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Collection Development Policy


Special Collections & Archives policies supplement Queen’s University Library Resource Development & Management Policy.  This policy is complemented by the following SCA documents:

Preservation Policy

University Archive Appraisal Policy

Deed of Gift Agreement (form)

Finding aids (pdf files, database)

Collections Information Policy

Governing Body

Queen’s University Belfast


Special Collections & Archives (SCA) is responsible for management, collection development and preservation of the Library’s manuscript, map, and rare print and digital collections, including modern material relating to Ireland and Ulster in particular. The institutional archive of Queen’s College Belfast and Queen’s University Belfast is an important and substantial part of our unique holdings too. The materials (books, pamphlets, manuscripts, correspondence, music, photographs, maps, records, plans and digital materials) held in Special Collections are considered to be of lasting research value and include examples of the earliest printed works (incunabula), and books and pamphlets published between the 16th and early 19th centuries, as such they are intrinsic to local, national and international cultural heritage. In order to preserve the material for future readers these collections are housed in a secure and environmentally controlled setting, a proactive focus on appropriate handling and ethical management along with recourse to external expertise as required are central to the management and preservation of the collections in our care. We are continually improving access to our collections and adding a further layer of long-term protection by digitally preserving relevant materials.


SCA was established as a distinct unit in the University Library in 1929. In 1984 a purpose built restricted access store with air conditioning was built in the Main Library to house Special Collections materials, the University Archive was stored separately. A dedicated reading room and office was established nearby for patrons to consult SCA materials. In 2009 a new library building was opened which included a bespoke SCA Store and reading room in compliance with BS5454:2000 guidelines. The University Archive also moved to the new McClay Library, it is co-located with additional restricted access storage space on a separate floor. The Special Collections service at Queen’s provides access to the Library's rare and early printed bookmap, and manuscript collections, as well as to more modern material relating to Ireland and Ulster in particular. The collections are interdisciplinary in content with particular strengths in Irish Studies, literature, history and politics, including nineteenth and early twentieth century China. The distinctive, rare and unique collections in SCA holdings support the research and teaching mission of Queen’s University and scholarship internationally. As these collections are an important part of our cultural heritage they are accessible to the general public as well as the staff and students of Queen’s and external researchers.

SCA has moved from supporting and developing a traditional print based collection to bridge and embrace the digital environment through collection of relevant born digital materials, creation of digital surrogates, development of new e-resources (JSTOR Ireland Collection) and a range of resource discovery tools to support research, teaching and learning (RASCAL, finding aids, databases) at Queen’s, internationally and outside the academy.    

Roles & Responsibilities

The Head of Special Collections and Archives is responsible for managing the Acquisition budget and co-ordinating the selection and acquisition of materials for SCA holdings. Materials for SCA are acquired with a view to retention in perpetuity. Stock selection (through purchase, donation and bequest) is informed by knowledge of SCA collection strengths and the need to balance the development of research resources with preservation responsibilities and the focus of research at Queen’s University Belfast. Nominations for stock from members of the University are welcomed, suitable items will be purchased in perpetuity within the constraints of the budget and preservation capacity available at Queen’s SCA.

In addition, Special Collections & Archives preserves and makes accessible, to the University and to the public, a range of historical archives relating to the University.

Collecting Criteria

Special Collections & Archives acquires, in perpetuity, records which include

  • Academic texts on Irish-related subjects, as well as non-academic material relating to Northern Ireland and Ulster in particular, with otherwise a bias to the northern part of the island
  • Where funds permit, material printed in the British Isles during the decade 1651-1660 is acquired as part of a national co-operative scheme
  • An attempt to acquire published material relating to any of the Library’s major manuscript or printed book collections
  • Materials relating to the history of the University
  • Subscriptions to a range of journal titles, within budget contraints  

Media of records held

Special Collections & Archives collects records in all paper, analogue and digital media.

Special Collections & Archives does not collect costume or fabric collections. Special Collections & Archives does not have facilities to preserve or conserve textiles in general.

Co-operation with other repositories whose collection policy overlaps

Special Collections & Archives will seek to avoid competition and conflict with other local libraries and archives.

When advising potential depositors SCA will draw attention to the existence of other repositories with similar or overlapping interests, to ensure that material is offered to the most appropriate institution.



SCA staff are responsible for the selection of the majority of print and other materials added to SCA holdings. Nominations from members of the University are welcome and suitable items are purchased in perpetuity in line with SCA collection development policy.


SCA is very grateful for donations as they enhance our ability to facilitate research and extend support for teaching and learning at all levels. All donations must be evaluated in line with the SCA collection development policy in order to maintain a balanced approach to collection development and manage preservation needs into the future. Donations must therefore be accepted selectively. All donations are finalised with an appropriate Deed of Gift Agreement (Appendix I) which outlines the terms and conditions of deposit, transfer of title and any associated copyrights.


SCA accepts bequests from individuals and organisations, however they are evaluated on a case by case basis to ensure that SCA at Queen’s is actually the most appropriate location for deposit and also to ensure the balanced development of SCA holdings. All bequests are finalised with an appropriate Deed of Gift Agreement (Appendix I) which outlines the terms and conditions of deposit, transfer of title and any associated copyrights.


Surrogates of archival materials not easily accessible which contribute to the balanced development of SCA holdings and meet research or teaching needs of Queen’s community may be acquired from time to time. Special Collections & Archives may also create new collections.

Conditions associated with accessions

All acquisitions are assessed for their ability to enhance SCA holdings. A number of related selection criteria are employed when appraising materials for acquisition.


The depositor must own or be authorised to transfer title to material, a deed of gift or deposit agreement must be signed. Materials must be free of legal encumbrances or excessive restrictions and become the outright property and responsibility of SCA with or without associated copyright/s.


Materials must be relevant to SCA collecting remit, this does not mean however that subject areas represented in SCA collections already is sufficient justification for acquisition.

Research & Teaching

Materials are acquired to support balanced development of the collection or to facilitate research and teaching interests now or in the foreseeable future. 


Materials must be in a reasonable physical condition.


Materials which require equipment or skills beyond the department’s resources to preserve or facilitate access will not normally be considered or accepted. SCA will also consider its capacity and expertise to manage materials.


Materials should not duplicate SCA holdings.


SCA will take into account the potential use at Queen’s and the limited or easy availability of very expensive print materials elsewhere.  The uniqueness, rarity and authorship of materials will also factor into the selection process.


Surrogates of archival or rare print materials not easily accessible, which contribute to the balanced development of SCA holdings and meet research or teaching needs of Queen’s community, may be acquired from time to time.


Variant editions may be acquired where there is sufficient new content to merit investment.


Materials acquired with the assistance of internal or external grant aid will be held in compliance with the terms and conditions of said funding bodies.


SCA operates under the following principles:

  1. There should be a strong presumption against the disposal by sale of any materials in its holdings
  2. The authority to transfer materials to a more suitable repository, if it is accepted that the materials would benefit from relocation, rests with SCA
  3. SCA will evaluate and reserve the right to dispose of materials deemed to fall outside the collecting and preservation remit. This entitlement will be made clear in advance of the transfer of title
  4. In the event that Special Collections & Archives ceases to exist and in recognition that materials in SCA holdings have significant research, teaching and cultural value for society, reasonable efforts will be made to offer the materials to appropriate institutions to facilitate access for research, education and the public.


Special Collections & Archives will make finding aids, in the form of lists or catalogues, available in the Reading Room or online through the University web site, RASCAL, the Archives Hub and the National Register of Archives as appropriate.

Finding aids for materials which are closed to the public for data protection or confidentiality will be made available internally to Special Collections & Archives department only.

Special Collections & Archives may also distribute and make its finding aids available to other networks to facilitate resource discovery as the opportunity arises.


The policy statement will be reviewed at intervals of not more than three years.

Date of issue current version: August 2023

Date of review: August 2026