The early beginnings of psychology at Columbia have their inception in a course first offered in 1867 under the auspices of the Department of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy and English Literature. By 1877, the department was offering a course called The Principles of Philosophy and Psychology.  In 1881, the English department separated from the Department of Philosophy, Ethics, and Psychology and in 1898, James Cattell was appointed to head the Department of Psychology. By the early 1930s, the Department of Psychology had become sufficiently influential that the "Columbia School of Psychology" was considered one of the seven major schools of psychological thought and the writings of Columbia psychologists truly shaped the field. Amongst them was Gardner Murphy whose 1931 textbook marked the beginnings of experimental social psychology and whose students, Theodore Newcombe, Solomon Asch, and Muzafer Sherif, went on to define the field. Murphy was also a founder of the Society of the Psychological Study of Social Issues. Today, much of the scientific research in the department is on the intersections of the social, cognitive, and biological areas.

The psychology collections were integrated into the new Science & Engineering Library when it opened in 2011. Materials with high use, as well as course reserves for the department are housed in the Science & Engineering Library, with other material being held in the University’s off-site storage facility (ReCAP).  

Currently, this collection is designed to serve the research and teaching needs of the psychology department, affiliated departments, centers, and institutes. Broad subject areas covered in the psychology collection include: sensation and perception; social/behavioral psychology; cognition, learning, memory, decision-making; physiological psychology; animal behavior and learning; history of psychology; psychophysics. It supports the needs of undergraduate students, graduate students, post-docs, faculty, and researchers. The collections at the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library at the Columbia University Medical Campus complement the psychology collections. Teachers College and the School of Social Work offer programs in clinical psychology, school counseling, and social-organizational psychology.  

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

a. Undergraduate

The Libraries collects materials in support of the undergraduate degrees in psychology, psychology concentration, and neuroscience and behavior. The Libraries also supports undergraduate students from Barnard College (BC) in their research.

b. Graduate and Professional Schools

The Libraries collects materials in support of the Postbaccalaureate Program in Psychology and PhD programs offered by the Department of Psychology. The focus of Columbia’s graduate program in psychology is on the training of PhD students in research, teaching, and scholarship in the areas of behavioral neuroscience, perception, cognition, and social-personality psychology. The graduate programs at Teachers College offer training in clinical psychology, school counseling, and social-organizational psychology. Columbia’s School of Social Work offers counseling programs as well. 

The psychology collection is designed to support the research interests of the faculty and graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and visiting scholars in psychology and related fields, including the following broad areas within the psychological sciences: physiological neuroscience (sensation, perception, psychophysics); physiological psychology (eating, smoking, attention, arousal, psychopharmacology, hormone regulation); animal behavior and learning; social personality (emotion, motivation, communication); and cognition (memory, reading, language, decision-making). 

c. Institutes, Interdisciplinary Programs, etc.

In addition to the programs listed above, the Libraries’ collection also supports the work of the following organizations:

Counseling and Psychological Services
Center for Decision Sciences
Center for Justice
Center for Neurobiology and Behavior
Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED)
The Earth Institute
Institute for Child & Family Policy
Institute for Neuroscience - Zuckerman Institute for Mind, Brain and Behavior
Institute for Social and Economic Research & Policy
New York State Psychiatric Institute

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 Science & Engineering Library.

a. Print 

Print materials collected include serials and periodical publications, reference sources, technical reports, 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. Subject coverage is intended to support research and educational efforts of relevant topics of interest to psychology faculty and students.

b. Digital Collections

Columbia University Libraries offers a robust variety of electronic resources. The psychology collection strives to offer the full array of available databases relevant to the field. The number of e-book titles acquired has been increasing over the last several years. E-books may be acquired outright or may be part of a subscription services as appropriate, based on availability. Electronic items with reduced barriers to access are preferred, such as DRM-free e-books or multi-user licenses. There are numerous electronic journal subscriptions available as well. 

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. The psychology collection contains a number of streaming licensed video collections as well as a collection of VHS tapes and DVDs of classic psychological experiments. 

d. Languages Collected

We collect English-language materials extensively, Western European languages very selectively, and non-Western languages are collected rarely.

e. Chronological Focus

We collect materials focusing on current research topics and 20th-century topics extensively and 19th-century topics selectively.

f. Geographical Focus

We collect United States imprints extensively and materials published in Great Britain, Western Europe, Canada, and Latin America 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.  

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) has a strong collection in the history of science, mathematics, and psychology. RBML also holds the papers and archives of prominent Columbia University faculty. Information about the psychology department and the people associated with it can also be found in the University Archives collections, including the following records: 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].  The special collections department of the Health Sciences Library specializes in collecting materials in all formats that document the history of the health sciences, both generally and at Columbia.

RBML holds the papers of noteworthy faculty as well, including the papers of Theodore Schroeder and William J. McGill, the Ernst Z. Rothkopf books and manuscripts, the Christine Ladd Franklin and Fabian Franklin papers, the Otto Rank papers (also an active collecting area), the Albert Ellis papers, and several collections that include correspondence in the field of psychoanalysis with noteworthy luminaries such as Sigmund Freud.  

a. Consortia and Collaborative Collecting with Other Institutions

The range of print materials focusing on the fields of psychology 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 RBML, 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

Materials may be treated for preservation issues as needed.

Amanda Bielskas

Amanda Bielskas


  • Science, Engineering, & Social Sciences Libraries

(212) 854-6767
Science & Engineering Library - 403 Northwest Corner Building

Last updated: March 2019