Rare Book & Manuscript Library

RBML Office Files, 1917-2016

Summary Information


This collection contains the administrative records of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, from its days as the Department of Special Collections to the present.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0263
Bib ID 6913610 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Title RBML Office Files, 1917-2016
Physical Description 96.49 Linear Feet (274 document boxes and 58 record cartons); 54 Volumes (54 reading room ledger books)
Language(s) English .

All administrative records of the University are restricted for 25 years from the date of creation. This collection includes restricted materials. To request permission, please email rbml@columbia.edu.

This collection is located on-site.



This collection is arranged in 13 series.



This collection contains the administrative records of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, from its days as the Department of Special Collections to the present.

  • Series I. Office and Day Files, 1917- 2011

    This series consists of the general correspondence, incoming and outgoing; daily files of reference and retrieval activities of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library; and general office files.

  • Series II. Annual Reports, 1930- 2013

    This series consists of annual reports produced by the Department of Special Collections, and after 1975 the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The annual reports contained lists of donations for the year and reports on the work of the department.

  • Series III. Exhibitions and Publications, 1918-2016

    This series contains materials related to exhibitions and publications produced by the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

  • Series IV. Facilities, 1947- 2006

    This series contains the records related to facilities management such as maintenance logs, disaster reports and space inventories. The majority of the series is related to the construction of the "new" library on top of Butler Library in the early 1980s. The series consists of correspondence, photographs, planning and construction files; blue prints; financial records for fundraising; construction memos and other records that resulted from the renovation made to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

  • Series V. Acquisitions and Appraisals, 1952-2007

    The bulk of this series consists of budgets, notes, invoices and dealer correspondence related to the acquisition of rare books and archival materials for the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in the 1990s. In addition, there are acquisition logs and invoices for collections in the early 2000s. There are also records related to the appraisal policy, appraisals conducted in the 1990s and 2000s, and collection prospects. .

  • Series VI. Security, 1947-2006

    This series consists of records related to Rare Book and Manuscript Library security and theft incidents. The series also includes the records of the Collections Security Committee, which consists of meeting minutes, reports, surveys, policies and guidelines created in the process of writing a Collections Security Policy.

  • Series VII. Reading Room registers, 1931- 2010

    The Reading room registers series consists of ledgers and pages of registration sheets (sign-in registers) containing information about users of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the predecessors that made up the Department of Special Collections. Over the years, the different collections have kept joint or separate registers. A new joint reading room was created in 1985 for manuscript and rare book readers, which resulted in a joint ledger/register of researchers. This series also contains the microfilm reading machine book (1947-1949), and the guest book of the Rare Book department (1931-1937), the guest book/register for the Plimpton Library, the David Eugene Smith Library, and the Dale Library; the register of the Library of the American Type Founder's Company (1937-1947); and the Seligman Library register (1938-1955). Patron information was entered into an Access database between July 9, 2010 and February 1, 2013. Beginning in February 2013, all patron information is entered in the Special Collections Research Account Aeon software.

  • Series VIII. Call Slips, 1971- 2013

    This series consists of charge cards that detail material used by researchers from the manuscripts collections, rare books and the Bakhmeteff archives. When material is requested from one of the Rare Book and Manuscript Libraries collections, a two-part, carbonless call slip is filled out, consisting of the original top half (the flimsy) and the carbon-copy (the charge card) bottom half. For rare books and some manuscript material (such as volumes and folders paged individually), the flimsy is left on the shelf in place of the material paged. Once material is shelved, the flimsy and the bottom half of the call slip are brought back together to check that material has been returned by the user and returned to its proper location.

    The call slips, prior to the 1980s, featured a blue heading band for manuscript requests and a brown band for rare books. The form includes the user name and requested item title and location. The call slips are filed by academic year (June to July) in two sequences: the charge card is organized alphabetically by collection name and the flimsies are organized chronologically by shelving date. Originally kept separately by division, call slips for all collections were filed together starting in the fall of 2008 ( all of RBML collections combined). Since February 2013, all user information is entered in the Special Collections Research Account Aeon software.

  • Series IX. Statistics, 1974-2005

    This series contains the departmental statistics: the gifts and additions or change in size of the collection figures; the processing statistics for manuscripts and book cataloguing; and the public services or reference statistics, including circulation and reading room attendance numbers. Most of these figures are then included in the annual reports (see Series II). Later statistics can be found in Series I. Office and day files (e.g., Reference statistics, 2005-2009 in Box 330).

  • Series X. Registration Forms, 1949- 2013

    Registration forms are filled out by researchers when they first arrive at the library. These forms were originally called permission forms since the user was "apply[ing] for permission to read and to take notes" from letters and manuscripts in the collection. Users had to specify not only which materials they were interested in but also they had to state the purpose of their research, supply a local and a permanent address, enter a Columbia or other affiliation, and sign the form. Once submitted, the form recorded the library staff member who granted permission, the date, and any limitations on access. By 1972, researchers can find on the form the rules governing the use of manuscripts: permission to examine, permission to publish and permission for photographic or other reproductions (staff approval is no longer recorded on the form). In 1996 the format of the registration form is adapted in order to include space for a copy of the researcher's Columbia or government-issued ID. The University Archives started using registration card in 2005. In August 2009, all divisions in the RBML adopted the University Archives registration card and these were filed together (no longer by division). Since February 2013, all user information is entered in the Special Collections Research Account Aeon software. The registration forms are filed alphabetically by researcher's last name. The University Archives patron registration cards (and the ones used by all RBML divisions starting August 2009) are organized by registration numbers, which were assigned sequentially.

  • Series XI. Grants, Donors and Fundraising, 1950-2010

    This series contains records related to the fundraising efforts by the RBML as well as grants and gifts received by the library. There is information about individual donors and the Friends of the Columbia Libraries.

  • Series XII: Herbert Lehman Suite Files, 1953-2001

    These files pertain to RBML's administration of the Herbert Lehman Suite in the SIPA building.

  • Series XIII: Legacy Description

    This series contains library and archival description that is no longer current for finding and managing RBML materials, but may be of historical interest.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

All administrative records of the University are restricted for 25 years from the date of creation. This collection includes restricted materials. To request permission, please email rbml@columbia.edu.

This collection is located on-site.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); RBML Office Files; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.

Related Material

For additional publications by the RBML and about the RBML collection materials, please consult the RBML Publications, 1928-2016 (MS#1995). You can also find materials related to the RBML in the Columbia University Libraries Office Files (UA#0214).

Accrual of Records

Additions are expected.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Processing History: BRC 6/14/76; rev. BRC 2/14/78; rev. BRC 5/22/78; rev. BRC 7/9/84; rev. BRC 12/888; rev. BRC5/91; rev. BRC 10/91; Papers processed mmb 5/2/1999. Rev. CL 2005. Additions to this collection were processed by Joanna Rios. Finding aid revised and updated by Joanna Rios in November 2018.

8 ms boxes of materials relating to the Herbert Lehman Suite (Series XII) were added to the finding aid in January 2020.

Revision Description

2018-11-18 File created.

November 2018 Publication of revised EAD finding aid.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

2020-01-06 Deleted expired restrictions on boxes 79 and 100. kws

2020-01-29 Series XII (Boxes 294-298, 371-373) added. kws

2021-01-11 Restrictions expiring in 2021 have been lifted. Finding aid updated by CCR.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Academic libraries -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University. Libraries Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Historical Note

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia's principal repository for primary sources. 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, realia and born-digital objects. Some 500,000 printed books and 90,000 linear feet (17 miles) of manuscripts, personal papers, and records form the core of the RBML holdings. One can find manuscripts from as early as the 14th century to the modern archives relating to Herman Wouk, Erica Jong, Serge Prokofiev, and Arthur Mitchell. Archives as varied as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Random House, and Amnesty International-USA, and the archives of Columbia University are available for research.

Directors of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt (1930-1939); Charles Adams (1939-1945); Roland O. Baughman (1946-1967); Charles Mixer, Assistant Director of Libraries for Special Collections (1968-1972)*; Kenneth A. Lohf, Librarian for Rare Books & Manuscripts (1968-1993); Bernard Crystal, Acting Director (1993); Jean W. Ashton (1993-2005); Michael Ryan (2006-2013); Barbara Rockenbach, Interim Director (2013-2014); Sean Quimby (2014-2020); Kevin W. Schlottmann, Interim Director (2020-2021).

* Baughman died suddenly in August 1967 and it was decided that Mixer would take on administrative responsibilities for the department (he was the Assistant Director of Libraries at that time and had his title revised in February 1968 to be "Assistant Director of Libraries for Special Collections") while Lohf took over the responsibilities for rare books issues (he had his titled revised in 1968 to be Librarian for Rare Books & Manuscript to reflect these new responsibilities).