Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries
Butler Library, 6th Floor East, 535 West 114th St., New York, NY 10027
About the Rare Book & Manuscript Library
The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections. The range of collections in RBML span more than 4,000 years and comprise rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; as well as art and realia. Some 500,000 printed books and 14 miles of manuscripts, personal papers, and records form the core of the RBML holdings. American history, social welfare, publishing, the history of printing, graphic arts, and the performing arts are all strengths of RBML.
The history of the rare book and manuscript collections dates back to the founding of King’s College in 1754 (now Columbia University). The libraries of the first president, Samuel Johnson, and of his son, and the third president, William Samuel Johnson, were presented by their descendents in 1914. In 1881, the bequest of Stephen Whitney Phoenix, a graduate of Columbia College, brought to the University a library of 7,000 rare editions and manuscripts. Over the next thirty years gifts by Temple Emanu-el of New York City, Brander Matthews, and Robert Montgomery would build a foundation of Hebraica, performing arts, and manuscripts. The integration of the internationally known library on the history of economics by Professor Edwin R. A. Seligman in 1929, and the creation of the Friends of the Libraries in the late 1920s would have a far-reaching impact on the collection activities of the RBML. Indeed, the growth in rare book and manuscript resources during this period led the University to make provisions for the care and supervision of these specialized library materials by formally creating, with trustee approval, the Rare Book Department on July 1, 1930—one of the earliest such units in North America.
The Columbia University Libraries’ Archival Collections Portal and the separate Oral History Portal provide access to descriptions and finding aids for more than 3,500 archival collections in seven Columbia repositories. The collections of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) and its various units are open for research and reference use by all members of the University community and the public. All materials are non-circulating. While no appointments are necessary, we strongly recommend that you contact RBML before you visit. Many collections are stored off-site and others may have access restrictions.