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Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives: FAQs

A guide to conducting archival research and exploring special collections at Connecticut College

Why are special collections so "special?"

The materials housed in special collections are valuable, unique, rare, and at times, one of a kind.  For this reason special collections are stored separately from the regular library collections in a secure location with environmental controls to preserve the items for posterity. Another aspect that makes the materials unique is that they are often collected and organized around a single topic, such as the environment or women's history.

Who uses special collections?

Special collections are preserved in GLAMs (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) to benefit scholars by grouping related materials together in one repository. Often a repository will specialize in a limited number of subject areas for their special collections, to distinguish the institution from other libraries.  Our patrons include academic researchers, students, and even members of the general public interested in a subject area contained in the Lear Center.

Can I handle the materials?

In most cases, the answer is yes!  Special collections materials are often fragile, but can be handled gently.  Researchers should make sure their hands are clean and dry and aren't allowed to use pens or have food or drink near the items.  You've probably seen archival material handled with white gloves on television, but actually it is not standard practice to use gloves when handling paper materials.  There are other types of materials that require the use of gloves (photographs, art work, etc.), but staff in the Lear Center will direct you as the proper handling of any materials.

Can I check books and collections out of special collections?

Because of their rare and sometimes fragile nature, materials in the Lear Center are non-circulating which means they cannot be checked out like other books in the library.  But students and researchers are welcome to use the materials within the Lear Center in our reading room.

Do I need to make an appointment?

An appointment is not necessary to visit the Lear Center, but is suggested.  This is for a couple of reasons: We often have classes visiting special collections and we do not want to overbook the space; and also so that we can determine what collections you want to see and be able to pull them ahead of time so they are ready when you arrive.  

Please contact us to schedule an appointment.

How can I find out what materials you have?

There are several avenues available to you when searching for special collections materials maintained either physically or in digital form by the Lear Center:

Shain Library OneSearch:  Search using the Shain Library's catalog.

ArchiveSpace:  Search using the Lear Center's content management system.

Digital Commons: Search here for faculty and student publications.