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Collection Development Policy

Sociology & General Social Sciences

Sociology, General Social Sciences
Frank Conaway
June 2009


History of the collections 

The origin of the History and Social Sciences collections substantially predates the establishment of the University itself.  One of the foundations of the library of the Old University of Chicago (to which the University of Chicago succeeded) was the important collection of United States public documents amassed by Stephen A. Douglas, a founder of the Old University.  Only a few years after the University opened, its library possessed one of the best collections of early American Congressional documents in the nation, according to the most exhaustive bibliography of the age.

The famous Berlin Collection offered the nucleus of the Library’s important Central European collections; the 9,000 volume Lane collection was a particularly key element in the foundation of the history collections in general.  The acquisition of the Eckels collection made this library at a stroke the most complete in this nation for 16th century England. 

With comparatively liberal support, the ongoing and retrospective growth of the history and social science collections in the early 20th century was impressive, and the University’s collections were among the largest and most distinctive in the nation.  The foundation of the Latin American collection dates from the professorship of J. Fred Rippy in the 1920’s.  The predominance of Mexico in our Latin American collecting also dates from these years.  (See also sections in this Statement on East Asia, South Asia, Middle East, and Slavic and Eastern European studies.)

By mid-century, the Library was considered to have one of the most extensive social science collections in the nation, both in monographic literature and serials.  Extensive exchange programs brought in remarkable collections for state governments and public institutions, particularly those serving special needs communities.  In the era of World War II, we were beneficiaries of the work of the Library of Congress mission to Europe, and in the post-war years we were founding members of the Farmington Plan to acquire foreign library materials in cooperative with other research libraries.

The University of Chicago was a pioneer in library microfilming, with the first in-house library microfilming lab.  From the 1930’s important materials, notably newspapers and other serials, were filmed for national and international preservation and then discarded.

The University was a founding member of the Midwest Interlibrary Center (later known as the Center for Research Libraries), located on our campus, and the University Library was by far the largest source of the Center’s original collections.   In a development remarkable in large research library history, in the years around 1949, hundreds of thousands and books and serial volumes were categorically transferred from our massively overcrowded library to the Center.  It is probably fair to say that of these hundreds of thousands of volumes to be held cooperatively the larger share were selected from the history and social sciences collections.   They included countless minor serials, state and foreign documents, and numberless highly specialized monographs.  Odd and curious lacuna visible even today in our extensive retrospective collections can be explained by these massive deaccessions and transfers.  Notable among them are proceedings of some state and local historical societies.  The materials, needless to say, are still available here on our campus, but they are in the custody of the Center, not on our shelves and not in our catalogs.  

The ongoing programs of the Center, have very significantly affected the overall development of our own history and social science collections.  Because the Center has undertaken to acquire microfilm from major archival repositories, we have almost entirely lacked films from the (British) National Archives (formerly, the Public Record Office), materials that may be commonly held in libraries similar to ours.  Because of our historical dependence upon the Center our filmed collections from the US National Archives are spotty -- and comparatively insignificant.  Because of the Center’s historical program to collect state publications, our own collections, even of statistical returns, are drastically limited after 1950.  The Center undertook to collect foreign doctoral dissertations comprehensively.  Accordingly, especially in years of limited book funding, our library passed over many foreign monographs explicitly derived from dissertations, resulting in sometimes surprising gaps in our collections.  Because the Center has had a major program to collect both foreign and domestic newspapers our collection of retrospective newspaper files in film is (apart from “area studies” titles) severely limited.  In recent years, the Center’s programs and policies of collecting have grown weaker and more limited, characterized by uncertainty and delay respecting the acquisition of needed material, and correspondingly we have grown more dependent upon partner libraries for the supply of material we once expected the Center to provide; and we have found it necessary or prudential to purchase more microfilmed archival material ourselves. 

The existence of other important libraries in our immediate area has notably affected our long-term collection development for history and the social sciences.  The Newberry Library, an independent research library, has gradually restricted itself to fewer and fewer areas in history and the humanities, but within them it has retrospective collections of distinction.  Its collections for the premodern and early modern history of Portugal and its empire, for instance, would make somewhat redundant any effort on our part to collect retrospectively in these areas.  In many other areas, however, our research collections complement one another.

Similarly, the existence of the Herskovitz Library of African Studies at Northwestern University, its mission of near comprehensiveness, and its hospitality to our scholars, makes it unnecessary to collect African history and contemporary African social science in depth.  The Chicago Historical Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society) has long had a program of collecting Chicagoiana on a truly exhaustive basis, including books, serials, photographs, and every manner of ephemera.   Our collecting practices, therefore, have largely been limited to acquiring a thorough research collection of monographs for Chicago history, and a limited supporting collection of serials.  The former Municipal Reference Library, for most of the 20th century, exhaustively collected the publications of the Chicago, Cook County, and all special government agencies, down to mosquito abatement districts.  These retrospective collections have generally been transferred to a special unit in the Chicago Public Library.  Our own collections of local Chicago area government documents are very limited.

After mid-century the library grew rapidly, particularly in the comparatively well-funded 1960’s, but the pace of publication grew still faster, and some other research libraries grew faster than Chicago.  The 1970’s saw a quite notable retreat in resources available to the University of Chicago Library, and by the late 1970’s we lacked the ability to maintain monographic purchasing in many areas at research levels.  Gaps in our collection dating from this era remain visible today. 

In the same difficult years, serials, particularly in the sciences and some other fields, exploded in terms of number, and especially in terms of cost.  To respond to dramatically increasing costs, we engaged in engaged in a major serial rescission program – it would only be the first of several over the next few decades – and as a result our once very rich collections for social science serials were repeatedly reduced.  Lesser reporters and statistical returns were cancelled; in subsequent rounds more serious retrenchments were necessary; and eventually our once remarkable social science serial collections were primarily reduced to core titles.  Unsurprisingly, foreign titles were disproportionately cut in order to preserve comparatively higher demand US titles.

Serious reductions in foreign serials were paralleled by reductions in our collection of foreign government documents.  Once comparatively inexpensive, foreign government documents became quite costly to purchase and process.  Eventually, and not without real regret, we cancelled parliamentary proceedings from Belgium, Austria, and other countries, and eventually we even cancelled the Journal officiel de la republique française, which ran back essentially unbroken to its beginning in 1870.  Orders for censuses and other major statistical reporters were generally preserved, though smaller or less important statistical serials were eventually sacrificed.  (Paradoxically, perhaps, orders for similar serials for “area studies programs” often survived.)

The lean years of the 1970’s were succeeded by years of gradual return to more adequate monographic purchasing, and still later, frequent opportunities to acquire specialized research source material, including major microform acquisitions; but our serial lists not only never recovered, they suffered further reductions.

History and the Social Sciences Collection Development in the Age of Digitization

While the impact of digitization upon collection development for history and the social sciences is too complicated to permit a detailed account, major features are too important to ignore.  Abstracts and indexes, like Historical Abstracts, were among the first library resources to be digitized, more than 30 years ago; but they were available only on a dial-up basis at prohibitively costly rates per minute.  Eventually these bibliographic databases came to be available in CD-rom form, and the entire database could be searched at a dedicated workstation in the library.  It became practicable to dispense with corresponding printed indexes.  Major databases eventually migrated directly to the internet, and their contents were generally open to members of subscribing institutions from any location.  Eventually the preponderant share of the most important periodical indexing and abstracting services in history and the social sciences followed this pattern, though not all have yet followed, particularly some important ones from Western Europe.

From the 1970’s, databases such as LexisNexis contained the full text (though not the images) of more and more articles in serials, and they too migrated from costly dialup services to internet products directly and freely searchable by end users at subscribing institutions.  By the 1990’s we could offer text from a wide range of periodicals, newspapers, and other publications that we did not hold in our own collections, at no cost to the end-user. 

JSTOR, from 1995, began to offer word-searchable page images of core academic journals on a cover-to-cover basis, on a retrospective basis, from volume 1 of the respective titles to within five years of the present.  At first limited to only a small handful of journals for history and economics, over time JSTOR has extended its coverage to more than a thousand core titles.  By design, the database superseded the actual printed volumes standing in our stacks, in the eyes of our users.

Numerous other similar products appeared, both current and retrospective, and in many cases we purchased access to many scholarly titles we had earlier cancelled in paper or had been otherwise unable to order.

Today we offer users online access to full-text articles from around 150,000 titles, in whole or part, including a remarkably vast number that we have never owned in paper, including journals, government documents, and newspapers.  This growth was accompanied by technical improvements that make exploitation of these digital serial articles highly effective, especially when linked to online indexes and abstracts.  And in general we can say that these developments have essentially totally reversed the deleterious effects of our multiple rounds of journal cancellations – as respecting English-language titles.  To date --  and this may change -- foreign language titles are far less likely to have been retrospectively digitized, and many titles that we were required to cancel years ago are still not available to our users.  (In some fields this is not true. Through Prisma and Fuente Academica, for instance, we can offer our users rich bodies of journal articles from Latin America, an area where it has been difficult or problematical to identify and maintain serial orders.)   Prudential cancellation of serial orders corresponding to titles for which digital full-text is available has been an important concern for bibliographers, as well as cancellation of the print version of titles for which we still maintain orders for digital content.

A complex issue seriously affecting collection development is the degree to which free websites supersede serials to which we may have had orders.  In many cases, the content of annual reports, statistical reporters, government documents and other publications has migrated to the producing entities’’ websites, and often the printed publication ceases.  When libraries collect statistical returns and bind and retain them, we assure future users reliable resources for their work, a confidence that is lost when the same or similar information is available only a website from which data may, at any time, disappear or be modified without warning.

The preceding remarks on digitization of research materials for history and the social sciences  pertain particularly to journals, newspapers, and government documents of the fairly recent past.  In parallel to these developments, through purchase of massive and often very costly retrospective digitization projects of printed books we can offer our users online licensed access to the full text of nearly 400,000 monographs.  Because retrospective digitization projects can operate free of copyright restrictions for earlier imprints, older titles currently predominate in this field, with extremely important effects for historians and social scientists.  For instance, as the result of very significant investments, we can now offer users full page images of practically every important title published from the beginning of moveable type in England or in English up until 1800; and until 1820 in the United States.  And we can offer users completely searchable full text to almost every important Congressional document published since the beginning of our Republic, and every parliamentary paper published by or for the British House of Commons since the beginning of Sessional printing in 1800, and a large share of earlier parliamentary papers back to 1538.  We have bought entire collections of rare books and serials documenting practically every aspect of economic life in western society since the Renaissance, and also a very large share of the monuments of history of the Americas from the beginning of printing until well into the 19th century.  The existence of these projects significantly influences decisions to buy reprints and new editions of titles that are fully viewable and searchable. 

We have also purchased scores of other more specialized digitized resources supporting history and the social sciences, such as biographical databases, public opinion polls, collections of election results, and dissertations.

 Regrettably these developments are mostly restricted to those of the United States and Britain.  At present, Germany, Austria, France, and Spain sustain important retrospective digitization projects supporting history and the social sciences, but their achievements are modest in comparison with Anglo-American progress. 

The  massive Google book digitization project in effect is making it possible to open up our book stacks to word by word searching, whether the title is old and out of copyright or recent.  Countless serial volumes are among the many millions of items digitized to date.  At present, this project permits full view primarily to only older imprints; but this is likely to change.

The developments described above very importantly condition the way in which the sections of the History and Social Sciences Collection Development policy statements that follow should be interpreted.  It should be understood that “Research Level” collections often will lack print runs of all but core research serials after the 1970’s and 1980’s, but that for English-language titles we can often offer readers full-text digitized versions of many years of texts of many additional titles.  Foreign language serials after the 1970’s and 1980’s will be restricted in general to only the most important, but that in contrast to English-language serials, we can offer comparatively few foreign language titles in the same way.  


Levels of selection:  Comprehensive, research, instructional support, basic information; for a description of these levels, see the general policy statement. 

H 1-99.  Social Sciences (General).  Research level. 

This category includes general treatments, philosophical treatments, social science journals with broad scopes, and methodological works.  Our holdings are extensive.

HA—Social Statistics.  Research level.

An effort is made to collect national censuses on a near exhaustive basis.  Our national census collections are extensive, though in reality not complete.  Older censuses have often been acquired in microformats.  Contemporary census data are commonly made available on official websites.

Non-census statistical reporters are collected much less comprehensively, though our retrospective holdings are quite notable.

HM—Sociology (General).  Research level.

This category includes history of sociology, history of sociological theory, schools of sociology; theory; method; culture; social control; social systems; social structure; groups and organizations; organizational sociology; organization theory; deviant behavior; social deviance; social institutions; social change; social psychology; social influence; social pressure.  Our retrospective and current collections are notably rich.

HN—Social history and conditions.  Social problems.  Social reform.  Research level.

Our retrospective and current collections are rich and varied. 

HQ—The family.  Marriage.  Women.  Research level.

This is an extremely extensive category that has seen very considerable development over recent years.  Despite its official rubric of  “The Family.  Marriage.  Women,” in fact subclass HQ also comprehends works on sex and sexuality, and newly emerging fields such as men’s studies, body studies, girl studies, and so forth.  Our collections are especially rich and noteworthy.  Our collections for women’s studies and feminism are very extensive and continue to grow rapidly, as are those for the broader category of gender studies that includes the former.  We hold two major microfilm collections of works for the history of women and feminism that, together, nearly approach exhaustiveness for women’s history, respecting monographs and pamphlets, plus approximately 400 serials, more than 100,000 pages of manuscripts and hundreds of photographs.  Notable digitized sources include Contemporary Women's Issues; North American Women's Letters and Diaries; Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000; British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries; and Black Women Writers.

Our collections for sex and sexuality also have grown dramatically in recent years, and we collect materials supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies at levels approaching comprehensiveness as regards monographs and serials.   Holdings include some special collections, including a nearly comprehensive collection of films on transgender themes. 

HS—Societies:  secret, benevolent, etc.  Study level.  This is a small and inactive collection, to which comparatively little has been added in the last half century. 

HT—Communities.  Classes.  Races.   Research level.

This is a somewhat odd classification including works on fields not necessarily closely related.  The collection on urban history, urban sociology, urban problems, city planning, etc., is very large and very active.  The collection on rural studies is far smaller and less active.  Here also are classed works on social classes, including many historical treatments.  General works on slavery are classed here, though the far more numerous works on the institution in particular locations are classed generally in appropriate parts of D, E, and F. 

HV—Social pathology.  Philanthropy.  Charities and Corrections.  Research level. 

This collection is especially rich.  It is particularly notable for its extensive collection of older official reports of social welfare agencies serving the poor, children, the blind, deaf, and other special needs communities.  The materials amount almost to a special collection, at least with respect to materials through the first third of the 20th century.  There is very considerable overlap with the collections of the Social Services Administration Library,  though each of the two collections contains much that is unique.  Only works of more general interest and research potential are now added to the Regenstein HV collection, so that strictly professional literature is collected only by the SSAd library.

HX—Socialism.  Communism.  Anarchism.  Utopias.  --  Research level.

Our retrospective collections are particularly notable, including many minor works.