Special Collections Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)



About the Collections
Q. What are Special Collections?
A. Special Collections consist of rare books and manuscripts of the USC Libraries, the Boeckmann Center for Iberian & Latin American Studies, and the University's Archives.

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

Q. What is the earliest bound manuscript book?
A. The earliest bound manuscript is a Breviarum from 1306.

Q. What is our oldest printed book?
A. The oldest printed book at USC is a chapter from a Northern Song edition of Shi Ji ("Records of the Historian). The Northern Song dynasty lasted from 960-1126 A.D., and this book likely dates from the latter part of this period, the late 11th or very early 12th century.

Q. What is the oldest newspaper in the collection?
A. The Columbian Centinel of Boston Massachusetts. USC has the November 5, 1808 issue.

Q. What is our earliest printed book in America?
A. Our earliest book printed in the future United States is The Treatise on Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards and published in New York by the American Tract Society in 1746. Our earliest book printed in the Americas outside the United States is Relación del espantable terremoto by Juan Rodriguez and published in Mexico by J. Cromberger in 1541.

Q. What is our smallest book?
A.At 20 millimeters (less than an inch) in height, this distinction is held by two Marvel mini-books: The Amazing Spiderman and The mighty Thor: a tale of the Vikings.

Q. What is the largest and most expensive printed set?
A. Birds of America, John James Audubon's Double Elephant Folio. The set consists of 435 plates which were issued separately, and weighs sixty pounds. A copy of this set was sold in New York in 2000 for $8,800,000.

Q. Are there other languages besides English, German and Latin among Rare Books & Manuscripts at USC?
Q. In addition to English German and Latin, many more languages are represented in Special Collections including: Arabic, Armenian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Farsi, Finnish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, and Ukrainian.

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 EislerHeinrich Mann and Ludwig Marcuse. It currently serves as the entrance into Special Collections, and is the place to go in the Doheny Memorial Library to use rare books and archival materials.

Q. Who is 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, however, for his historical novel Jud Süss published in 1925.

Q. Did Lion Feuchtwanger donate all of the materials in Special Collections?
A. Though Lion Feuchtwanger's gift to USC is prominently displayed in Special Collections, there are many more collections represented in its 130,000 volumes of rare and valuable books and serials, and over 300 archives. Among them are the American Literature collection, Hancock Natural History CollectionRegional History Collection, and Hoose philosophy collection.

About Rare Books at USC
Q. I've seen some books in Special Collections that were just published this year. They're brand new. Why are they in Special Collections?
A. Special Collections means much more than just “antique materials.” Yes, we do have many old and rare materials, some dating from as early as 1306. In order to improve the content and purpose of specific collections, we continue to purchase newly published books. These additions give you, the researcher, the broadest overview possible.

Q. Why are things that are neither rare nor old housed in Special Collections where they cannot circulate?
A. In addition to housing a high proportion of rare and unique materials, Special Collections also contains many 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 special collection enhances their research value.

For example, since many of the contemporary texts acquired for the American Literature collection are readily available in the marketplace it may seem puzzling that their circulation should be restricted. The collecting policy of the American Literature collection, since 1940, has been to acquire significant materials in lyric, narrative, and dramatic form produced by American authors from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century and beyond. This mission (and the endowed funds and gifts that support it) has produced a comprehensive and valuable collection in this subject area, embracing scarce first editions, wherever possible in their informative and fragile dust jackets. Many retrospective titles in the American Literature collection are duplicated within the circulating collections, but if you feel that the Library should own a circulating copy of a particular title, you are encouraged to request it via Recommend-a-Book.

About Services & Access
Q. Who can use Special Collections?
A. All USC students, staff and faculty; students and faculty from other colleges and universities; and adult members of the surrounding communities.

Q. When is Special Collections open?
A. During Fall and Winter semesters, Special Collections is open Monday thru Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. Special Collections is closed for the traditional national- and state-observed holidays. For specific schedule information click here or call (213) 740-5900 to ask specific questions about schedules.

Q. Is Special Collections closed during the lunch hour?
A. No, Special Collections remains open from 9 am to 5 pm.

Q. Can I check out books and other items from Special Collections?
A. Materials in Special Collections are not able to be “checked out” in the traditional library sense, i.e., materials cannot be removed from the area and taken home. Research materials you request may only be used in a secured reading room, under the supervision of Special Collections staff. All materials are returned when you are finished, or at the end of the day.

Q. Is there an easy way to find out what is in Special Collections?
A. The Homer catalog contains records for all Special Collections materials available for your use. Using the SEARCH function of the catalog will be the easiest, fastest and most accurate way to find out what is in Special Collections. Click here to begin your search of the Library catalog.

Q. What kind of identification do I need to use Special Collections materials?
A. Special Collections is part of the USC environment and so caters to USC students and faculty. Students and faculty from other universities are welcome to use Special Collections, as are members of the surrounding communities. USC Identity Cards, other school identity cards, current driver’s licenses, and passports are valid identification documents. In order to access some collections, a Curator will conduct a personal interview and ask for your signature of responsibility.

Q. Can USC undergraduates use Special Collections?
A. Undergraduates are not only welcome to use Special Collections but are encouraged to do so. Visit our First Time Visitors site for more information. Those who are new to research procedures may first find it valuable to use Special Collections as a part of a specific class assignment, under the direction of an instructor or professor. Information about classes can be found here.

Q. Do I need to make an appointment to use Special Collections?
A. No. However, you can 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. 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. My parents are coming to visit. Can I arrange for them to see some of the treasures in Special Collections?
A. By all means! Tours of the Library may be arranged by calling 213-740-5900 or e-mailing specol@usc.edu. With a little advance notice, we are happy to call up materials that might interest visitors.

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 twenty can be accommodated in the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library. For availability and policies, please call 213-740-5900 or e-mail specol@usc.edu.

About Rare Books in General
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 late Peter Van Wingen.

Guides to book values available in the library are: