The Rare Books and Manuscript Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), strives to represent and promote the interests of librarians who work with rare books, manuscripts, and other types of special collections. The following links will lead to you general information about our mission, history and organization structure. You will also find information on how to contact RBMS and become involved in its activities.

RBMS Mission

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) plays a leading role in the local, national, and international special collections communities. It strives to represent and promote the interests of librarians, curators, and other specialists concerned with the acquisition, organization, security, preservation, administration, and use of special collections, including rare printed books, manuscripts, archives, graphics, music, and ephemera.

RBMS works to prepare special collections libraries and librarians to better serve the needs of users by creating opportunities for professional growth in special collections librarianship. In pursuit of its mission, RBMS

  • Defines, develops, and promulgates guidelines
  • Initiates and encourages continuing professional education programs
  • Promotes study, research, and publication relevant to work in special collections
  • Provides its members with a means of communication through its publications, programs, workshops, seminars, and meetings

RBMS Code of Ethics

“Standards for Ethical Conduct for Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Librarians” first appeared in 1987 and was designed to amplify and supplement the ALA Code of Ethics. A second edition of the Standards was approved by ACRL in 1993. This version, recast as a simplified “Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians” with commentary, was approved by ACRL in October 2003.

Commitment to Diversity

RBMS recognizes the need to attract greater diversity to its membership and the profession of rare books and special collections librarianship. In expression of its commitment to respond to this need, RBMS has issued a Statement on Diversity and created a Diversity Committee to focus on issues related to diversity within the organization and the profession.

RBMS Statement on Diversity

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of ACRL/ALA is committed to diversity in its membership, in rare books and special collections librarianship, and among users of rare books, manuscripts and special collections. RBMS encourages participation in the section by people of any race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability; it supports its members in serving the broadest possible population; and it seeks to represent the concerns and interests of rare books and special collections librarians at a variety of institutions, including academic libraries, public libraries, research libraries, special libraries, and historical societies.

Some of the specific ways by which RBMS encourages diversity include: offering a scholarship program for first-time attendees at its annual preconference; pairing new members with more experienced members of the section at preconferences and conferences; and conducting surveys of its members and non-members, the results of which inform the section’s membership initiatives and program planning. RBMS fully supports diversity, which is identified as a Core Value in ACRL’s Strategic Plan 2005, and which is also one of the five ALA Key Action Areas defined in the ALAction 2005 planning document.

RBMS Diversity Committee

The RBMS Diversity Committee became a standing committee of RBMS in 2005. It grew out of the activities of the Task Force on Diversity (2002-2004), which created the RBMS Diversity Action Plan, and the Diversity Action Plan Task Force (2004-2005).

Historical Sketch of RBMS

The roots of RBMS go back to 1948, when an ACRL University Libraries section meeting was devoted to the topic of rare books. In 1955 an ACRL Committee on Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections was formed “to promote wider understanding of the value of rare books to scholarly research and to cultural growth, [and] bring improvement to the care, use and recognition of rare books in all libraries.” As part of a 1958 reorganization of ACRL, the Committee became the Rare Books Section.

From its inception, RBMS has attempted to foster communication between special collections librarians and assist in their professional development. To this end, it first held a preconference in 1959 and has held one annually every year since 1961. In September 1989 a joint conference was held with the Library Association Rare Book Group in Cambridge, England; this was in addition to the annual preconference. The section has sponsored the publication of numerous guidelines, standards, brochures, and other professional literature. It also sponsors the Exhibition Catalogues Award and a biennial award for the best article to appear in the journal Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship. A measure of the section’s growth is the increase in its membership from 300 in 1962 to 1,879 in August 1993.

Additional information about the history of RBMS is found in “RBMS: An Overview,” Rare Books & Manuscripts Librarianship, I (1986), 7-9; and “RBMS at 30: Growing Along with the Profession,” ibid., III (1988), 3-7 (5MB).

At the 2008 ALA Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia, ALA Council passed a tribute resolution honoring ACRL/RBMS on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary.

RBMS Organizational Structure

The organizational structure of RBMS, including its by-laws and a description of its various committees may be found in the RBMS Manual. Members with committee responsibilities are strongly encouraged to read the relevant portions of the Manual. Committee chairs should also refer to the Information for Chairs of Committees, Task Forces, and Discussion Groups posted elsewhere on this Web site.

In addition to the information contained in the RBMS manual, a list of past chairs of the RBMS Executive Committee is available.

Getting involved

The activities of RBMS are varied and ongoing. The Section depends upon the energy and interest of its talented and enthusiastic members. Through its committees, discussion groups and liaisons to related professional organizations, RBMS strives to heighten public awareness about special collections. RBMS offers many ways for new Section members to become involved.

One of the best ways to become active in RBMS is to attend Section committee meetings during the ALA Annual Conference and the ALA Midwinter Meeting. Committee membership is not a prerequisite for attendance at most committee meetings. If you are interested in joining a committee, please take a moment to complete the Committee Service Interest Form.

Contact Information

Contact information for executive officers for the current year is available on the RBMS committee roster. You may contact the full RBMS Executive Committee at exec@rbms.info. The full roster includes a listing of all committees, committee chairs, committee members, and RBMS liaisons to other groups.Questions of a general nature about RBMS or comments about this Web site may also be addressed to the RBMS Webmaster at editor@rbms.info.

RBMS Archives

The RBMS archives are maintained together with other American Library Association archives at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A directory of their contents may be viewed online. Questions concerning the RBMS archives may be directed to the RBMS Archivist.