Guide to Special Collections


The University of Manchester Library holds one of the finest collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives in the world. Both The John Rylands Library and Victoria University of Manchester Library had built up outstanding Special Collections. After their merger in 1972, these collections were concentrated in the magnificent Deansgate Building of The John Rylands Library, in the centre of Manchester. 

The printed collections encompass almost all the landmarks of printing through five centuries: magnificent illustrated books, examples of fine printing, landmark works in typography, key historical texts and exquisite bookbindings.

We hold over 4,000 incunables, including the largest collection of Aldines in the world and the second largest collection of works printed by Caxton.

The collections cover a wide range of subjects: theology and philosophy; literature, drama and music; art and archaeology; science and medicine; economic, social, political and military history; travel and exploration. The vast majority of the Special Collections printed books are recorded in Library Search.

The Library's manuscript collections cover more than fifty languages, including all the major European and Middle Eastern languages, and numerous Far Eastern ones. They span five millennia, and are written on virtually every medium ever employed. The subject range is vast, encompassing literary, historical, antiquarian, genealogical, biblical, devotional, ritualistic, medical, scientific, legal and administrative texts.

The Library holds several hundred archives of companies, business associations, trade unions, charities, social organizations and religious institutions, as well as landed families.

Particular strengths include Nonconformist archives (especially of Methodism); archives of recent and contemporary literature and drama; the archives of The University of Manchester; and the papers of individual scientists and academics. Detailed catalogues of many of our archive collections are available through our online catalogue, ELGAR (Electronic Gateway to Archives at the Rylands).

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