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Rare Books & Special Collections

A guide to how to use special collections, related research resources, and subject inde

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Services Coordinator

Kim Bell's picture
Kim Bell
613-533-6000 x75568

Located in the historic Douglas Library, W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections operates as a research and teaching resource for students, faculty, and the larger community. We preserve and provide access to a variety of materials including rare books, maps, posters, and our impressive Edith and Lorne Pierce Canadiana collection. Our collections cover all subjects including: astronomy, natural history, classics, modern languages, literature, politics and history.

What does it mean to be a special collection?

Special collections are collections of books and manuscripts that are preserved for future readers. They are often old, rare, or unique works that have historical or cultural value, but we also collect new or limited print material. Just because a book is in special collections does not mean you can't access it. In fact just the opposite, we want to provide continued access to these objects for generations of researchers.

Who can use the collections?

Our collections are open to everyone! You do not need to schedule an appointment to view our materials. We encourage you to explore our collections and incorporate primary resources into your research.

Starting your research

Our collections can be explored through the Queen's University Library catalogue (QCAT) or Summon, in house finding aids, and our digital collections. If you would like help finding materials related to a certain subject or topic, do not hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to assist you.

Searching with QCAT

When searching for special collections items in QCAT, it is helpful to sort your results by location. Simply click "Jordan Special Collections" in the right hand column. You can sort your results by "Publication Date" which will bring the oldest materials to the top.

If you would like to do a more specific search we recommend using the Advanced Search. With the Advanced Search you can limit your date range, select the location, and search multiple fields at once.

Searching with Summon

When searching with Summon you receive a lot of search results. Narrow them by selecting "W.D. Jordan Library-Special Collections" as your library location in the left hand column. Using Advanced Search you can set your date range and then select library location once you have received your search results. Summon is excellent for exploring, but if you know the book you are looking for we recommend using QCAT.

Finding Aids

A finding aid is an organized list of materials in a collection. We have number of finding aids online, but some paper copies are only available at W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections. The finding aids are especially useful for exploring our posters, broadsides, and maps collections.

Digital Collections

We are in the process of digitizing our collections. The Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection and Robertson Davies Collection are hosted through Omeka and continue to grow. Images of 18th Century British Political Pamphlets, Canadian Pamphlets, stereoscopic view cards, The Young Ladies’ Journal, and World War I Victory Bonds posters are available online through QSpace


After you have searched the catalogue and found what item you would like to read, come to our reading room on the second floor of Douglas Library and a staff member will help you retrieve your book. Expect the following:

Fill out a Special Collections Retrieval Slip

You can request a book online or fill out a retrieval slip when you arrive at Special Collections. To fill out the slip you will need to know the author, title, and most importantly the call number.

The retrieval slip is your ticket to receiving an item. We use them to keep track of our circulation and where the book came off the shelf.

Prepare to Enter the Reading Room (or our Classroom)

Before you enter the reading room (or our classroom), you will be asked to store any bags or coats in one of our lockers. You may bring pencil, paper, laptop, phones, cameras, or reference books into the reading room.

In order to ensure the preservation of our materials pens, food, and drinks are not allowed in the reading room. You may keep beverages at your locker.

Using the Materials

Because we want to preserve our books and guarantee future access to our materials, we handle books differently in Special Collections. We ask that you come in with clean hands. Clean bare hands are ideal for handling rare books. You will only wear gloves if handling photographs, metal objects, or any other shiny material.

Your retrieved item will be placed on a book cradle while you work with it. Please leave the item in the cradle. Should you want to leave the book open to one spot, book weights are provided. We encourage you to take photos, if you need assistance please do not hesitate to ask. We have an iPad you can use to scan full pages as well.

Researching and using special collections material is not always easy and can sometimes be intimidating. We're here to assist you with your research. Please ask us for help at any time!  Send us an email or call us at 613-533-2839.

We are happy to help with:

  • Matching collections to research topics
  • Navigating the library catalogue
  • Using finding aids
  • Filling out call slips
  • Answering reference questions online, in person, and in our reading room

We look forward to your visit and your future research projects!

Your Rare Books and Special Collections Staff


Kim Bell, Services Coordinator



Debbie Jardine, Services Assistant



Jacques Talbot, Services Assistant

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