swedenborgianism. In addition to the Bigelow Library the College was given over 20,000 items of correspondence. Further information about John Bigelow and the collections can be on the Bigelow webpage.

First Purchase

At the time of Union’s founding in 1795 a committee of the College’s founders compiled lists of books and apparatus to be purchased from dealers in London and Philadelphia. These lists helped to identify the “first” books when the Library decided to pull them from the circulating collection over a century later. Today the First Purchase Collection contains the remaining original volumes as well as some recently purchased volumes whose titles, authors, and dates of publication match missing volumes from the lists. Titles in the latter group are indicated by “repl” for replacement at the end of the call number.

Rare Books

In Schaffer Library the Rare Books Collection includes volumes on a very wide range of subjects and from an equally wide time frame. The volumes in this collection are rare, unique, or fragile and are housed separately because they require more security and care than the volumes in the circulating collections. In addition to a general Rare Book Collection, there are two sub-collections which are named for individual donors. These are the Carl B. Booth, Union College Class of 1938, Collection and the Thomas G. McFadden Collection. The primary purpose of the Rare Book Collection is to complement and enhance Union’s curriculum. Areas of particular focus within the Rare Book Collection include the history of science, American and British literature, and artists’ books. A good introduction to the Rare Book Collection is available in the pamphlet Thirty-Eight Ways to Take a Rare Book Seriously (1982). Volumes are added to the collection by gift, transfer, and a limited number of purchases.

Union Collection

The Union Collection includes a variety of materials pertaining to many aspects of Union College, its history and the individuals associated with the institution. This collection includes the College yearbooks from 1877 to the present, copies of the Freshman Record, the Academic Register, the Alumni magazine, and bound copies of the Concordiensis. When possible, the Library purchases copies of faculty and alumni publications for this collection. Many administrative reports such as the Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools evaluations are housed in this collection as well. Although this collection is only browsable online, it is a good place to begin the study of Union’s history.