The History of RBMS

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 Katharine Kyes Leab & Daniel J. Leab American Book Prices Current Exhibition Awards, given annually to recognize excellence in the publication of exhibition catalogs and brochures, as well as electronic exhibitions. A measure of the section’s growth is the increase in its membership from 300 in 1962 to 1,826 in January 2011.

Additional information about the history of RBMS is found in “RBMS: An Overview,” Rare Books & Manuscripts Librarianship, I (1986), 7-9, “RBMS at 30: Growing Along with the Profession,” ibid., III (1988), 3-7, and A Commemorative Keepsake Volume Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

At the 2008 ALA Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia, the ALA Council passed a tribute resolution honoring ACRL/RBMS on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary. In 2009, the Bibliographical Society of America passed a tribute resolution to RBMS on the occasion of the 50th RBMS Preconference.