University of Notre Dame


Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

Books and Periodicals

Special Collections holds more than 132,000 books, pamphlets, and periodicals. Comprising this collection are books printed from the mid-fifteenth century to present as well as both bound and single issues of journals, magazines, newspapers, and newsletters. The collection also contains a significant number of pamphlets, mostly Irish, though not counted among these is the collection of Catholic pamphlets, which comprise a separate printed ephemera collection and are discoverable in the library's online catalog. In the rare book collection is also a growing collection of contemporary artists' books.

The book and periodical collections are particularly strong in Catholic theology and church history, Dante and Italian literature, Irish studies, Latin American and Iberian literature and history, sports and physical culture, and there is an extensive botany collection. Also in the collections are just over 110 incunables, a sizeable collection of first editions, the Edward Gorey collection, classics published by the Limited Editions Club, and two paperback collections, the Armed Services Editions and Penguin Editions.

History of the Collections

The earliest record of Notre Dame's rare book collection is found in the 1869 program printed for the university's Silver Jubilee that mentions about 24 old and rare works. How these were acquired is uncertain, but the rare book collection gradually grew. After a fire in 1879 burned most of the library's holdings, the rare book collection developed through gifts received, and donations continued to be the main means of acquisitions.

The benefaction of alumni, members of the library's advisory council, faculty, and friends of the University are responsible for developing many of the current areas of collection strengths. During the department's early history, many of the books gifted to Notre Dame were maintained as separate collections bearing the donor's name including the Edward L. Greene Collection, Arnold C. Hackenbruch Collection, Ervin C. Kleiderer Collection, Captain Francis O'Neill Collection, John Bennett Shaw Collection, Walter Trohan Collection, and John A. Zahm Collection. These collections each had a general thematic coherence, yet the materials within each reflected the interests of their respective collectors and resulted in many of the collections being somewhat eclectic. To enhance discoverability of these materials, non-book materials were separated and processed as manuscript or ephemera while books were cataloged and integrated into the rare book collection. Printed books from these collections are searchable using the library's online catalog.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the rare book and periodical collections grew considerably through a combination of gifts and purchases. A major purchase helped establish a significant collection of over 500 titles related to the French philosopher, Rene Descartes. The department also acquired a large historical newspaper collection that contained over 2,000 issues of American newspapers spanning from the eighteenth to mid-twentieth century. Among other notable acquisitions were a collection of over 400 works by Edward Gorey, 750 titles issued from private or fine presses, and a collection of over 12,000 paperbacks and other materials relating to Penguin Books. Major collections in religion with a focus on liturgy and theology were also acquired. These included volumes from seminaries and church institutions as well as the libraries from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. and a retired professor of Medieval Studies at the Institut Catholique in Paris. Special Collections also considerably expanded its collection of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century imprints. Canon Astrik L. Gabriel, Director and Professor of the Medieval Institute at Notre Dame, donated his personal collection of 262 sixteenth-century imprints to the department and made an annual gift of one incunable per year over the course of eleven years.

From the original 24 rare works in the collection, the collection grew to around 67,000 books by 1990. Today, more than 132,000 items fill compact shelving in Special Collections' secure storage that continue to reflect the continued generosity of donors and active purchasing from rare book dealers.