Mathematics & Statistics


1. History and Overview of the Collection

Mathematical works have been a part of the Libraries’ collections since the early days of King’s College. Through gifts, deposits, and purchases, the collection grew steadily through the 19th century and in the early 1930s the creation of the Rare Book Department (now the Rare Book & Manuscript Library) fostered donations of large collections such as that of David Eugene Smith, former Professor of Mathematics at Teachers College.  Today, the mathematics holdings exceed 37,400 volumes covering all aspects of pure mathematics, including algebra, number theory, geometry, topology, mathematical statistics, and probability.  The Libraries’ collections include print monographs located on campus or in a shared off-site storage facility (ReCAP), as well as millions of articles, dissertations, and reference works available through a variety of electronic platforms.  

This document outlines the Libraries’ general policy on collections, but it is not intended to be a rigid set of rules; collection suggestions from students and faculty are welcome. (See contact information below.)

2. Academic Departments and Programs Supported

a. Undergraduate

The Libraries collects materials in support of the academic needs of students majoring or minoring in mathematics, applied mathematics, and statistics as well as interdepartmental majors such as mathematics and computer science, mathematics and economics, mathematics and statistics, economics and statistics, political science and statistics, and data science. The Libraries also supports undergraduate students from Barnard College in their research.

b. Graduate and Professional Schools

The Libraries collects materials in support of the PhD degree in mathematics offered by the Department of Mathematics and the PhD and MA degrees in statistics offered by the Department of Statistics. At the master’s level, there are several interdisciplinary programs supported by our collections, including the MA in Mathematics with specialization in the mathematics of finance sponsored by the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Statistics, the MS in Actuarial Science offered by the Department of Statistics in conjunction with the School of Professional Studies.

 c. Institutes, Interdisciplinary Programs, etc.

The Libraries’ collections support interdisciplinary programs sponsored by various institutes at the academic and research levels, such as the MS in Data Science, sponsored by the Data Science Institute, and the MA in Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences, offered by the Institute for Social and Economic Research. Our resources also support the work carried out at the research centers of the Data Science Institute such as the Center for Computational Learning Systems, the Center for Computing Systems for Data-Driven Science, the Financial and Business Analytics Center, and the Health Analytics Center, among others.

d. Course Reserves

Selection for course reserves is up to individual faculty members. The Librarian will do whatever is possible to secure specific materials absent from the collection. Course reserves for the department are housed in the Mathematics Library.

3. Selection Guidelines

a. Print

Print materials collected include serials and periodical publications, reference sources, and monographs. In general, print items will not be acquired if the content is available in electronic formats, unless cost or licensing considerations render the electronic version impractical; faculty preferences are also taken into account. Many print materials are held in the Libraries’ off-site storage facility (ReCAP), but a substantial quantity of titles remains in the stacks of the Mathematics Library. Additional items can be found in the stacks of the Science & Engineering Library.

b. Digital Collections

Electronic materials will be preferentially collected whenever possible in a variety of resource types: serials and periodical publications, reference sources, indexes and abstracts, specialist databases, and monographs. These may be acquired outright or may be part of subscription services as appropriate, based on availability. Electronic items with reduced barriers to access are preferred (e.g. DRM-free e-books or multi-user licenses).    

c. Media

Audiovisual materials and electronic tools are collected selectively, but may be present as part of broader electronic collections or acquired upon specific request.  

 d. Languages Collected

The collection is drawn primarily from English sources. Foreign-language materials may be collected if the subject coverage is of particular relevance and not otherwise available in English.

e. Chronological Focus

We collect materials focusing on contemporary and active research topics extensively.

f. Geographical Focus

We collect North American and Western European materials extensively. All other areas are collected selectively.

g. Imprint Dates Collected

The main focus of collecting is current and recent (+/- three years) imprints. When antiquarian acquisitions are offered via gift or purchase, no specific chronological ranges are established in advance; rare or unique materials from any period may be considered.  

4. Distinctive and Special Collections

Mathematician and Teachers College faculty member David Eugene Smith (1860--1944) bequeathed his collection of 13,000 volumes relating to the history of science and mathematics to what is now Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) in 1931. The date range of the Smith collection is the 11th through the early 20th centuries and the geographic range is global, with particular strength in the Islamic world. Some highlights include principal editions of Euclid and Newton (including volumes from Sir Isaac Newton’s personal library), manuscripts by Voltaire and Albert Einstein, as well as mathematical instruments such as sundials and astrolabes. In 1936, Smith’s friend and fellow bibliophile George Arthur Plimpton, presented his comprehensive collection relating to the history of education to Columbia. The Plimpton collection, which included the cuneiform tablet known as “Plimpton 322,” further enhanced the Libraries’ holdings in the history of science and mathematics. As a result of the Smith and Plimpton gifts, RBML’s holdings of canonical works in this subject area, outlined in Bern Dibner’s Heralds of Science (1955) and other bibliographies, are very strong. We are, however, interested in filling what holes may exist, particularly in the history of mathematics and astronomy. In general, we are not seeking to add instruments and other artifacts to our holdings. In addition, the historical papers of several Columbia University mathematicians and educators such as Thomas Scott Fiske, Harold Hotelling, Herbert Robbins, and Samuel Eilenberg are held in RBML. Information about the Department of Mathematics and the people associated with it can also be in the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Records, 1939--2006 [bulk dates: 1956--2003], the Central Files, 1890--1984 [bulk dates: 1890-1983] (Office of the President Records) and in Historical Subject Files, 1870s--2017 [Bulk Dates: 1968--1972].  Please see RBML’s “What We Collect” page for further details on collection strengths and scope. 

5. Collection Strategies

a. Consortia and Collaborative Collecting with Other Institutions

The range of print materials focusing on the fields of Mathematics and Statistics are greatly enhanced by Columbia’s participation in Borrow Direct, OCLC’s SHARES network of international academic libraries, and the Manhattan Research Library Initiative (MaRLI), a partnership with New York University and The New York Public Library. MaRLI also enables Columbia to expand its electronic access to electronic journals and books through cooperative subscription and purchase agreements.

b. Location Decisions and Selection for ReCAP

When acquired, physical items will primarily be sent to off-site storage unless acquired specifically for course reserves or by patron request. Duplication of titles is generally limited to works identified by faculty as being central to a specific course. In these cases, no more than a few copies are obtained, at least one of which should be placed by the faculty member on reserve. Deduplication generally only takes place when a title has been identified for relocation to ReCAP and a copy already exists on shelf at that facility.  Even in this instance, the librarian will inspect the copy that could potentially be withdrawn for any unique features or unusual provenance before assenting to deduplication.

c. Deaccessioning

Titles are deaccessioned only in cases where the physical copy is disintegrating and no longer serviceable in print format. In these instances, the Librarian will evaluate whether to make a preservation photocopy, to create or acquire a digital surrogate, and/or whether to replace the physical copy with another. Resources on obsolete formats are reviewed by librarians on a case-by-case basis; in instances where the original format has artifactual value, it will be retained even after it has been digitized or otherwise reformatted. Distinctive collections held in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the C. V. Starr East Asian Library, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, and the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary are not deaccessioned.

d. Digitization and Preservation

Academic Commons hosts a number of pre-1990 digitized mathematical papers, including works by Joseph Traub, former Edwin Howard Armstrong Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University. Other materials may be treated for preservation issues as needed.

contact information


WILLIAM B. VANTI

Science & Engineering Librarian
  • Science, Engineering, & Social Sciences Libraries
(212) 851-7138
Science & Engineering Library - 404 Northwest Corner Building

Related subject policies and references:

Business

Engineering

History of Science

Gifts-In-Kind Policy

Columbia University Libraries Preservation Policy

Last updated: March 2019