About RBMS


The Rare Books and Manuscript Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), strives to represent and promote the interests of librarians who work with rare books, manuscripts, and other types of special collections. The following links will lead to you general information about our mission, history and organization structure. You will also find information on how to contact RBMS and become involved in its activities.

RBMS Mission

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) plays a leading role in the local, national, and international special collections communities. It strives to represent and promote the interests of librarians, curators, and other specialists concerned with the acquisition, organization, security, preservation, administration, and use of special collections, including rare printed books, manuscripts, archives, graphics, music, and ephemera.

RBMS works to prepare special collections libraries and librarians to better serve the needs of users by creating opportunities for professional growth in special collections librarianship. In pursuit of its mission, RBMS

  • Defines, develops, and promulgates guidelines
  • Initiates and encourages continuing professional education programs
  • Promotes study, research, and publication relevant to work in special collections
  • Provides its members with a means of communication through its publications, programs, workshops, seminars, and meetings

The History of RBMS: Historical Sketch

The roots of RBMS go back to 1948, when an ACRL University Libraries section meeting was devoted to the topic of rare books. In 1955 an ACRL Committee on Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections was formed "to promote wider understanding of the value of rare books to scholarly research and to cultural growth, [and] bring improvement to the care, use and recognition of rare books in all libraries." As part of a 1958 reorganization of ACRL, the Committee became the Rare Books Section.

From its inception, RBMS has attempted to foster communication between special collections librarians and assist in their professional development. To this end, it first held a preconference in 1959 and has held one annually every year since 1961. In September 1989 a joint conference was held with the Library Association Rare Book Group in Cambridge, England; this was in addition to the annual preconference. The section has sponsored the publication of numerous guidelines, standards, brochures, and other professional literature. It also sponsors the Exhibition Catalogues Award and a biennial award for the best article to appear in the journal Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarianship. A measure of the section's growth is the increase in its membership from 300 in 1962 to 1,879 in August 1993.

Additional information about the history of RBMS is found in "RBMS: An Overview," Rare Books & Manuscripts Librarianship, I (1986), 7-9, "RBMS at 30: Growing Along with the Profession," ibid., III (1988), 3-7, and A Commemorative Keepsake Volume Celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries [PDF].

At the 2008 ALA Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia, ALA Council passed a tribute resolution honoring ACRL/RBMS on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary.