Special Collections Collecting Statement

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Special Collections Introduction

Sonoma State University’s Special Collections department commits to developing and maintaining collections that have historical value and support the research, teaching, and service mission of the University. We commit to a concerted focus on voices, knowledge, and memory-making practices historically excluded from the archival record. 

Special Collections supports major research and instructional activities for campus and worldwide scholars, and includes books, diaries, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, journals, media, and artifacts. The Special Collections department includes Special Collections (Manuscript and Rare Book Collections), the Regional Collection, University Archives, and Digital Special Collections. 

Our primary focus is on multidisciplinary materials that pertain to the North Bay counties of California:  Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Solano, and Sonoma, including adjacent coastal and bay areas. Many items are rare or fragile and require special handling and access procedures. A growing number of items are exhibited online in full. By assembling and conserving an array of primary source materials, Special Collections provides a rich environment for intellectual discovery. 

The department is headed, and acquisitions are led, by the Special Collections librarian, a professional position requiring adherence to national and international standards of practice and conduct in accordance with a professional code of ethics established by the Society of American Archivists. Support for the functions of Special Collections is provided by staff from across library departments, including those with specialized cataloging, metadata, digitization, and processing skills.

Individual Special Collections

Manuscript and Rare Book Collections

Special Collections is home to Sonoma State University Library's rare books, archives, and manuscript collections. We acquire, preserve, arrange, describe, and make accessible archival and manuscript materials that focus on the history, people, and culture of the North Bay region of California. Notable collections include University Archives, two premier Jack London collections, the Gaye LeBaron Collection, the Lynn Woolsey Congressional Collection, the North Bay Ethnic Archive, and seven important environmental history collections. In addition, our rare and unique books collection includes thousands of titles on a variety of subjects with a primary focus on the North Bay and on unique small press and book art titles.

Regional Collection 

This collection of open stacks books and maps focuses on the North Bay counties of Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Solano, and Sonoma. The collection includes regional histories and memoirs, planning documents, environmental impact reports, and government reports, from the late 19th century to the present. These materials are often purchased from small vendors and local historical societies.

University Archives

University Archives receives, processes, preserves, and makes accessible examples of print and digital materials produced by SSU and its constituent parts that are of enduring value and that contribute to the historical record of the University.  The Sonoma State University Archives policy mandates that the Archives collect representative examples of SSU history from campus entities, including general campus publications, faculty and staff reports, pictorial, visual, and audiovisual materials, and graduate theses. Since 2015, theses are made publicly accessible online via ScholarWorks, the California State University (CSU) digital repository. University Archives does not collect or store campus records, which are the official purview of Sonoma State University and the California State University records retention and disposition policy

Digital Special Collections

In 2005, the library began to develop a robust Digital Special Collections initiative and to digitize and share, via an online platform, selected materials that highlight our Special Collections, with a focus on curriculum support. These curated collections are housed in the North Bay Digital Collections and represent only a small percentage of the thousands of physical materials housed in our Special Collections. We have participated in a variety of digital initiatives, including the CSU Japanese American History Digitization Project, focused on Japanese American history, a campuswide WaterWorks environmental inquiry project (now The WATERS Collaborative), and a Black Student Lives project among a number of the CSU campuses, initiated in 2020. 

Collecting Guidelines

General Considerations for Potential Acquisitions

The Special Collections librarian is responsible for identifying and acquiring collection materials. Acquisitions decisions are regularly made in consultation with the Collection Development librarian and with librarians with subject expertise in a given area. The Special Collections librarian is responsible for the general supervision and coordination of collection development activities within the department. The Society of American Archivists College & University Libraries’ guidelines for Core Archival Functions regarding acquisitions, processing, care, and access are key to decision making to do with acquisitions.

Acquisitions decisions are made in support of teaching and educational programs at SSU, and in recognition of SSU’s role in preserving materials that document the history, people, and culture of the North Bay area, with the following goals:

  • To identify and fill gaps in the collections, including a thoughtful, deliberate focus on developing and encouraging collections that highlight historically marginalized voices and perspectives; 
  • To further develop existing strengths within Special Collections;
  • To identify relationships to existing Special Collections that reinforce the new materials’ significance;
  • To complement the library’s general collection;
  • To maintain an awareness of what other institutions, including other CSU archives, are collecting and avoid duplication of their materials whenever possible;
  • To respond to existing and projected resources;
  • To accept only materials for which the department has or will acquire the resources necessary to house, preserve, process, and provide access to, according to national professional standards;
  • To solicit funds from selected donors if, in the opinion of the Special Collections librarian, the Collection Development librarian, and the Dean of the library, such solicitation is warranted.

Many of our holdings are acquired through deeds of gift, and we encourage donation queries regarding regional books and manuscript materials within the areas of our collection emphasis. We commit to making acquisition decisions in keeping with current cost, space, and labor constraints. Special Collections generally does not accept materials on deposit or on loan.

Acquisitions may also be made through the purchase of items from the book trade, by way of auctions, and from private individuals or organizations, within current budgetary restrictions. Purchases may be funded by endowment income, dedicated financial gifts, and library appropriations.

Inquiries about potential donations

The Special Collections department encourages donation inquiries. The department will require potential donors to complete a materials donation review form that will then be evaluated by the Special Collections librarian and the Collection Development librarian, in consultation with the library faculty, to determine whether the material is a good fit for our library and Special Collections.

Transfer of ownership

To transfer ownership of the archival materials to Special Collections, donors must sign a deed of gift. The deed of gift includes a brief description of the material donated and can be customized to address the individual donor’s needs. The donation becomes official once the deed of gift is reviewed, approved, and signed by the Special Collections librarian and/or the Dean of the library.

Care of the collections

The Special Collections department adheres to the Society of American Archivists College & University Libraries’ guidelines concerning Facilities and Equipment. 

Special Collections manuscript collections are kept in secure storage areas with environmental monitoring and with the space and conditions necessary to preserve archival materials. Staff retrieve them for research use by appointment in a supervised reading room. Additional security measures are also taken.

As resources and time permit, collection materials are transferred to acid-free folders and boxes and may receive more specialized treatment, as needed, from Special Collections staff. 

Access to collections

Special Collections materials are accessible by appointment to the SSU community and the broader community for research purposes. These research materials are housed separately from the Library’s general collections due to their rare/unique qualities, physical condition, and/or format.

We make every effort to provide full access to all of our Special Collections materials, including any rare or fragile items that require special handling, using discovery tools such as the library’s online catalog, finding aids (descriptions of our collections), and external consortial catalogs, including the Online Archive of California. We provide access to collections within the framework of our library policies and procedures. More information about access and appointments is on the Special Collections Contact Us page.

In addition, items are on occasion loaned to regional libraries and museums for public display, under strict guidelines and with a loan agreement signed by both parties, in order to provide more access to our archives in the wider community.

Manuscript Collecting Areas

  • Unpublished original materials, including, but not limited to, letters, diaries, art, reports, journals, photographs, visual media, maps, sound recordings, and other materials
  • Personal papers, with a special emphasis on regional authors and other significant figures and on environmental activism in California’s North Bay between the late 19th century and the present
  • Original records documenting the intellectual, multicultural, social, political, environmental, and economic aspects of regional history for the North Bay
  • Original materials relating to the history, growth, and development of Sonoma State and its campus

See Special Collections: Our Collections for a complete list of our holdings.

Book, Printing, and Graphic Arts Collecting Areas

  • Books on regional history, including retrospective acquisitions as well as the purchase of current publications. Materials already being received through normal library acquisitions procedures will not be acquired by the Special Collections department, except for those items considered to be key departmental reference sources or small editions of locally produced books on community histories
  • Works on fine printing and books as art objects
  • Small press titles of note, including titles from Black Sparrow Press, Arion Press, and Book Club of America
  • Printed materials of intrinsic or extrinsic value transferred from the general collections to Special Collections at the discretion of the Special Collections and Collection Development librarians

Campus History Collecting Areas

  • Samples of university publications, including catalogs and bulletins, newsletters, announcements, and promotional material
  • Samples of records from administrative offices, academic departments, and governing bodies of the university, including minutes, correspondence, memoranda, reports
  • Selections of architectural and landscaping plans, blueprints, and artists’ renderings, maps, master plans, and other campus planning documents
  • Some personal papers, including correspondence, photographs, memorabilia, and scrapbooks
  • Sample records from student organizations and activities, including minutes, correspondence, publications, ephemera, and memorabilia, including scrapbooks and posters
  • Selections of audio and visual material, including photographs, photo albums, and video and audio recordings
  • Representative materials from alumni and their organizations, including organizational records, publications, and ephemera, when such materials are judged to reflect significant events and aspects of the university’s history
  • Print copies of master’s theses written by Sonoma State students between 1967 and 2014, and electronic copies starting in 2015

The Sonoma State University Archives provides more information about our holdings, and the Sonoma State University Archives policy has complete information about our University Archives collecting areas.

Deaccessioning Guidelines

The Special Collections librarian reserves the right to remove any or all parts of a donation within the signed deed of gift parameters. For objects or collections not accepted by Special Collections, the Special Collections librarian will make an effort to suggest possible repositories for the material. 

Because of the importance of preserving archival materials in their original format and the role of special collections and archives as repositories for cultural history, the Special Collections librarian carefully assesses all materials before accepting them to lessen the likelihood of deaccessioning. Valid reasons remain, however, for deaccessioning materials held in Special Collections.


The SSU Special Collections department gratefully acknowledges the following collection development policies that were influential in the development of this policy: