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Brandeis University Special Collections

This is a guide to the Special Collections held at Brandeis, including manuscripts and rare books.

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Chloe Gerson
Chloe Gerson, Reference and Instruction Archivist
Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections, Goldfarb Library
Brandeis University
415 South St.
Waltham, MA 02453

Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Overview

The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections department, located on level 2 of Goldfarb, houses the gems of the Brandeis library. Special Collections consists of both rare books and original manuscripts. The rare book collection includes incunabula, books published in the 16th-18th centuries on such subjects as history, English and American literature, philosophy, Judaica, first and limited editions, and fine press publications. Book collections of note include the Baldwin Shakespeare collection and the McKew-Parr Collection on Magellan and the Age of Discovery. Special Collections also holds literary manuscripts of European and American authors such as John Cheever and Joseph Heller, as well as music collections and photographic collections. In addition, it includes collections of materials on the Spanish Civil War, left- and right-wing movements in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, twentieth-century anti-alien and anti-radical movements in the United States, and Zionism. The department also includes the papers of prominent political figures such as Louis D. Brandeis, Benjamin Disraeli, and Daniel Webster

You can search our manuscript collections via the database of electronic finding aids. You can search for rare books in OneSearch, where you can limit by date and location in the library. Also see Special Collections Spotlight, which provides a close online look at rare and fascinating individual items from the special collections of Brandeis Libraries, including unique manuscripts, rare books, and unusual ephemera. Many of the detailed descriptions are written by Brandeis graduate students and faculty.

We welcome all members of the Brandeis community, and researchers from around the globe.  We encourage people to use our collections not only for research, but also for creative projects and personal interest!  To see our hours and learn how to visit us, please see our website for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between "Special Collections" and "University Archives"?

The Special Collections Department collects and holds rare books (including incunabula, Judaica, first editions, and much more), manuscripts (including material on the Spanish Civil War, left- and right-wing movements in the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, Zionism, etc.), and other primary-source materials that support research and scholarship. Examples include the Shakespeare first folio, Joseph Heller’s draft manuscript of Catch-22, the Honoré Daumier lithograph collection, and the personal papers of Louis D. Brandeis. The University Archives collects and holds records related to Brandeis University, from its founding to today. These include departmental records, university and student publications, theses and dissertations, photographs, memorabilia, architectural plans, and more, in all formats. Examples include the Abram L. Sachar papers (the first president of Brandeis), the University Photography collection, the Division of Student Life records, and the University Memorabilia collection. The Archives & Special Collections Department is responsible for collecting, preserving, and making available these unique, rare, and historically valuable materials for research and educational purposes.

Where is the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections department located?

Archives & Special Collections is located on level 2 of the Brandeis University Goldfarb Library, directly below the Information and Borrowing desk. Walk through the glass display area to enter our Reading Room.

What hours is the Reading Room open?

The department is open Monday-Friday, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and closed on major holidays.

Do I need an appointment to use Special Collections?

Absolutely not!  We welcome walk-ins, but if our Reading Room is at capacity or we are teaching an instruction session, we may not be able to accommodate you right away.  Keep in mind, also, that not all of our collections and books are kept onsite and may need to be ordered and delivered from our storage facility.

If I think you have a certain collection, or materials on a particular person or event, how do I find out?

You may visit our website and learn more about searching our collections, or search our database of online finding aids. Our electronic finding aids are indexed by Google; a Google search for “Gardner Jackson,” for example (using quotation marks), will retrieve a link to the online finding aid to the Gardner Jackson collection at Brandeis. Feel free to contact us by email or phone, or just stop by to find out if we have useful materials you may not have considered, or even materials for which we have yet to create online finding aids.  You can also try ArchiveGrid, which will search for archival and manuscript holdings not only at Brandeis but at libraries, museums, and archives around the world.

What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is an inventory of a specific collection of materials. It describes the different parts of the collection and their relationships to one another, as well as providing background information. Finding aids also provide a detailed list of a collection’s contents, usually in the form of a folder list. The finding aid enables you to see exactly what items we have and to request them by box number and folder title when you make an appointment. Some of our finding aids are online; others are in print only and can be found in the Reading Room.  More about our online finding aids can be found here on our website and our Guide to Finding Aids, and our database of online finding aids can be searched here.

Can I make copies? What do you charge for copying?

We make copies for you as requested, for a fee.  Please see our Fees page for more details.  Researchers are encouraged to bring a camera, as there is no fee for taking photographs.  You must agree to comply with copyright law. Please note that not all collections are allowed to be photographed or copied.

What are those strict rules I have heard about?

Our materials are rare and unique, which is why they are held in closed stacks as opposed to open stacks like the rest of the library.  As a way to help protect our items (which are often irreplaceable and the only ones in existence), we adhere to guidelines that are different from those in the main library.

We do not allow food, candy, drinks, or gum in the department. All belongings that you are not using for study must be stored in our coat closet. Pencils and paper, laptop computers, tablets, or cell phones are to be used for all note taking (no pens are allowed in the reading room). Cameras are allowed with permission. All materials must remain in the reading room. Materials need to be handled carefully; if you notice that an item is fragile, please be extra careful. Although it may not be readily apparent, all materials are maintained in a particular order and should be kept that way; folders within boxes and items within folders must not be rearranged in any way.

Can I take my class to Archives & Special Collections for an instruction session using archival materials?

Absolutely!  We are always delighted to have students in for instruction sessions.  We would be happy to help you put together a class using Archives & Special Collections materials. We are also available to come to your class to give workshops on finding and using primary sources, Brandeis history, and many other topics related to Archives & Special Collections.  For more information, please see our Instruction Guide.

Who was Robert D. Farber?

Robert D. Farber was a Brandeis alumnus (he received his bachelor’s degree in studio arts in 1970) who became a successful painter, with work shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and many others. Two of Farber's paintings are on permanent exhibit in the department.

Locating Materials

Use the following resources to locate special collections at Brandeis and beyond. If you are not finding what you need or have a question about our holdings, please contact us at

University Archives

Looking for manuscript collections related to Brandeis University, such as university and student publications, faculty papers, yearbooks, photographs, theses and dissertations, alumni publications and papers, architectural plans, memorabilia, et cetera? Go to the Brandeis University Archives guide for help.