Educational Opportunities: A Directory

A publication of the RBMS Membership and Professional Development Committee.

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Educational opportunities for those seeking a career in rare book and manuscript librarianship are so numerous and diverse, it is becoming increasingly difficult to pinpoint them. These opportunities range from formal academic programs leading to a graduate degree, to single-day workshops or seminars. They are offered by schools of library and information studies, English and History departments, libraries, museums, and other academic organizations, by master craftspersons in bookmaking, and on the internet. They provide education on such varied topics as the theory of textual editing, how to catalog a rare book in the MARC format, the history of bookbinding, typography, and publishing, and how to create electronic archival finding aids. Given this great variety, the Membership and Professional Development Committee of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association (ALA), has developed the following directory to aid both prospective and current members of the profession in navigating various educational opportunities for special collections librarianship. Currently, the directory lists graduate coursework offered within degree programs leading to a graduate library degree (MLS).

For most of the 20th century, the more ambitious library schools in the United States were the places to go for formal education in rare book and manuscript librarianship. They routinely offered courses in the history of books and printing, descriptive and analytical bibliography, rare book curatorship, paleography, archival management, cataloging, and preservation. However, for the last decade at least, many schools have dropped such offerings. The obvious case in point is Columbia University’s School of Library Service, which after nearly 20 years of leadership in the professional development of special collections librarians, closed its doors in 1992. Surviving library schools have been rethinking their curricula and retooling them for the 21st century by focusing on electronic information technologies. Yet, at the same time, there has never been in more interest in the “history of the book,” both within and outside academia, and there are more places to obtain knowledge on book history than ever before.

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ALA-Accredited Schools of Library and Information Studies

While there are many ways to obtain an education in special collections librarianship, earning a MLS is still the most common way to enter the profession. Although not everyone who works in a rare book and manuscript repository has an MLS, students should be aware that the majority of those in special collections careers without an MLS do have advanced degrees in a particular academic discipline, such as history, classics, Medieval studies, art history, or literature, in addition to knowledge of one or more foreign languages. Many would still argue that the ideal preparation for a career in rare book or manuscript librarianship would entail a solid liberal arts education combined with a graduate program in librarianship that included numerous formal courses in special collections librarianship, the ability to apply internship hours and work experience toward the degree, and the close proximity of good rare books, manuscripts, and other special collections materials. However, while optimal, it is not necessary to attend a school of library and information science specializing in rare book or archival studies in order to obtain suitable preparation for a career in a special collections library. Students who must choose their school based upon geographical requirements will find that, even if they attend an institution offering few special collections courses, substantial rare book or archival experience can be gained if they approach their course of study creatively, through internships and independent study. A student could prepare adequately, for example, by taking general courses in librarianship, slanting their work toward special collections librarianship where possible through independent projects, pursuing other workshops and courses offered outside their institution, and by serving as an intern in a good special collections library. This directory is aimed at assisting students interested in special collections librarianship to evaluate library programs based on these criteria.

This directory describes the programs of each of the ALA-accredited schools of library and information studies now operating in North America. Links are provided to online sources where browsers might find additional information. Each entry includes the following pieces of information:

  • name of parent institution (LINKED)
  • name, address, and phone number of school (LINKED)
  • types of degrees / certificate programs offered by the school
  • description of the school’s programmatic strengths
  • courses offered by the school in support of special collections librarianship including the frequency they are offered
  • the applicability of internships to the degree requirements
  • brief description of campus resources, especially the university library and the special collections library (LINKED)
  • brief description of other local resources that may be pertinent to special collections librarianship

Note: RBMS has no role in the accreditation of rare book and manuscript education and training programs, institutes, or courses. Inclusion of a program in this directory does not imply endorsement or approval by the RBMS. This directory attempts to provide a way to access comprehensive information about the many and diverse educational opportunities available to those interested in pursuing a career in special collections librarianship. However, those interested in particular schools or programs are encouraged to contact the institutions directly for the most complete and up-to-date information.

List of ALA-Accredited Schools of Library and Information Studies

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Continuing Education and Professional Development

Several organizations offer opportunities for continuing education and professional development in the fields of Rare Books and Manuscripts through formal instruction, workshops, lectures, and programs. There are also numerous opportunities for self-guided development through recommended reading lists and other independent study resources.

Some opportunities are listed here and organized by format or institutional association, but this list is by no means exhaustive. If you wish to have your association, event, or institution’s resources listed, please contact the list coordinators at

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Other Resources

This directory can be used in conjunction with the Directory of Archival Education, published by the Society of American Archivists (SAA), and available online at:

Some additional organizations that list educational resources relevant to special collections librarianship include: