The origins of the special collections in Rennes are shared by two universities. Today, each of the libraries of the Université Rennes 1 (Law-Economics-Business; Medicine; Science) and Université Rennes 2 (Humanities-Social Sciences) holds a part of this collection. The division by discipline was implemented in the second half of the 20th century and was determined by the history of the universities and their libraries.
The special collections of the Université Rennes 2 contain the riches of several collections of particular interest to the disciplines represented at the university. Five strengths of the collection are especially worth noting for their intellectual or formal coherence:
- A large number of 16th century works, in large and mid-sized formats. Such a collection is rare in French universities of a comparable size and situation. These books have been the object of recent exhibitions: Modernes livres anciens in 2016, and La primavera del libro. Les italiens et les livres imprimés à la Renaissance in 2017.
- Works related to Brittany and Celtic countries. This collection has been targeted for digitisation, and the resulting files are freely available online.
- Works of British literature, particularly Elizabethan theatre (in the Albert Feuillerat collection). The majority of these titles have been digitised by British libraries, but some of these editions are unique in France.
- Works of religious and political controversy, particularly in relation to the Jansenist Quarrel.
- Atlases, and books of geography and travel (real and imaginary), which were the object of an exhibition in 2012. This type of document is particularly valued and sought after.
The oldest works in the special collections previously belonged to seminaries, notably that of Angers, whose historical collection is shared with the libraries of Rennes 1. These works were confiscated by the state in 1905 and were given to what was then the university library of Rennes. The collections grew over the course of the 20th century, for example, through donations from professors and researchers, such as Albert Feuillerat, Joseph Loth, and François Duine. Highlights from these collections and the fonds, in general, were celebrated through the exhibition Rareté et livres rares du XVIe au XXIe siècle. This exhibit was accompanied by an international conference held at the university library on 5-6 April 2018.
The special collections of Rennes 2 continue to grow and are regularly augmented by works related to its established strengths as well as forthcoming exhibitions. In 2015, we acquired a copy of Andrea Alciato’s famous Emblems, followed in 2016 by an edition of Gian Giorgio Trissino’s La Sophonisbe, the first classical tragedy in Italian. In 2018, we bought an album from the architectural firm Louis Arretche from the 1960s containing one of the projects for the university’s current Villejean campus, and a first edition of Dante’s Inferno illustrated by Gustave Doré (some of the engravings can be seen here).