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Home / Using Special Collections

Using Special Collections

Seed Catalog Cover Using Special Collections

(301) 504-5876
Special Collections
Mon-Fri 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Research Services

The Special Collections Reading Room is open to the public and researchers requiring reference services or access to rare or unique materials. Typical researchers include USDA scientists and administrators, authors, publishers, students, faculty, policy makers, extension specialists, entrepreneurs (company representatives), farmers, librarians and museum staff.

Rare books, manuscript collections, and all other items safeguarded by Special Collections must be viewed in the Reading Room. Visitors may submit request forms to the staff who will check the availability of requested items. Because materials are housed outside of the Reading Room in a secure, temperature and humidity controlled environment, staff members request that visitors schedule appointments for the retrieval of an item or collection.

Appointments and inquiries can be made by emailing Special Collections or calling 301-504-5876. 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.

Where to Begin

Many of the rare books and manuscript collections held in Special Collections have records in the library catalog, AGRICOLA. This is the best place to begin your search. Additionally, there are a number of collections that are described on the Guide to the Collections webpage. If you are on-site, you may also elect to search the National Agricultural Library's Dictionary Catalog, a bound version of the former card catalog.

If you do not find the materials you are looking for, send us an email at Special Collections. We also welcome questions by mail or phone.


Special Collections at the National Agricultural Library is open to everyone. All researchers are required to present photo identification to gain access to the building. A Special Collections staff member will escort researchers to the reading room on the third Floor from the security guard station on the first floor.

In the reading room, researchers are required to fill out a registration form outlining research interests. Materials are requested on call slips. Appointments are strongly encouraged, as it may take more than a day to gather requested research materials. To schedule an appointment, contact Special Collections by phone at 301-504-5876 or email Special Collections.

Rules for Use of Materials

The Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library is comprised of a wide variety of materials useful for research in many facets of agricultural history. Materials in the collections include rare books, original manuscripts, archival materials, early periodicals, pamphlets, photographs, posters, and other ephemera collected and preserved for use by researchers. Reference services are available by appointment.

Because of the special nature of these materials we must require that researchers observe the following rules. Failure to do so may result in suspension of user privileges.

  1. All researchers must register with Reading Room staff and show proper identification.
  2. Researchers must deposit coats and other personal property not essential to their work with Reading Room staff. Notebooks and pencils are allowed. Pens are prohibited.
  3. Food and drink are prohibited in the Reading Room.
  4. Researchers must request materials from the Reading Room staff. For rare books, no more than two titles may be used at any one time; for manuscripts, only one manuscript collection, and no more than two boxes, may be used at any one time. Researchers must handle materials at assigned places, return materials when finished, and remain in the Reading Room until all returned items are checked by staff.
  5. Materials may be used in the Special Collections Reading Room only. Researchers may not remove materials from the Reading Room for any purpose, nor rearrange the order of manuscript materials. For the protection of its collections the Library reserves the right to restrict the use of materials which are not arranged or are in the process of being arranged, materials of exceptional value, and materials considered too fragile.
  6. All material must be handled with extreme care to ensure its preservation. The use of gloves is required to handle materials. Materials may not be leaned on, written on, folded, traced from, or handled in any way likely to damage them.
  7. Researchers will not be admitted to Special Collections stacks or display areas.
  8. Some materials may be placed on reserve. Researchers should consult with the Reading Room staff. A mutually agreed upon time limit will be negotiated as needed.
  9. Policies and procedures for requesting duplication of Special Collections materials are available. Requests will be evaluated on a case by case basis. In making such decisions, primary consideration will be given to the preservation of the materials.
PDF Forms

Please use the following forms to assist you in your Special Collections transactions. At this time, Special Collections is not authorized to use electronic forms that can be submitted online. Therefore, please print the appropriate form, fill it out, and mail it back to the address on the form. If you need any assistance in downloading the forms or would like us to mail you a paper copy, please email us at Special Collections.