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Collections Information Policy

Collections Information Policy

Special Collections & Archives policies supplement Queen’s University Library Resource Development & Management Policy. This document describes how SCA documents the collections and associated information and how information about the collections is made available.

This document is complemented by the following SCA policies:

Collection Development Policy

Preservation 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 collections, including modern material relating to Ireland and Ulster in particular. The 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 and plans) 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 important contributing factors to our mission.


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 accessible to staff and students at Queen’s as well as external researchers and the general public. The rare and unique collections in SCA holdings support the research and teaching mission of the Queen’s University and scholarship internationally. The collections are interdisciplinary in content with particular strengths in Irish Studies, literature, history and politics, including nineteenth and early twentieth century China.

SCA has moved from supporting and developing a traditional print based collection to bridge and embrace the digital environment through 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). 

SCA aims to maintain awareness of and compliance with current relevant legislation as well as library, special collections and archival best practice.

Obtaining Collections Information

SCA employs qualified librarians and an archivist to manage, catalogue and develop the collections supported by Library Assistants and a Senior Library Assistant. A small team of Special Collections Assistants (postgraduates) provide supplementary support for the service desk, routine stock checking and project exercises.

A reference collection supporting SCA interests is catalogued and available for consultation in the SCA reading room (RS/), a smaller collection supporting SCA holdings (SC/) is also in development to provide context for particular materials in our holdings. In addition, administration and information files to support the collections are also maintained.

Information maintained on collections includes a record of custodial history (where it exists) to clarify provenance and identify rights holders where possible.

Published print materials are ordered, accessioned and catalogued through Bibliographic Services. Additions to SCA published print collections are selected and orders placed by SCA staff in compliance with SCA Collections Development Policy.

Staff cataloguing manuscript collections comply with the SCA house style documentation guidelines

University Archive collection is catalogued using Axiell CALM collections management system, all other manuscript and archive collections are listed and available online from SCA webpages and Archive Grid, selected materials are documented on WorldCat as a result of harvesting from our ContentDM platform. A programme to commence cataloguing of these collections by SCA staff using Axiell CALM will be implemented in 2017.

Digital surrogates of many materials in our holdings are accessible online through a range of platforms, selected items are also linked from QCAT, the Library catalogue (MARC) records. Best endeavours are used to reference publications associated with archives and special collections at Queen’s, where known.

Making Collections Information Available

Special Collections & Archives makes listings, finding aids and catalogues, available onsite and online through SCA webpages, RASCAL, Archives Hub, Archives Portal Europe (APE), Archive Grid and the National Register of Archives as appropriate.

Collection level descriptions are documented on QCAT Library Catalogue, RASCAL, the Archives Hub, Archives Portal Europe (APE), Archives Grid and WorldCat.

Uncatalogued collections

Prior to 2002 no collections information was available online although some brief listings were available for consultation at SCA office. However, a programme to systematically audit and list collections and contents has been in progress since. Cataloguing of UA using Axiell CALM has been in process since 2010. Applications for external grant funding have been prepared to advance cataloguing of particular collections using Axiell CALM (collections management software). There is a significant backlog of collections to be catalogued using archival collections management software.

An update on cataloguing status of all collections will be included in the next review of this document (August 2022).

A number of published print volumes remain uncatalogued. These volumes have been sorted by decade for easy access and to reduce wear and tear due to unnecessary handling. A database (PIL) to document personal and institutional library collections in SCA holdings, some of which are not listed on QCAT, the Library catalogue, has been prepared to make information about rare and early print titles available to the research community at Queen’s and elsewhere. IT support for upgrading access to the database is under review (2017).

SCA will continue to seek funding support (internal and external sources) to address all cataloguing backlogs.

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

Date of issue current version: June 2017

Date of review: June 2022


Associated documents:

Collection audit schedule (spreadsheet)

Finding aids (pdf files, database)

Cataloguing House Style (pdf file)

CALM log (spreadsheet)

Associated resources:


Library Catalogue

University Archive Catalogue

Special Collections & Archives Digital Library


SCA Blog

Collection Level Records: