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Fisher Fine Arts Library Rare Book Room

A guide to consulting rare books at the Fine Arts Library of the University of Pennsylvania

Restrictions & Rules

Laptop computers, small cameras, pencils, secondary material, and reference books may be brought into the reading room. Pencils and paper for notes will be available. All other items, such as pens, highlighters, markers, tripods, and flatbed or hand scanners are not allowed for use with rare books.
Absolutely no food or drink is allowed when viewing our special collections.

All cell phones should be left on silent mode. We ask that patrons refrain from talking on cell phones while they are in the reading room.

Perkins Library Useage Policies

Collection materials may be requested using a Special Collections Research Account. If you are visiting for the first time, you must register before requesting any materials. Once you have created and logged into your account, you may request materials directly from our catalog. Please place requests at least 24 hours in advance of your visit. Staff will endeavor to deliver onsite materials promptly, but may limit the number of items you can request or consult at one time.  All materials will be consulted in a supervised area of our reading room. In order to view any materials, a current, valid photographic ID is required. Your ID card will be held at the circulation desk during your visit. 

Finding Books in the Collection

To find books in the Rare Book collection, please use the "Specific Location" limit feature. This limit feature will allow you to search only for books within this collection. This limiting feature is found in the Franklin catalog, along the left side of the page, between "Library" and "Publication Date". In the "Library" box, select "Fisher Fine Arts Library." In the "Specific Location" box, select "Fisher Fine Arts Library - Rare Book." You may also select "Fisher Fine Arts Library - Rare Print" or "Rare Maps."

Handling Rare Books

When using the collections in the Perkins Rare Book Room, please:

  • Have clean, dry hands
  • Use the book cradles available
  • Use only pencil for writing notes in your notebook
  • Be sure to keep the books flat on a level surface, if not using a cradle
  • Take great care in turning the pages. Do not thumb through them as you would a regular text

If you have any questions or concerns, please speak with a librarian

Why Use Rare Books

  • Rare books are a rich resource for new research projects
  • Even if a more recent edition or facsimile is available in the library or online, examining the original source will give you a deeper understanding of the material
    • Original and early publications allow you to see the material as the author intended
    • Many rare books have interesting and insightful marginalia, which can add to your research. A Johns Hopkins University report calls marginalia “among the largest, least accessible, and most underutilized of original manuscript sources"
  • It is also important to note that not all rare books are old! Some materials, such as artists' books and exhibition catalogues, are printed in low numbers, so they end up in rare books collections