Skip to Main Content

Rare Books

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a book rare?

There are lots of things that can make a book rare, such as age, cultural or historic value, monetary value, provenance (the personal history of the book), or scarcity. Some books may be recently published, but may be scarce or fragile and are therefore kept in the rare book collection.

Who is allowed to use the Rare Book Collections? 

Everyone! We encourage everyone, whether you are part of the Washington University community or not, to make use of our amazing collections of rare books. 

Do I need to make an appointment?

Appointments are not necessary, please feel free to stop in during our open hours: M-F 9-5. While they aren't required, appointments can be helpful if you need help finding particular resources or if you want to have the books waiting for you in the reading room when you arrive. Email if you would like to make an appointment.

What can I bring with me into the reading room?

You are welcome to bring a laptop, notebook, and pencils into the room. We will ask that you store all bags, pens, food and drinks, and coats in a storage are we provide.

Why do you have so many rules?

We want the materials to be used, but we also need to make sure they are protected. These materials are often fragile, hard (or impossible) to replace, and need to be used carefully. Our rules help to ensure nothing accidentally happens to damage the materials. See a full list of our reading room policies here.

Will I need to wear white gloves?

White gloves used to be worn by researchers when they were handling rare books, but that is no longer the case. Studies have shown that gloves can cause more problems than they solve. You are more likely to accidentally drop the book or tear a page when wearing gloves. We ask that you wash your hands before using the collections, as clean hands are the best way to handle rare books.

Can I donate my books to the Rare Book Collection?

We gratefully accept gifts of rare books and collections that fall within the scope of the department’s various areas of concentration. If you would like to discuss a possible donation, please contact the Curator of Rare Books.

I have an old book. Can you tell me what it's worth?

We do not provide appraisals of materials. However, you can search for booksellers who may be able to provide a value for your book(s) through the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America.