Political Science and Public Law

1. History and Overview of the Collection

The trustees of Columbia University established the collection of history, political science, and public law in 1878. The collection expanded the visibility and reputation of both history and political science at Columbia University. At the direction of John W. Burgess and George Hall Baker, the Library of History and Political Science had amassed 1,500 volumes by the time the Graduate School of Political Science was founded in 1890. Since its founding, the political science and public law collection moved to various locations and aligned itself with different subject collections, often in tandem with the broader debates over the epistemological home of the burgeoning discipline.

Today, this collection contains approximately 156,000 volumes of material in the fields of political science, political history, politics and government, politics and economics, law and legislation, legislative amendments, international law, and political philosophy. We are actively collecting materials in the fields of American politics, comparative politics, international relations, public law, quantitative methods, political theory, and political economic theory. We collect textbooks and dissertations at the request of Columbia-affiliated students and faculty. Collection suggestions from students and faculty are welcomed.

2. Academic Departments and Programs Supported

a. Undergraduate

This collection supports the faculty of the Department of Political Science and the scholarly pursuits of students actively pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in the following areas: political science (both major and minor); economics and political science; political science and statistics. This collection supports the scholarly pursuits of undergraduate students enrolled in Contemporary Civilization courses in the Core Curriculum. This collection also supports the teaching and research initiatives of American studies courses with an emphasis on politics, government, and civic life.

b. Graduate and Professional Schools

This collection supports the scholarly pursuits of graduate students actively pursuing the following graduate programs at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences: Master of Arts in Political Science; Master of Arts in Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences; Master of Philosophy in Political Science; PhD in Political Science. This collection also supports the scholarly pursuits of students actively enrolled in the Critical Issues in International Relations program at the School of Professional Studies. 

c. Institutes, Interdisciplinary Programs, etc.

The collection supports the scholarly pursuits of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy and the Center for American Studies.

d. Course Reserves

Individual faculty members are responsible for selecting materials for course reserves in a timely and efficient manner. The library will make every effort to secure specific materials absent from the collection.

3. Selection Guidelines

a. Print 

Print materials collected include monographs, periodicals, annuals, scholarly series, and reference tools on all aspects of political science and public law. Print materials are increasingly held in the library’s off-site storage facility with the exception of volumes with frequent usage housed in Butler Library and Lehman Social Sciences Library.

b. Digital Collections

This collection strives to offer the full array of available databases relevant to the field. Digital maps, newspapers, and other miscellaneous electronic resources are collected selectively. Electronic formats are increasingly preferred over print. These titles may be acquired outright or as part of subscription services as appropriate, based on availability. Electronic items with reduced barriers to access, such as DRM-free or multi-user licenses, are preferred.  

Columbia University Libraries preserves endangered websites related to political science, political campaigns, elections, and civic life. The Web Resources Collection Program archives selected websites in thematic areas corresponding to existing collection strengths. Related websites that have been preserved through this initiative can be accessed via the portal to this collection in Archive-It, including the State Elections Web Archive.

c. Media

Audiovisual materials are generally excluded from selection, but they may be acquired at the request of student or faculty or as part of broader acquisition across multiple collections.

d. Languages Collected

Materials in the English language are prioritized. 

e. Chronological Focus

We focus on both current topics and historical subjects. 

f. Geographical Focus

Materials from North American and Western Europe are prioritized. 

g. Imprint Dates Collected

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

4. Distinctive and Special Collections

Columbia University Libraries has strong special and distinctive collections in the history of political science, political theory, and correspondence of 18th- and 19th-century American political leaders. The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) holds items of historical interest such the Herbert H. Lehman Papers, the Selected Papers of John Jay, Bernard Shaw’s papers on "The Future of Political Science in America,” the letters of the Academy of Political Science, and records for Political Science Quarterly. The Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History is dedicated to supporting and enhancing the study and teaching of American history at Columbia University. It places special emphasis on political history, the history of New York City and State, human rights history, and comparative and interdisciplinary work.

New acquisitions that enhance the depth of these collections may be considered. Please see also the Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s “What We Collect” page for other details on overall collection strengths and scope.

5. Collection Strategies

a. Consortia and Collaborative Collecting with Other Institutions

The range of materials focusing on political science and public law scholarship is greatly enhanced by Columbia’s participation in the Center for Research Libraries Global Resources Network, Borrow Direct, the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) resource sharing network, and the Manhattan Research Library Initiative (MaRLI). These collaborative collections enable Columbia to expand its access to political science periodicals and monographs through cooperative indexing, distribution, subscription, and purchase agreements.

b. Location Decisions and Selection for ReCAP

Unless specifically acquired for course reserves or by patron request, foreign-language items are housed in the Libraries’ off-site storage facility (ReCAP). Duplication of titles is limited to works identified by faculty as being central to a specific course. In these cases, no more than a few copies are obtained, one of which should be placed by the faculty member on course reserve. De-duplication only takes place when a title has been identified for relocation to ReCAP and a copy already exists on shelf at that facility. The Librarian may inspect a candidate for withdrawal 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 these instances, either a preservation photocopy is made or a digital surrogate created or obtained. Books located in RBML are not deaccessioned.

d. Digitization and Preservation

The Libraries’ Preservation and Digital Conversion Division (PDCD) regularly evaluates materials in the collections for preservation and digitization. Materials digitized by PDCD are accessible through CLIO, the Libraries’ online catalog, and are also made accessible through Google Books or the Internet Archive. A number of significant digital projects have originated from RBML. The Papers of John Jay is an image database and indexing tool comprising some 13,000 documents (more than 30,000 page images), scanned chiefly from photocopies of original documents.

contact information


Journalism & Government Information Librarian
  • Science, Engineering, & Social Sciences Libraries
(212) 854-3916
Journalism Library - 204 Pulitzer Hall


Social Sciences and Social Work Research Support Librarian
  • Science, Engineering, & Social Sciences Libraries
(212) 851-2195
Social Work Library - 213 2nd Floor, School of Social Work


Research Collections & Services Librarian
  • Humanities & History
(212) 854-4356
Butler Library - 309 Butler Library


Head, Research Data Services
  • Science, Engineering, & Social Sciences Libraries
(212) 854-5664
Lehman Social Sciences Library - 311 International Affairs


Assistant Head of Acquisitions & Finance

(212) 854-1404