Vassar College is a private, liberal arts college in Poughkeepsie, New York. The school was founded in 1861 by Matthew Vassar as the first degree-granting institution of higher learning for women in the United States. Long one of the “Seven Sisters,” a group of elite colleges for women, Vassar became co-educational in 1969. From its earliest days and continuing into the present, the college has promoted learning by “going to the source,” i.e. by using primary sources and a direct approach in the quest for truth.
The Vassar College Libraries play an important role in the educational mission of the college. They include the Main Library, an Art Library, a Music Library, a Digital Library, and the Archives & Special Collections Library. Together they form one of the largest undergraduate library collections in the United States. There are more than one million printed volumes and 7,500 periodical and newspaper titles, in addition to a wide selection of electronic databases and digital resources.
Because of Vassar’s pedagogical orientation and interest in primary sources, unique and rare materials have long been collected in the Libraries. A Special Collections Department was organized in 1982 (as part of the Main Library), and in 2007 it became the Archives & Special Collections Library. Three groupings of materials are maintained here: the college archives; manuscripts; and rare books. The college archives document the history of Vassar and its unique role in American history. The manuscripts focus on the personal papers of Vassar faculty and alumni/ae, and others connected with the college; they include collections on Elizabeth Bishop, Mary McCarthy, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ruth Benedict, John Burroughs, Albert Einstein, and Mark Twain.
The rare book holdings consist of approximately 75,000 items. Though not as extensive as some university libraries, there are nevertheless many significant and rare titles. Particular strengths exist in women’s history, first editions of English and American literary and historical works, bibles, the book arts and fine printing, natural history, gardening and herbals, children’s books, cookery and household books, children’s books, travel literature, and rare maps and atlases. There are also important examples of early printing, including multiple leaves of the Gutenberg Bible; incunabula printed in Germany, Italy and France; works of the humanists; Reformation tracts and texts; literary and political titles; and 17th-century folios of Shakespeare. Early printed works account for some of the rarest items in the library.
The Archives & Special Collections Library strives to be a key partner to students, faculty, administrators, alumnae/i, and outside researchers. It has an active program of teaching, exhibitions, and programming geared toward its constituencies. Books are cataloged and searchable through the Library’s online catalogue, and Worldcat.