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Special Collections: RareBooks

The Special Collections Department of the Cunningham Memorial Library holds the University's unique physical and digital collections. Special Collections consists of three units: Rare Books & Manuscripts, University Archives, and the Permanent Art Collect

Rare Books & Manuscripts

Z Fold and Warhol Spring 2024
Litho Print
Rare Books - retrieved from ISU Smugmug
Cordell Dictionary Collection, Rare Books, retrieved from ISUSmugmug
Rare Books, Cordell Dictionary - retrieved from ISU Smugmug
Cordell Dictionary Collection, Rare Books, retrieved from ISUSmugmug
Rare Books - retrieved from ISU Smugmug
part of our rare book and manuscripts
Smallest English Dictionary, retrieved from ISU Smugmug
Rare Books - retrieved from ISU Smugmug

Locate & Search Rare Books & Manuscripts

Locating & Searching Materials

Delve into the realm of Rare Books & Manuscripts to unearth and explore hidden treasures. Alongside comprehensive collection descriptions, an array of databases and finding aids stand ready to support your research endeavors. Some collections utilize tailored search instruments, while others are accessible through the main catalog of Cunningham Memorial Library.

For a digital showcase of materials transformed into captivating exhibits, navigate to this destination.



The Department provides experiential learning opportunities for faculty and their classes throughout the semester. Please feel free to contact the Chair or other staff members at (812) 237-2610 about setting up appointments for a session.

Experiential learning opportunities for supporting course curricula include:

  • Tours and special presentations
  • Hands-on examination of early materials
  • Resource guides to collections
  • Individualized instruction
  • Student interaction with exhibitions

Tours are also available for community groups and others interested in informational sessions regarding the collections, their history and background, and their relevance to today.

More about Classes & Tours

Class Module Examples

(designed for ONE class period)

  • Analyze perspective through French Revolution text by examining author's and audiences' points of view.
  • Understanding how to read visual material by examining the artwork, documents, and background surrounding a controversial exhibit at.
  • Critically read documents on a topic to examine the purpose, audience, and information from a small collection of ISU historical documents.
  • Construct narratives of events by examining documents from a controversial moment at ISU from different perspectives.

About Rare Books & Manuscripts

About ISU's Rare Books & Manuscripts

Rare Books & Manuscripts is one of the three divisions of the Special Collections department at Cunningham Memorial Library, Indiana State University. It houses 21 major collections and several repositories that contain books, manuscripts, pamphlets, prints, photographs, maps, and memorabilia.

The division features a significant collection of early manuscripts and printed works, including several incunables (books printed before 1501). A number of works feature bindings which incorporate early manuscript fragments. Opportunities abound for the study of early book layout and construction.

The holdings are strong in the areas of British and European history; voyages, exploration, and European expansion; and the history of medicine and science. In addition to the core assemblage of rare books and manuscripts, notable collections include:

  • the Cordell Collection of Dictionaries and works on English and foreign lexicography;
  • the Indiana Collection, which features the work of Hoosier authors as well as descriptive materials about Indiana;
  • the Debs Collection, which contains books, letters, government reports, and other materials celebrating the career of political activist, Eugene V. Debs, a Terre Haute native;
  • historic sheet music collections, including the Kirk Collection of popular American music.

Rare Books & Manuscripts collections, in concert with the holdings managed by the University Archives and Permanent Art Collection divisions, provide valuable opportunities for students to analyze primary source material. We regularly host classes, and would also like to invite anyone who is curious about our rare, unique materials to visit the Special Collections Reading Room.

Special Collections Research Spaces

The Cordell Room, Warren N. Cordell alumnus, Cunningham Memorial LibraryThe Cordell Room

In 1969, Indiana State University alumnus Warren N. Cordell kickstarted the Cordell Collection of Dictionaries with a generous gift of 453 early English dictionaries. The collection grew rapidly, prompting the creation of the Cordell Room in 1973 to house the expanding treasures. Mr. Cordell's personal donations reached an impressive 3,913 volumes within a decade.

Today, the Cordell Room showcases a portion of the pre-1901 English and Foreign dictionaries, while also serving as a dynamic space for meetings and Special Collections' educational activities.

Cordell Room, Room 319
Monday, Wednesday, Friday,
:00 PM-4:30 PM by appointment


Reading Room, Special Collections, ResearchSpecial Collections Reading Room

The Special Collections Reading Room provides access to Special Collection's holdings. Located on the 3rd floor of the Cunningham Memorial Library, interested researchers should contact the appropriate personnel or the main desk to schedule a research appointment. Please inform us if you will be working in a group so we can provide an appropriate space. All researchers will be asked to follow the Reading Room procedures.

Reading Room, Room 317

Monday- Friday, 9:00 AM-4:30 PM by appointment


Access & Read

Access & Read

The Special Collections Department hosts classes and tours and regularly accommodates scholars from around the world. We also welcome casual visitors who are interested in learning about our rare and unique materials. No research agenda is required! In addition, we maintain an exhibit space, where rare books and manuscripts, as well as materials from other sections of the department, are on display. To learn more, call 812.237.2610, or visit our Reading Room on the third floor of Cunningham Memorial Library.

Preparing For Your Visit

Preparing For Your Visit

We encourage researchers to call or email a member of the department before visiting. In many cases we can locate and pull materials prior to your arrival. The library has a lactation room and non-gendered bathrooms. Contact us for assistance if you are unable to visit our campus.

For hours and further information, please see the Reading Room Procedures and Policies area on our Resources & Services Page.