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Rare Books and Special Collections Donations

What exactly are rare books and special collections? 
Rare books and special collections are often defined as materials that, because of subject coverage, rarity, source, condition, or form, are best handled separately from the General Collection. Every library collects in different subject areas. In our case, we have a strong focus on American popular culture. This includes historical children’s books (Horatio Alger, Louisa May Alcott, Frank Merriwell, Oliver Optic, Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, Elsie Dinsmore, etc.), science fiction and fantasy literature and the literary papers of science fiction and fantasy writers, comic books, dime novels (e.g. Nick Carter, Deadwood Dick, etc.), and a teaching collection of rare books. We also have collecting strengths in private press books, African Americana/Black Studies, drama, opera in Chicago, GLBT and Women’s Studies, 18th century British literature, Southeast Asia materials, old maps, and more.

What is the benefit of donating my materials to Rare Books and Special Collections? 

There are lots of reasons to donate!

  • Your books, literary papers, or archives are carefully preserved and organized by professionals
  • RBSC provides a secure, temperature and humidity controlled facility
  • Materials are organized and made accessible to researchers from all over the world
  • You can free up space on your own shelves!

If you would like to make a gift to RBSC, there are lots of ways to do that.

  • Our Collection Development Policy explains what kinds of books and manuscripts we are actively seeking.
  • A sample of our Deed of Gift document lays out the agreement when you donate.
  • Gifting digital materials? This guide may help.
  • To make a monetary donation, please contact the Curator for more details.

General Questions

Do you want to buy old books or manuscripts from me?

  • We generally make purchases through professional book dealers who have vendor relationships with NIU—it’s easiest with our existing state regulations and accountancy guidelines.
  • We may be interested in larger collections for purchase or donation, depending upon the materials.
  • For a single volume or a small group of materials, we encourage donations to the library.

How do I donate books to the collection?
Please contact Sarah Cain, the Curator, to discuss potential gifts. Books that are not old or particularly rare can be donated to the library through the Gifts Coordinator, Ken Kamm. Another way to donate books to the Library is through our Friends of the Library Book Sale. In each of these cases, your donation may be tax-deductible. Please consult your tax advisor.

Can you appraise my books or manuscripts for tax purposes?
Unfortunately, IRS regulations forbid libraries, librarians, and curators from appraising materials. However, antiquarian booksellers do it for a living. The easiest way to find an antiquarian bookseller is to visit the website of their main professional organization, the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA). You can use sites like abebooks.com to find a current market price for a book.

The tax break for donating archival/literary materials as their creator is negligible. The IRS rules were set up thinking in terms of keeping famous painters from donating quick sketches to get big tax breaks (think Picasso using a sketch on a napkin to pay his café bill, and you’ll be on track). So creators can’t deduct the market value of your materials, just the cost of their physical production (toner, paper, etc.). Alternately, you can arrange to bequeath your materials to the archive of your choice, and your estate may benefit from the more substantive, market-value-based deduction.

Will you pay for shipping?
For science fiction and fantasy literary materials, we have some dedicated limited funds available for shipping costs. For other archival collections, please ask; it depends upon the library’s budget.

What does it cost to archive my materials?
NIU doesn’t require any financial donation along with the donation of your books or literary archives. That said, like any non-profit organization, funds to help support RBSC’s acquisition, processing, and long-term maintenance of books and literary papers are always welcome. Contact our Curator, Sarah Cain, for more information.

To make an online donation to an existing endowment fund, go to the NIU Foundation website, and enter the fund name in the notes field (by topic):

  • Children's Series Literature: The Gordon W. & Jeanne M. Huber Endowment
  • Horatio Alger / American Popular Literature: The Horatio Alger Society Endowment
  • Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature & Fandom: The Peggy Rae Sapienza Fund
  • 18th Century Literature: The Martin Kallich Endowment
  • Education, Travel, and Leisure: The Bernadine Hanby Endowment
  • General RBSC materials: The Friends of the NIU Libraries Endowment
  • British Drama: The S. Orville and Adra Baker Library Endowment

What happens to my materials when they get to RBSC? 
First, we write you a thank you letter, broadly listing what you have given us, accompanied by our deed of gift document, listing what you’ve given NIU in greater detail, which we ask you to sign and return to RBSC. Once we get it back, the Curator signs it, and so does the Dean of libraries. RBSC mails you a copy of the fully signed deed, keeping the original in our files. If you are in need of documentation for tax puposes please contact the Curator prior to your donation. Your gift (non-money gifts are called "gifts in kind") is reported to the NIU Foundation. They generate the letter that you will need at tax time.

Second, we shelve the materials in a secure, environmentally controlled area of the library. Your donation is also placed in the processing queue and will become available to researchers once processing has been completed.

What if I want them back? 
We generally encourage you not to donate materials until you are done with them (i.e. no longer working on them routinely or required to retain them for, say, tax purposes). Once we accept materials into the collections, they become the physical property of the University Libraries and the State of Illinois (your copyrights remain with you for literary papers). We are happy to provide copies or scans of any archival materials that you may find you need to reference.

What happens if RBSC decides they don't need these things after all?
We try very hard to say “yes, this” and “no, thank you, not this” before accepting materials. We can suggest alternative places for donations for some materials. RSBC retains the right to dispose of unwanted or unsolicited gift materials in the manner of its choosing in accordance with the deed of gift. However, should we find that we accepted something in haste, our first course of action is to offer it back to the original donor. 

About Archives, Manuscripts, and Literary Papers

What kind of stuff do you want?
In short, for literary papers, documentation of the writer’s process. For organizational archives, materials that help explain how the organization in question functions (official publications, meeting minutes, correspondence, etc.).

What does it mean to “process” materials?
Literary papers don’t just magically appear on the shelves, fully processed and accessible. It takes the work of professional librarians, archivists, library staff, and systems technicians to maintain, protect, and organize all of those paper and electronic materials you just gave us so that they will remain accessible long after we’re all gone.

We transfer paper-based materials into acid-free boxes and folders to help them survive longer, remove staples, paperclips, etc. and then create a publicly accessible, relatively detailed list of what lives in which box. We may reorganize the materials slightly so that like things live together. Depending upon how large a collection is, and how busy our small staff is, this process can take several years.

NIU’s library is currently beta testing our institutional repository and digital preservation setup. Digital objects are currently backed up on two external hard drives and the central campus servers. Once the preservation system is fully configured, those files will be transferred into the system, and the appropriate metadata (descriptive information to help with searching) added. Access to these objects is worked out with the donors to ensure compliance with copyright law and the donor’s wishes, while still encouraging research use where possible.

Will everyone be able to look at them? 
We are part of a public university, so any materials opened to researchers are also available to the general public. When a patron wants to use materials, they can simply look at the public listing, and request access to the boxes relevant to their needs. When they have completed their research, the library gets the boxes back, and they go back on the shelves until they are needed again. We currently use read-only external hard drives on site in the department for electronic materials.

What if I don't want anyone to read it until after my death? What if I don't want specific people to read it, ever? 
We have the ability to restrict portions of the collection from research use, but our practice is to use it sparingly so that materials do not get forgotten or lost. RBSC staff must have and retain limited access to restricted materials to ensure their safety and longevity. We advocate designating a specific time period (e.g. 25 years) rather than a trigger event (e.g. death of the author; age of majority of author’s heirs; death of designated person we’d be required to track) for releasing the restriction, as that is easier for us administratively. If there are materials that you do not wish to be available until after your death, do not give them yet: designate the final gifting of those materials as part of your estate.

Should I organize my papers before I give them to you? 
So long as your storage process doesn’t include throwing your papers in the air yelling “whee!” and reassembling them in random order, you are probably okay. Our general advice is to use an organizational system that matches your creative process, generally keeping drafts of the same thing together. Dates are helpful. Clarifying names of, say, critique partners is, too. We do our best to maintain your organizational systems, but we may reorganize the materials slightly so that like things live together.

Do I need to bring everything to you? 
We have limited funds for shipping. The Curator can occasionally pick up materials at SF/F conventions when in attendance. For larger collections, the Curator can often arrange showing up with a van and some helpers, depending upon location.

Can I see the place? 
Absolutely. email us to set up an appointment when we are open. We are always happy to give you the grand tour!

Contact Us

Fred Barnhart, Dean

Phone: (815) 753-1094
Email: lib-admin@niu.edu

Founders Memorial Library
Northern Illinois University
217 Normal Rd
DeKalb, IL 60115-2828

Business Hours