The Rare Books Collection spans a wide range of time periods and topics, containing over 100,000 volumes that date from as early as the 12th century to as recent as the present day. The collection excels in areas of book history and design. Incunables and manuscript leaves, historical bindings, a collection of miniature books, and fine press printing and artist books each make up a part of the TUSC collection. Books from independent presses are especially featured, including the complete run of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, a growing collection of local and national zines, works from New Orleans’s Loujohn Press, and the complete archive of Cheap Street Press, who self-published works of some of the foremost science fiction writers of the 20th century.
Rare Books also holds strengths in particular subject areas, including maps and atlases of the medieval and early modern period, science fiction titles and sci-fi fanzines, first editions of British and American literature, children’s literature, the Koch Collection of Botanical Literature, and a strong collection of 19th century Abolitionist Pamphlets. The collection also features a series of monographic collections that give a close look at the writings and editions of particular authors, including William Faulkner, Stendhal, Edward Gorey, and Lafcadio Hearn.
Much of the Rare Book collection was given to Tulane from private collectors and donors. Rare Books is also the home of Tulane’s Legacy collection. These books, many of which date from the 19th century, formed the basis of Tulane’s library and grew with the merger of Tulane’s Tilton library with the Howard Library in the 1930s.
To assist in building the Rare Books collection, the Selector for Rare Books makes rare book purchases using a combination of university funds Special Collections and a limited number of endowed or gift funds restricted to the purchase of rare items, some in certain topical areas. The selector considers input from subject liaisons, and other TUSC curators about faculty and special collections user interest in particular rare works, or types of rare works, that might be acquired for teaching and research. Even purchases made using the two most restrictive funds--limited to the acquisition of rare books about domestic dogs and cats-- are intended, creatively, to support Tulane's interests in the humanities. The work of book selection described here augments the broader collecting focuses of Tulane University Special Collections (TUSC), as outlined in its Collection Development Policy.
A book can be described as "rare" for one or more of a few reasons: its uniqueness, the scarcity of the item (fewer than 10 copies in WorldCat), its monetary value, and its belonging to a subject- specific collection that is rare for its comprehensiveness.