About us

Special Collections is one of the foremost resources in Scotland for academic research and teaching. We welcome enquiries and researchers from Glasgow and across the world.

  • Subject strengths include art, languages, literature, history and the history of law, science and medicine
  • Over 200,000 manuscript items and around 200,000 printed works (1,000 of which are incunabula, printed before 1501)
  • Our holdings of medieval and renaissance manuscripts, and emblem literature, are of international importance
  • The collections span over 2000 years of human activity, from the first to the twenty-first centuries.

Brief background

  • The Library has been acquiring material for over 500 years by purchase, gift and bequest.
  • The earliest recorded donation of books, still retained in Special Collections, was given to the university in 1578 by the Scottish humanist poet and royal tutor, George Buchanan.
  • Notable acquisitions and developments since then include the bequest of William Hunter’s library, received in 1807, the papers and correspondence of the artist James McNeill Whistler in the early 20th Century, and the establishment of the Scottish Theatre Archive in 1981.
  • A detailed history of the development of the Library and Special Collections is available as a timeline.

We continue to acquire material which supplements our existing subject strengths. See our development policy for more details.


Special Collections is on Level 12 of the Library in environmentally controlled, custom built accommodation. Rare books and manuscripts require careful storage and handling but the reading room supervisor is on hand to advise and assist with queries.

  • The reading room, where material from our collections is consulted, is a light, stimulating environment with panoramic views northwards over the Campsie Hills
  • No appointment required *though advisable if you are making a special journey or have an in-depth request*
  • Most material can be fetched within 30 minutes.
  • 24 reader spaces with desk-top power supply for lap-tops
  • WiFi enabled. Visitors from other participating institutions can access WiFi through Eduroam.  
  • Access to online catalogues
  • Adjacent seminar room can be booked by academic staff wishing to use Special Collections material for teaching
  • Telephone +44 (0)141 330 6767 or email library-asc@gla.ac.uk 
  • An ergonomic chair is available for use by readers. Visitors can book the use of the chair during their stay by e-mailing us at special@lib.gla.ac.uk



Special Collections staff are involved in a wide range of duties including:

  • Assisting with enquiries, researchers and supervising the reading room
  • Cataloguing
  • Creating exhibitions and administering loans to other institutions
  • Outreach sessions for staff and students

Please note that we:

  • Cannot provide valuations of your rare books
  • Cannot undertake in-depth bibliographical research on behalf of enquirers