Special Collections

Please note: For the duration of the library closure, users needing to access rare and special collections should first email starr-spec@librariy.columbia.edu for assistance. Rare and Special books, as well as fully processed archives will be served via the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) in Butler Library by advance appointment only. Users who can request offsite Starr rare and special collections material directly from catalog records can book their own appointments at RBML and link their requests as explained below. Non-print special collections and unprocessed archives will not be accessible during this time.

About our collection

Columbia University's C.V. Starr East Asian Library owns many rare and unique materials, including rare books, and archives in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, and Western languages, as well as non-print collections. These non-circulating materials are available for use, by appointment, in our Special Collections Reading Room by both CU students, faculty, and staff, as well as non-affiliates. For more detailed information about the various collections see the following pages:

Chinese Rare Books & Special Collections

Japanese Rare Books & Special Collections

Korean Rare Books & Special Collections

Tibetan Rare Books & Special Collections


appointment procedure

  • First-time users will need to first register a SPECIAL COLLECTIONS RESEARCH ACCOUNT. If you already have an account, you can access it through the same link.
  • Since substantial portions of our Special Collections are stored offsite, we ask that you make your appointment, and place your requests at least one (1) week ahead of your visit to ensure that the required material will be available.
  • Requests for rare and special books and non-print materials should be placed through the request button in CLIO, the online catalog. You will find the request button in the grey sidebar in individual bibliographic records.
  • Requests for archival material should be placed through the Finding Aid of individual archives, which can be found either through the Archival Collections Portal or by title in CLIO. Please note that, at this time, not all finding aids have an active request function yet. In those cases, please use the Manual Request link at the bottom of the request options under the New Request tab in your Special Collections Research Account.
  • Upon submitting your request a log-in link will appear. Once logged-in you will see a Request Details form. Scroll down and, toward the bottom Choose A Site, then click on New Appointment. A calendar with available hours will appear where you can select date and time for your appointment. Once you have created an appointment you can then Submit Request to complete the procedure. If you already have an appointment, but wish to add an item to that appointment, you will see a drop-down menu where you can select the appointment for which you wish to request the item.
  • Please note that you must choose the owning library in the Choose A Site drop-down. Special Collections material are not moved between libraries.
  • If, for any reason, you have trouble requesting material, please contact us at starr-spec@library.columbia.edu. We will be happy to mediate.
  • Our storage space is limited, so we ask that you do not request more material than you anticipate being able to use during your visit.


on-site use

Special Collections material can be used by appointment only, under supervision of a librarian, and only in the Special Collections Reading Room during scheduled hours (as reflected on the appointment calendar). Users are asked to follow the below instructions designed to optimize research while protecting and preserving the Special Collections materials.

  • Wash your hands before coming to the Special Collections Reading Room, and handle the materials with extreme care; many are fragile. 
  • Only pencils and electronic devices (preferred) may be used for note-taking. Electrical outlets and wireless access are available.
  • Please leave all other personal belongings with the librarian on duty.
  • Pens and indelible markers are NOT permitted. Food and drink are NOT permitted. Cell phone conversations are NOT permitted.


Photography in the Reading Room

Non-flash photography with a camera, phone, or tablet is allowed, for personal research purposes only, within the limits of U.S. copyright law and provided it will not damage collection materials.

  • Tripods, flash, and additional lighting is not permitted.

  • Personal copiers and scanners are not permitted.



The Preservation & Digital Conversion Division of Columbia University Libraries (CUL) provides high-resolution digital reproductions and original or archival time-based media conversion services for purposes of supporting teaching, research, and other scholarship. Small quantities (no more than 50 pages per user, per semester) of low-resolution digital reproductions are also provided to our users to support research and scholarship, as staff availability allows, as long as the staff determines that copying will not harm the original document(s) or violate copyright law. Contact us at starr-spec@library.columbia.edu for more information.

For additional information on copyright and fair use issues, please visit the web site of the CUL Copyright Advisory Office. For more information on publication policies for the Libraries in general, please see: Columbia University Libraries Publication and Digital Reproduction Policy and Procedures


Loans for Exhibitions

Institutions interested in borrowing materials from our Special Collections for exhibitions should contact our Library at least one year in advance of the opening of the exhibit for domestic exhibitions and significantly longer for exhibitions in countries other than the United States. Preliminary information should include full description of item(s) requested, opening and closing dates of the exhibit, and an indication of how material would be displayed. Exact display information and a formal exhibitions facilities report for the institution will be required before a decision can be made.

Please see the Columbia University Libraries Guidelines for Lending Materials for Exhibition for a detailed description of how to place your loan rquest.