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Collections policy

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In this page:

  1. Introduction
    1. History
    2. User community
  2. Purpose, scope and context of policy
  3. Collection development
    1. Overview of collections
    2. Selection
    3. Acquisition
  4. Collection management
    1. Retention and disposal
    2. Replacement
    3. Relegation
    4. Preservation
  5. Collaboration

1. Introduction

1.1 History

The John Rylands Library was founded in the late nineteenth century by Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands, as a memorial to her husband, the successful cotton entrepreneur, John Rylands, who died in 1888.

It opened to the public on 1 January 1900. Early acquisitions, namely the Spencer Collection of early and fine printed books (1892) and the Crawford Collection of manuscripts (1901), established the foundation as a research library of international importance.

In 1972 the formerly independent John Rylands Library merged with the Manchester University Library to form the John Rylands University Library of Manchester (JRULM). In 2004, the JRULM became The John Rylands University Library on the formation of The University of Manchester from the former University and UMIST. 

The former John Rylands Building now houses the Special Collections Division of the University of Manchester Library, holding one of the world's finest collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives.

1.2 User community

Primarily, the Library supports the teaching, learning and research needs of the staff and students of The University of Manchester, within the area of Special Collections. It is not intended to be a library of first resort for undergraduate studies in all fields.

In addition to its role as the Special Collections division, the strength of the Library's collections ensures its standing as a scholarly resource of international importance. The Library attracts scholars from all over the world, and supports the research needs of the wider academic community.

The John Rylands Library was established as a free public library, and recognizes the heritage value of its collections. Although it is a part of The University of Manchester, the Library retains its public library status and supports the use of its collections by all that have a genuine need to use them.

Due to the high financial and heritage value of its collections, the Library recognizes the need to balance access with its duty to protect its holdings.

2. Purpose, scope and context of policy

The purpose of the Collection Development Policy is to provide a framework for the selection, acquisition and maintenance of the Library's printed book holdings. It is designed to assist staff in the selection of material across the range of different subjects and languages, within the bounds of practical limitations, such as funds and space.

It is recognized that no collection development policy can be exhaustive. These guidelines are intended to support, rather than to replace individual knowledge, experience and common sense.

This policy applies to the John Rylands Library, the Special Collections Division of the University of Manchester Library and to any designated Special Collections housed at the University's Main Library. It does not apply to the general collections of the University's Main Library, or to any of the outlying departmental libraries.

This policy applies to printed material only. A separate policy exists for the management of manuscripts and archives.

The policy is designed to inform library staff, academic staff and students of The University of Manchester, and members of the wider scholarly community interested in the collections of the University of Manchester Library.

3. Collection development

3.1 Overview of collections

The Library's collections of printed material include a diverse range of books, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, maps, music and ephemera. The holdings range from incunables to publications of the present day, and cover a broad spectrum of subjects including theology and philosophy; economic, social, political and military history; travel and exploration; literature, drama and music; art and archaeology, and science and medicine.

The following categories are of special importance:

  1. Bibles
  2. Theology (especially Methodist, Quaker and other non conformist)
  3. French Revolution
  4. The history of the book and book-trade, typography and book-illustration
  5. Material of local interest and significance (in particular, examples of early printing from Manchester and its environs)
  6. Private press books (especially 1920-1960)
  7. History of science and medicine (especially 19th century)
  8. Industrial history, including British railway and canal history up to 1923
  9. Anti-slavery movement
  10. Special author collections (see Appendix B)

3.2 Selection

Historically, the Library has acquired material on a wide range of subjects. This diversity renders comprehensive coverage unattainable in most fields. Certain areas of the Library's holdings are amongst the strongest in the country. The Library aims to identify and build on these existing strengths. The Library also aims to identify significant gaps in its holdings, and to target these accordingly.


Amongst the Library's holdings are a number of discrete and/or named collections (see Appendix A). The Library's detailed collection strategies pertaining to these collections will be outlined in separate documents.


The Library aims to minimize the duplication of material already held at the University's Main Library. However, if the transfer of an item is inappropriate, duplication is acceptable, providing that the item is considered to be of sufficient significance to the Library's collections.


When selecting material, the Library is sensitive to the holdings and collection development policies of other libraries in the vicinity, in particular, Chetham's Library and Manchester Central Reference Library.


The Library is committed to acquiring both primary source materials to enhance its collections, and secondary works to support and facilitate research on the collections. There is no stipulated balance between the purchase of new and rare material. This relationship is dependent on the changing nature of the secondhand book market. However, priority is considered for rare/unique material that may be difficult to attain subsequently.


Physical condition is considered as one criterion in the selection of second-hand material. The Library's ability to preserve individual items and collections, and the cost involved, are factors that are taken into account when deciding whether to acquire materials.


When considering the purchase of expensive items, the Library takes into consideration the financial resources available to it. The decision may also be influenced by the availability of items in another library within a reasonable distance.



For modern books, the Library will acquire new editions of holdings, only if there has been substantial revision of the text, if the work contains significant new material, or if the subject matter has undergone rapid change.


For rare books, it may be desirable to acquire multiple editions of the same work, depending on collection level policies. In areas of strength, first editions of works may be sought, despite the existence of later holdings. Similarly, editions may be selected on grounds of the printer/publisher (e.g. private press books), the illustrator/engraver or, less frequently, the binder. Duplicate or variant editions are not normally acquired solely on account of provenance, although this may be considered in exceptional circumstances.


Hard Backs and Paper Backs 

If a book has been published in both hardback and paperback, the Library prefers the hardback version whenever possible.


The selection of material is not affected by individual biases, religious, racial, sexual or otherwise. Material is selected according to its appropriateness to the Library's collections, irrespective of perceived approval/disapproval.



Most selection for purchase is made by Special Collections library staff. This is necessary to encourage consistency and breadth of coverage. The Library accepts recommendations from other library staff, academic staff and lecturers, members of the John Rylands Research Institute, and individual library users. These are assessed against normal selection criteria. Recommendations should be forwarded to the Printed Books Office, Special Collections, The John Rylands Library.

3.3 Acquisition

General principles

All materials are acquired within the framework of the Collection Development Policy. The Library acquires holdings in one of five ways: Purchase; Donation, gift, or bequest; Deposit; Exchange; or Transfer.



The Library purchases printed books and pamphlets via the Deansgate Bookfund that is allocated annually by the University. Periodicals are purchased from the Periodical Fund. The Methodist Collection and the Labour History Archive and Study Centre have their own budgets.


Separate funds are also available for the purchase of specific material:

  • The Cricket Bookfund: for material about cricket
  • The Abraham Farrar Bookfund: for material about deaf education
  • The Anna Hill Bookfund: for material for the Children's Book Collection
  • Special Purchases
  • The John Rylands Library General Bookfund


Use of funds other than the Deansgate Bookfund must be approved by senior members of staff. Application is made initially to the Librarian.


Donation, gift or bequest

Historically, the Library has benefited from generous donations and bequests of individual items and collections. Donations are assessed against the usual selection criteria outlined in the Collection Development Policy. Donations may be added to stock within Special Collections or forwarded to the University's Main Library if this is more appropriate. If donations are refused, the Library will encourage the donor to offer the material to a more suitable library/institution where appropriate.


The Library will normally accept donations of one or a few items, providing that they are relevant to the collections, and that the Library does not already hold a copy/copies.


In the case of collections, factors of space and physical condition are also taken into consideration, along with any associated costs such as processing, conservation or cataloguing.


Donations, gifts and bequests become the property of the University. They are accepted on condition that any duplicates or unwanted material may be sold or otherwise disposed of, according to Library policy. The Library is happy to consider the wishes of donors/testators, and will accommodate these where appropriate. However donations/bequests may be refused if inappropriate conditions are attached.



The Library is willing to consider the deposit of collections or single items by individuals or institutions. A set of terms is agreed between the Library and the depositor. Under the terms of deposit, the item(s) remain the property of the depositor, but are housed by the Library, and are made available to the Library's users. Those collections currently on deposit in the Library are identified in a separate document (see Appendix C).



The Library is willing to consider exchanges of material with other institutions on a recurrent or non-recurrent basis. Materials exchanged will be of comparable value, and will become the property of the Library. This form of acquisition normally involves the exchange of selected publications from learned/academic institutions throughout the world for the Library's own publications, e.g. the Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library.



From time to time the Library considers the transfer of rare material from the University's Main Library. This may include early printed books (pre-1801 or pre-1851 depending on the subject area); private press books; limited or scarce editions; modern first editions; or books with a high monetary value. Publications falling outside these boundaries, but with a strong relevance to the Deansgate collections may also be considered.

It is recognized however, that the Library does not have sufficient space to accommodate all material from the University's Main Library that fulfils these criteria. Transfers should be agreed between the Head of Special Collections at Deansgate and the appropriate Subject Librarian at the University's Main Library.

4. Collection management

4.1 Retention and disposal

Managerial policy precludes the disposal of any material from the core collections of the Library. For printed books, this includes the Spencer Collection, and the discrete and/or named collections listed in a separate document.

For non-rare materials, particularly those in the Reference Collection, efforts are made to maintain the currency of the collections.

Superseded editions and unwanted duplicates, with no further research value are normally withdrawn. The online catalogue/Deansgate Accession Index records are amended accordingly. 

The identification of duplicate material is never undertaken from catalogue entries alone. A physical examination of the items is essential to compare the condition/completeness of each volume, and to check any significant copy specific details, e.g. bindings, provenance.

The Special Collections disposal policy outlines principles and procedures for the disposal of material from the printed book collections, and is available in a separate document.

4.2 Replacement

Non-rare materials in a bad state of repair may be replaced if this proves to be more economically viable than restoration.

Missing items drawn to the attention of Library staff are designated as such on the online catalogue. Replacement of missing items is considered where appropriate, depending on availability, cost, and current relevance to the Library's collections. For out-of-print works a replacement copy may not be available.

4.3 Relegation

Space constraints dictate that items, including journals, with low levels of use may be relegated to Store in the University's Main Library. In all cases, the online catalogue/Deansgate Accession Index records are amended accordingly.  The principles for managing the journal collections within Special Collections are outlined in a separate document.

4.4 Preservation

The Library is committed to the long-term preservation of its outstanding collections of printed books. In 1997 a detailed conservation survey of the printed book stock was undertaken, which has yielded important data upon which future conservation priorities are based.

The Library's preservation policy is encompassed within its management plan for Special Collections. It covers the following areas: accommodation; security; disaster preparedness; handling and transportation; training; exhibitions and loans for exhibitions; acquisitions; preservation treatments; reprography; monitoring and review, and roles and responsibilities.

5. Collaboration

The Library attempts to increase awareness and use of its resources amongst researchers through membership of regional and national collaborative bodies such as CALIM (Consortium of Academic Libraries in Manchester) and CURL (Consortium of University Research Libraries).

The Library also participates in initiatives such as RSLP (Research Support Libraries Programme) and other HEFCE (The Higher Education Funding Council for England) funded projects.

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