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Banner: Directory of Special Collections of Research Value in Canadian Libraries
Introduction SearchHelp


To facilitate the use of library resources throughout the country, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) promotes and participates in several aspects of resource sharing. The Directory of Special Collections of Research Value in Canadian Libraries originated as one of two projects of the National Plan for Collections Inventories which were endorsed by the National Library Advisory Board in 1984.

Originally published in 1992, the Directory was encoded by the University of Saskatchewan Library in 1995 in order to be posted online as part of Industry Canada's SchoolNet Digital Collections program. Later, Canadian research libraries agreed that the Directory should be updated and expanded. Accordingly, the Directory was transformed into an electronic database for the Web; it is fully searchable and can be easily updated and expanded.

Libraries of all types are encouraged to suggest new entries for the Directory and to keep existing entries up-to-date. New entries and updates should be sent to:

Interlibrary Loan Services
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON   K1A 0N4
Telephone: 613-996-7527
Fax: 613-996-4424


The following definition is used for collections included in the Directory:

A special collection of research value is one recognized by its own library, and by others, as an important resource at the regional and/or national level. In general, libraries aim to make each collection exhaustive: it should include any significant works of recorded knowledge, in all relevant languages, for a defined and limited subject field. Libraries must ensure that bibliographic and physical access to a collection is available; they must also provide an adequate level of reference service for researchers.

Criteria for Inclusion

The following criteria are intended as guidelines for libraries seeking to identify special collections for inclusion in the Directory. All criteria need not be satisfied for a collection to be identified in the Directory of Special Collections of Research Value.

  1. The collection is recognized as an important resource at the provincial, regional, and/or national level. The collection is considered to be significant within a discipline.

  2. The subject field is limited; the focus is on a particular subject or individual.

  3. The collection is more than an area of strength in a broader subject field. For example, Anglo-Irish fiction in a collection of English literature may constitute an area of strength; a James Joyce collection may represent a "special collection of research value."

  4. The collection is a research-level collection. The Research Libraries Group (RLG) defines a research-level collection as: "A collection that includes the major published source materials required for dissertations and independent research, including materials containing research reports, new findings, scientific experimental results, and other information useful to researchers. It is intended to include all important reference works and a wide selection of specialized monographs, as well as a very extensive collection of journals and major indexing and abstracting services in the field. Pertinent foreign language materials are included. Older material is retained for historical research."

  5. The collection is a comprehensive-level collection. The Research Libraries Group (RLG) defines a comprehensive-level collection as: "A collection in which a library endeavours, so far as is reasonably possible, to include all significant works of recorded knowledge (publications, manuscripts, other forms), in all applicable languages, for a necessarily defined and limited field. This level of collecting intensity is one in which the aim, if not the achievement, is exhaustiveness."

  6. The collection is separated physically and/or bibliographically from the general library collection.

  7. The collection is named, although not all named collections meet the requirements of a research or comprehensive-level collection (e.g., collections named after a donor are not necessarily of research value).

Criteria for Exclusions

  1. Predominantly manuscript collections.

  2. Collections such as a university archives that might be expected to be found at a particular institution, and local history collections relating to a community which are presumed to be held in that community, are excluded. Regional history collections that encompass more than one community, and those dealing with large municipalities might be included.

  3. Collections composed more of realia than published material (e.g., a collection of printer's tools).

  4. Collections which show no evidence of the supporting bibliographic apparatus necessary to access the collection for research purposes.

  5. Collections comprised of a series of specimens which do not meet the criterion of comprehensiveness or cohesiveness, e.g., specimens of incunabula.

  6. Collections which represent the interests of an individual and which do not have an intrinsic focus or historical dimension.

  7. Specialized research collections, with a broad subject coverage.


The purpose of the Directory of Special Collections of Research Value is to assist researchers, scholars, and librarians in locating the specialized resources necessary to support research. By identifying resources in Canadian libraries, the Directory may also assist interlibrary loan activities by helping to direct loan requests to the institution most likely to hold an item.

Arrangement of Entries

Entries are classified within twenty-four broad subject divisions.

Entry Components

Name of Collection:

  • In most cases, collection names reflect the subject focus of the collection. Some collections are, however, named after a benefactor and the collection names may not indicate their subject content.

Name of Library:

  • The name of the library or department is listed above the university or college name.


  • Subject terms are drawn, for the most part, from the subject terminology used by respondents to best describe the subject strength(s) of each collection. The respondents' terminology was used in most cases, but some control was imposed so that readers could identify collections in the same subject. In some cases, collections include material on a variety of subjects. The subject terms listed reflect the subject strength(s) of the collection and do not exhaust all the subjects that may be included in a collection. Some geographic and chronological subdivisions have been added when appropriate.


  • This section of the entry includes such information as the date the collection was established; the person(s) responsible for developing the collection; major donors, gifts and grants.


  • This is the most detailed section of the entry and includes information on the subject scope of the collection; the geographic and chronological emphases of the material; details on some of the holdings; exclusions from the collection, etc.


  • The language(s) of the material in the collection.


  • Holdings should be treated as approximate.

Bibliographic Access:

  • Details on whether the collection is catalogued and classified are given here. Wherever possible, the classification scheme(s) and subject heading(s) used are given. Special bibliographies, catalogues, indexes, and finding aids are listed here and may include in-house finding aids; subject bibliographies, which have been annotated to reflect the library holdings; union catalogues; and databases. In some cases, access is through "imprint" card files arranged by printer and/or publisher, place of publication, and date.

Physical Access:

  • Hours of operation are given here. Libraries which reported varying hours may include a "consult the library for hours" note. Special restrictions on the use of the collections will be noted here. Interlibrary loan, reprography, and reference services are also indicated.

Publications Describing Collection:

  • This section includes journal articles, newsletters, catalogues, and bibliographies.

As a final note, the cooperation of librarians, archivists, and other library staff across the country must be acknowledged. Without their efforts to describe special collections and complete the questionnaire, the Directory of Special Collections of Research Value in Canadian Libraries could not have been published on the Web.

Proactive Disclosure