Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library (NAL) preserves and provides public access to materials that document the history of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and agriculture in general. We do this by acquiring, organizing, describing, and caring for collections of rare books and manuscript materials, and by making them available to library users.
The collection development policy outlined below helps Special Collections staff determine if materials a donor wishes to add to our collections meet the Library’s goals. This policy also tells prospective donors what criteria we use to decide whether to accept donations of books, documents, and other items.
If you are considering donating materials to NAL’s Special Collections, we want you to know that we appreciate your interest. We rely on donations to help us build our collections and preserve the history of American agriculture.
How to Donate Materials to Special Collections
**Important** Please contact Special Collections staff before you send or deliver any materials to the Library.
Start by reviewing the information in this document. It serves as a guide to the subjects our collections cover and the kinds of materials that best serve NAL’s research community.
In order for us to accept a gift of collection materials, the materials must be substantial enough to enhance scholarship in their subject area. We may ask you to describe in writing the contents of your donation before we evaluate it.
The time it takes for Special Collections staff to evaluate a donation will vary depending on the amount of material there is and how accessible it is for us to review. Gifts that require digitization, special storage or conservation treatment, or other unique arrangements may be accepted only if they are received with adequate funds to organize, describe, and preserve them.
Special Collections staff members are willing to help you determine if your material is appropriate for our collections. However, we are prohibited by law from appraising the monetary value of a collection or item.
What We Collect
The following lists show the types of materials currently held in Special Collections. These lists are not all-inclusive, but they will give you some guidance about the kinds of items we collect.
- Rare books
- Manuscript collections, such as an individual’s personal papers
- Nursery and seed trade catalogs
- Technical illustrations
- Multi-media materials
- Ephemera such as posters, field kits, etc.
- Historical research data
Our Subject Area Strengths
Special Collections’ current holdings are strong in the following subjects. We continue to accept materials in these areas to help make our collections even more comprehensive.
- USDA history, research programs, and scientific accomplishments
- Plant exploration papers and plant introduction records
- Insect eradication and pest control
- Poultry industry commercial activities and scientific research
- American mycology and plant pathology research
- USDA parasite research and eradication programs
- USDA land economics programs
Subject Areas We'd Like to Develop
We are especially interested in materials that would increase our coverage of the following topics.
- Minority farming, research, and agricultural pursuits
- Native Americans and women in agriculture
- Animal sciences
- Firsthand accounts of farm and rural life, especially pre-1950
- History of agricultural equipment
- Original agricultural research data
What We Do Not Collect
- Government records that fall within the collecting scope of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This includes material documenting a federal agency’s functions, policies, decisions, procedures, transactions, and personnel. NAL staff and your agency’s records manager can help interpret records retention guidelines.
- Confidential, restricted, or classified materials
- Financial transaction records, unless the donor requests inclusion or if they provide historic evidence that may be useful to researchers
- Material that is widely held at other libraries or is readily available elsewhere, such as:
- Photocopies of original documents housed at other libraries or archives
- Additions to an existing collection belonging to another library or archives
- Extra copies of a book collection already established elsewhere
- Material in formats for which NAL cannot provide access or proper storage
- Material deposited anonymously for which there is no donor contact information
- Material containing mold or mildew (unless preservation funding is provided by the donor, and the material is sent directly to a professional conservator)
- Large museum-type pieces (artifacts or equipment)
- Works of art, except technical illustrations of scientific record also meeting other collection development criteria
- Materials of a private nature, including but not limited to cancelled checks, financial records, tax returns, job applications, personnel files, or medical records
Criteria Used to Evaluate Collections
When we evaluate materials for inclusion in Special Collections, we carefully consider such factors as research value, rarity, condition, unusual format or size, unique ownership history, and subject matter.
Age of the materials
Age is one factor we use to evaluate historical significance. Materials dating before 1900 receive special consideration. However, age alone does not guarantee our acceptance of a collection.
- Do the materials document the activities of people, innovations, or programs significant to the history of American agriculture?
- We give priority to the works of USDA employees and programs. However, we don’t automatically accept all material originated by USDA employees.
- Does the material create a new collection in an underdeveloped subject area?
- Does the material document the history and activities of an association with ties to USDA or an agricultural mission?
- Does the material support the current and expected future needs of NAL researchers?
- Does the material add to or enhance an existing collection?
- Was an item published or distributed in limited quantities? Is it difficult to find in other libraries?
- Is the material original, rather than reprints or copies?
- If the item is a book, does it have unique artifactual characteristics, such as valuable prints, maps, photographs, or illustrations; fine bindings and/or decorated endpapers; printing on vellum or other unusual paper?
- Are there special or unusual formats such as ephemera, posters, etc.?
Condition of the Materials
- Can items be handled and stored without causing damage?
- If preservation treatment is needed, can the materials be made stable with minimal resources?
- Is the material free of pest damage, mold, severe deterioration, or other types of damage?
Funding and Other Resources Needed
- Are there up-front costs to acquire the collection material?
- Is NAL able to supply the amounts and types of storage space and containers needed to properly house the materials?
- How many staff members are needed to organize, describe, and re-house the material and provide timely access?
- Will the material require professional preservation/conservation treatment?
- Does the gift include funding to process the materials?
- Are the contents and organization of the collection material well-documented?
Ownership and Access
You must provide us with evidence of your rightful ownership of collection materials before we can accept them in Special Collections.
As soon as you transfer ownership of your materials to Special Collections, they become the property of NAL. In return, NAL will preserve and provide public access to your material according to our current policies and practices.
We assume that all materials you donate are available for public use or display in exhibitions, unless you notify us in advance that access to some items must be restricted.
What Happens if Special Collections Decides Not to Keep a Donation?
If we decide not to keep all or part of a new donation, we will return the material to you or discard it, according to your wishes.
We may dispose of all or part of a collection at any time if the material does not meet library users’ needs or Special Collections’ long-term collecting goals. Materials may be discarded or transferred to another library or archive.
Certain items may be removed from Special Collections and placed in NAL’s general collection stacks if they can better serve library users there.
If you have any questions about these policies, please contact Special Collections.