Special Collections Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)


About the Collections
Q. What is Special Collections?
A: Special Collections is a library of non-circulating materials that includes archives, manuscripts, historic photographs, and rare books. Our purpose is to collect, preserve, promote, and foster access to primary source materials in our main areas of strength: Holocaust and genocide studies; Iberian and Latin American studies; Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland; Lion Feuchtwanger and the European exiles of the 20th century in Southern California; natural history; Southern California regional history; and USC history. We also actively collect rare books and other materials that support scholarship and the research needs of USC’s academic community. We are located on the second floor of Doheny Memorial Library.  

Q. What is the oldest object in Special Collections?
A. The oldest object is a fossilized mastodon bone from the La Brea Tar Pits that is at least 10,000 years old.

Q. What is the earliest bound manuscript book?
A. The oldest manuscript is Currus pharaonis et exercitum eius proiecit in mare Adiutor, a leaf from a 13th-century French breviary written in Latin.   

Q. What is our smallest book?
A.At 20 x 14 millimeters, this distinction is held by Schloss’s English Bijou Almanac for 1841.

Q. What is the largest and most expensive printed book?
A. Birds of America (Double Elephant Folio) by John James Audubon. This four volume set consists of 435 plates, which were originally issued separately; the volumes are more than 3 feet in length and weigh sixty pounds. The estimated value of this work (based on others that have sold at auction) is between $8 and $12 million.

Q. Why are books that are neither rare nor old kept in Special Collections?
A. In addition to housing many rare, old, and unique materials, Special Collections also contains thematic special collections whose individual parts may not be 'valuable' or 'rare', but, as an aggregate, constitute a historically significant body of material. Keeping these materials together as a collection enhances their research value. We also purchase newly-published books that fall within the scope of our collecting areas.

If you feel that USC Libraries should own a circulating copy of a title found in Special Collections, you are encouraged to request it via Recommend-a-Book.

Q. Which languages does one find in the collections of rare books and archives?
A. Many languages are represented in Special Collections. These include: Arabic, Armenian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, and Ukrainian.

About Services & Access
Q. Who can use Special Collections?
A. Everyone. Patrons under the age of 18 may be required to work under the supervision of an adult or librarian. You do not need to specify a research topic in order to use Special Collections. Visit our First Time Visitors site for more information.

Q. Do I need to make an appointment to use Special Collections?
A. No. However, you should use our Specialized Research Collections Request System to request materials in advance of your visit (one to four weeks). For more information, please contact us.

Q. When is Special Collections open?
A. Please check our homepage for our most up-to-date hours. Special Collections also follows the university calendar and is closed for major holidays. Please call (213) 740-5900 with any inquiries about our schedule.

Q. Why is Special Collections closed evenings and weekends?
A. Staffing levels and security considerations are the main factors in limiting our hours. We do revisit this issue periodically. If you would like to voice an opinion or make a suggestion on this issue, please email specol@usc.edu.

Q. Can I check out books and other items from Special Collections?
A. Materials in Special Collections do not circulate, which means they cannot be checked out; instead, they must be used in the Special Collections Reading Room under the supervision of staff.

Q. How can I find materials in Special Collections?
A. There are two search interfaces for materials in Special Collections: for rare books, please use the Libraries’ catalog; for archival materials, please use our archives-specific search. You can learn more about our collections on our website and through our research guides.

Q. What kind of identification do I need to use Special Collections materials?
A. Patrons will be asked to show their USC or government-issued ID on their first visit to Special Collections.

Q. Do you offer reproduction services?
A. Yes. For more information, please visit the Licensing & Reproduction Services section of our website.

Q. Is there a classroom available in Special Collections?
A. We have a seminar room which may be used for small classes in which the instructor wishes to use departmental collections. Classes of up to 25 students can be accommodated in the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library. For availability and policies, please visit our website or e-mail specol@usc.edu.

Q. How can I find information about my old books?
A. One of the best sources of information for basic questions about rare books and book values is the brochure Your Old Books by the Peter Van Wingen. A good source for determining the value of a book is the website viaLibri.

About Feuchtwanger
Q. What is the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library?
A. The Feuchtwanger Memorial Library consists of the 32,000 volume personal library and extensive archives of the German-Jewish novelist exile, Lion Feuchtwanger, and his wife, Marta; also included are manuscript collections for fellow exiles Hanns Eisler, Heinrich Mann and Ludwig Marcuse.

Q. Who was Lion Feuchtwanger?
A. Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958) fled Europe during World War II and lived in Los Angeles from 1941 until his death in 1958. He began his literary career as a theater critic and turned his talent to writing plays in the 1910s and 1920s. He first became internationally known for his historical novel Jud Süss, which was published in 1925.