Frequently Asked Questions

NAL’s Special Collections consist of rare books, manuscripts, photographs, document collections, and other materials selected by the library for long-term preservation. The materials are considered “special” because of their historical, artifactual, or monetary value, their uniqueness, or a combination of these factors.

Yes! The public is welcome to use Special Collections. We ask all visitors to make an appointment at least 24 hours in advance to ensure that staff and research materials will be available for you.

The Special Collections Reading Room is located on the 3rd floor of the National Agricultural Library. Please see Visit Special Collections for directions to the Library, parking availability and other information to help you plan your visit.

Special Collections is open by appointment only, Monday to Friday, except Federal holidays, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

More information is available on the Visit Special Collections page.

We strongly encourage all visitors to make an appointment to use Special Collections. This allows our staff to communicate with you and recommend collections that may meet your needs. It also enables us to locate and pull your materials before you come, so you won’t have to wait for them.

Contact the Special Collections staff with a list of the materials you’re interested in. Be prepared to provide any location information, such as box and folder numbers, that you found in an online finding aid. If you need help with searching the collection records or finding aids, please contact our staff.

No, our collections are housed in a secured area that is closed to visitors. Staff will bring books and manuscript collections to the Special Collections Reading Room for researchers to review.

No, Special Collections materials do not circulate. Requests for photocopies and other types of reproductions will be filled in compliance with copyright restrictions and depend on the physical condition of the item.

ou may request photocopies or digital scans. Our staff will copy Special Collections materials for you. Please limit your request to 50 or fewer pages of standard documents. Other items (e.g., posters) will be evaluated on an individual basis. We reserve the right to refuse requests based on item condition, staff availability, or other concerns.

Laptop or tablet computers are allowed in the Special Collections reading room. You may use a digital camera (with flash turned off) to make personal research copies of Special Collections materials. Personal scanners are not permitted.

Individuals or organizations in the field of agriculture donate their personal papers or archives to Special Collections. These collections are surveyed, arranged, and ultimately described in finding aids. Rare books, photographs, and other unique items are also donated by individuals or institutions to Special Collections . Please e-mail the head of Special Collections for more information.

There is a detailed list of the material Special Collections collects available in the Collection Development Policy. Note that the U.S. National Archives also collects USDA material. The difference between what the two institutions collect is described in the same document.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is an agency of the United States government charged with collecting comprehensive and systematic records of all federal government agencies, including USDA.

NAL’s Special Collections unit receives collections of documents from individuals and organizations, which often are USDA scientists or subagencies. Many of these collections contain incidental copies of documents or photographs that are USDA records. These items may be present because they were of interest to the individual or organization that donated them. They do not represent comprehensive and systematic collections of official USDA records.

In general, Special Collections does not hold the copyright to the material in its collections. However, many items in the collections are protected by copyrights belonging to their creators. You, the researcher, are responsible for determining whether you need to seek permission to publish materials from these collections, and for securing that permission from the copyright holders themselves. For more information about U. S. Copyright Law, visit the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.

No. Special Collections staff is prohibited from making monetary appraisals, but you may contact the following organizations to obtain contact information for qualified appraisers:

Society of American Archivists
600 S. Federal
Suite 504
Chicago, IL 60605

American Society of Appraisers
555 Herndon Parkway
Suite 125
Herndon, VA 20170

Appraisers Association of America
60 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10165

The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America
50 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10020

Opportunities for volunteers and interns are limited. Please contact Special Collections if interested.