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Archives Month: Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections

It’s National Archives Month! But you knew that, right? Chicago Collections and the Chicago Area Archivists have adopted the theme of “Hidden Stories” for Archives Month 2017, so we thought it would be appropriate to publish a series of blog entries highlighting NUL’s very own array of Distinctive Collections units. For those who have never had a chance to tour or collaborate with these units, we offer a behind-the-scenes look at each of the mysterious entities whose treasures are hidden in plain sight.

By Jason Nargis, Special Collections Librarian


Zap Comix

Zap Comix #1, cover art by R. Crumb: 1968.

Early 9th century Carolingian manuscript fragment on vellum, used as a binding on a 16th century book.

The Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections contains hundreds of thousands of rare and valuable items that span millennia, represent ideas from across the political and artistic spectrum, and come in myriad formats and sizes. We have everything from 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian clay tablets to medieval religious manuscripts to a 19th century child’s coffin to psychedelic rock concert posters from 1968 San Francisco to the latest issues of contemporary European feminist journals.

The McCormick Library holds much of what is considered “traditional” special collections material: incunabula and early printed books; correspondence from notable historical figures; prints, engravings, and broadsides; and unique institutional archives and personal papers. That said, we are particularly strong in several collecting areas. One is 19th and 20th century American and English literature, represented by first editions, variant editions, and dedication copies. Another area is material relating to vanguard artistic and political movements of the 20th century including surrealism, Dada, the Beat Generation, Fluxus, civil rights, LGBTQ liberation, feminism, ecology, the anti-Vietnam war movement, and more.


Prebooks, by Bruno Munari: 1980

The vast majority of this material is stored in on-site, closed stacks in the interior half-floors (or “tiers” as we call them) of Deering Library. A small portion of our holdings are located at Oak Grove Library Center and can be requested through NUsearch for consultation in the Jens Nyholm Reading Room on the third floor of Deering. This space is where all patron use of all our materials occurs, as nothing circulates.

Dublin Gate Theatre production of Salome: circa 1928.

Maintaining this often-delicate historical material and managing space as our collections continue to grow requires a lot of work. Staff members and student workers are constantly paging, re-shelving, rehousing, and shifting materials. We answer in-person and remote reference inquiries and fulfill reproduction requests. We coordinate preservation and digitization projects with other units in the library. We curate and contribute to exhibitions, check duplicates to retain the best copies, process archives, and update old records, finding aids, and descriptions. We also provide instruction relating to special collections materials and manage professor/student access and use of items for class sessions. Some of us develop and maintain relationships with rare book and archive dealers and others engage in outreach and engagement across the University and the wider Evanston community.

All of this work is toward the end of facilitating patron access and awareness of our wide-ranging collections. Our treasures are open and available for anyone to use for research and/or pleasure, so please come visit us soon.