Archives And Library Collections On Education Essay

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Archives and library collections for the field of education vary widely in purpose and scope. While different archives and collections may be housed in the same building at an institution, students and researchers use them to achieve a variety of goals. This entry looks at some of these institutions.

Archives And Special Collections

Archives hold records from persons or organizations. Archival documents are unique, for they are typically unpublished collections of papers, records, or manuscripts. For instance, the College of Charleston acts as the archive for the Charleston High School, one of the oldest public secondary schools in the United States, and holds the school’s papers dating from 1843 to 1976. The Boston College Libraries are home to the archives of the Citywide Coordinating Council of Boston, an organization involved in the desegregation of Boston public schools.

Special collections, which may be administered by the same department as the archives at an institution, focus on specific subject areas, formats, time periods, or other factors to create comprehensive collections. Examples include materials on John Dewey and other Progressive educators in the Special Collections Division of the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University; manuscript, textbook collections, and other materials about the education of women in the United States in the early nineteenth century at Mt. Holyoke College Library; and the Marguerite Archer Collection of historical children’s books at San Francisco State University.

Extensive historical textbook collections can be found at the Library of Congress, the Monroe C. Gutman Library at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, the Plimpton Collection of textbooks at Columbia University, the Nila Banton Smith Historical Collection in Reading in the Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library at Hofstra University, and the Nietz Old Textbook Collection at the University of Pittsburgh Library.

Holdings in archives and special collections can be especially enlightening for scholars doing original research. While many materials in archival and special collections may not appear in library catalogs, great efforts at digitization have brought publicity to many of these previously hidden collections. Due to the nature of these collections, they are often not available through interlibrary loan, meaning that one must visit their depositories in person to utilize these materials.

Research Libraries

Research libraries hold collections of books, journals, databases, datasets, and other materials to support a broad range of intellectual discourses and discovery of new knowledge, while good small college libraries focus on supporting the course work at their institutions. The first efforts at building collections specifically to support teacher education began at colleges and universities in the United States in the late 1830s. Today, many colleges and universities collect materials in dedicated education libraries.

Columbia University led the way in this regard with the establishment of the Milbank Memorial Library at Teachers College in 1887. This remains the largest education library in the world. Other examples of this type of library include the Cubberley Library at Stanford University, the Peabody Library at Vanderbilt University, and the University of Illinois Education and Social Science Library.

Other libraries house education resources within their main libraries. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Syracuse University provide examples of very strong education collections contained within the main library. Education librarians, usually professionals with degrees in both library and information science as well as education or a related field, work to build collections in this subject area and provide guidance for students and researchers.

Assessment of collections and other forms or library support is a complicated process, making it difficult to directly compare these resources at different libraries in a general way. However, as schools of education are accredited by regional or national bodies, the quality of library support for their programs is invariably considered as part of that process and can meaningfully impact the perception of a program’s quality.

Most libraries at institutions with teacher preparation programs house juvenile and young adult literature to support courses in these areas. Persistent questions with these collections include the shelving and retrieval problems that arise when these books are housed according to the classification systems at use in college and university libraries. This is especially problematic in the Library of Congress classification system which is used at most university libraries, because most children’s books will be given call numbers beginning with PZ, representing the class juvenile literature. That can make it difficult to locate a particular title within the collection.

Textbook adoption collections are also often found at universities with schools of education. Textbook adoption collections hold textbooks in use or under consideration for use at either the local or state level in K–12 school districts. The intent of these collections is to give students in education an opportunity to examine and create curriculum around textbooks they will likely encounter in schools.

Education curriculum collections are distinct in that they house materials not specifically designed for scholarship or research for students of education, but rather for use in K–12 classrooms. These collections may include multiple copies of readers, workbooks, models, and toys for teaching and learning, as well as DVDs and videos. Depending on the administrative structure and library system, curriculum libraries can be administered by their respective schools of education or through the library system. Innovative programs in this area include attempts to create online curriculum collections.


  1. Ash, L., & Miller, W. G. (Eds.). (1993). Subject collections. New Providence, NJ: Bowker.
  2. Christo, D. H. (Ed.). (1990). National directory of education libraries and collections. Westport, CT: Meckler Corporation.

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