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Collection Development Policy

Collection Development Policy for Astronomy & Astrophysics

Astronomy and Astrophysics

Barbara Kern / February 28, 2012

LC Class: QB


Brief overview of the collection


  • History: The Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, which was established in 1897, was originally located at the Yerkes Observatory[1] in Williams Bays, Wisconsin. Yerkes Observatory has played a significant role in history and is referred to as “the birthplace of modern astrophysics[2]” as well as “one of America’s first big-science centers[3].” 

In the mid-1960’s the Department moved most of its faculty and activities to campus in an effort, in part, to strengthen the research and teaching connection with other departments and the University in general. However, some faculty and research activities stayed at Yerkes.  As such for many years the University of Chicago Library supported two astronomy and astrophysics collections, one at the Yerkes Observatory (YO) and one on campus (first housed in Eckhart Library and later the John Crerar Library[4]).  An Astronomy and Astrophysics collection development policy statement from 1979 provides this description:

“Both collections serve the requirements of a single department carrying on research and instruction in two locations eighty miles apart. These needs are met by duplicating what is essential in both collections and by choosing and locating the remainder of the material on the basis of practical utility.”

The YO collection was largely composed of reports from observatories worldwide, atlases, maps, star catalogs and general texts in astronomy, astrophysics and physics.  On campus the collection consisted of departmental theses and historical literature in addition to general texts in mathematics and physics.

With the majority of astronomy and astrophysics faculty and students on campus, approximately two-thirds of the book and serial funds was spent on the campus collection and one-third was spent ensuring that the YO collection met the needs of the faculty and students who conducted their research at the Observatory.  

In 2006, journal titles in astronomy and astrophysics started to become available online. Because the YO and campus collections duplicated one another, the print subscription for titles available electronically were cancelled for the Yerkes collection.  As such funds dedicated to serials for the YO collection was reduced by 74%.  Many of the print subscriptions to journals with electronic equivalents persisted in the campus collection until 2008. 

In the mid-2000 the University and the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics began discussing closing Yerkes Observatory due to the significant cost of operating and maintaining the facility.  With these discussions underway, the Library began to consider the role of the YO Library.    After many discussions, which included members of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the decision was reached to close the YO Library. In the early summer of 2007 all of the unique YO Library material was transferred to the John Crerar Library, while duplicate titles remained at Yerkes. In total 3900 titles from the 20,000 piece collection were transferred to campus. On June 29, 2007 the YO Library officially became independent of the University of Chicago Library.


Broad subject areas emphasized or de-emphasized:


Areas emphasized include: birth of stars, catastrophic death of massive stars and nucleosynthesis, chemical origin of meteorites and comets, cosmic rays, cosmology, high energy and relativistic astrophysics, interstellar matter, origins and dynamics of galaxies, sun and solar-like stars, astrobiology.


Description of academic program:


The Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics offers course to both undergraduate and graduate students (including specialized and advanced graduate courses).  From the Department’s web site: “A student normally enters graduate study in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics with an undergraduate degree in physics or in another physical science. During the first academic year, a student concentrates on basic graduate courses in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and the Department of Physics or Chemistry. The candidacy examination for admission to doctoral research is taken just prior to the beginning of a student's second academic year. During the second year of the program, a student is expected to concentrate on research and, in particular, to declare candidacy by making formal arrangements to obtain a faculty sponsor who will supervise the research for the dissertation. A research project must also be completed during the second year. An advanced student is also expected to fulfill the remaining course requirements. It should normally require four to five years to complete the doctoral program.” (, February 2012)



The astronomy and astrophysics collection at the University of Chicago Library supports the research needs of faculty, graduate students and staff in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Notable individuals with a connection to the department, either as faculty, student or researcher include George Ellery Hale, Edward Emerson Barnard, S. Chandrasekhar, and Otto Struve to name a few.


Collecting Guidelines:

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

Collection is done at a research level for: Birth of stars, catastrophic death of massive stars and nucleosynthesis, chemical origin of meteorites and comets, cosmic rays, cosmology, high energy and relativistic astrophysics, interstellar matter, origins and dynamics of galaxies, sun and solar-like stars, astrobiology.

Collecting is also done to support the teaching and learning needs for college and graduate students.

Type of materials included & excluded:  Undergraduate textbooks are collected very selectively.  In addition, compilations of previously published materials are not collected unless it has significant research value to the Department.  Conference proceedings are purchased, however selectively. In general, we do not collect professional handbooks, laboratory manuals, and popular works. 

Physical formats included & excluded: No formats are entirely excluded, however video and audio formats are collected selectively.  If possible DVD is purchased instead of video.  For journals and reference works, web-based electronic format is preferred over print formats.  Journals in subject areas where no current research or teaching is taking place are low priority, and access through interlibrary loan services is available for this materials.  Monographs are preferred in electronic versus print format.

Publication dates collected:   The emphasis is on most recent editions however retrospective purchasing is done if funding allows.

Languages: Materials are primarily in English.  Titles in other languages are purchased selectively.

Geographical range:   Geographical regions are neither specifically included nor excluded.

Chronological span:   Not a consideration.

      Related University of Chicago collections: Chemistry, Biological and Medical Sciences, History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Physics (Crerar), Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (Eckhart and Crerar Libraries)

 Cooperative arrangements and related collections

  • Argonne National Laboratory
  • Fermilab
  • Committee on Institutional Cooperation
  • Research Libraries Group
  • Northwestern University
  • University of Illinois at Chicago





Osterbrock, D. E. (1997). Yerkes observatory, 1892-1950 : The birth, near death, and resurrection of a scientific research institution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


[1] Yerkes Observatory was established in 1897 by George Ellery Hale.


[3]  (Osterbrock, 1997)
[4] The John Crerar Library, which was originally established in 1897 and housed in various locations in the city, merged with the University of Chicago Library in the 1980’s and opened its doors on campus in 1984. The new library combined the science, technology and medicine collection from the original John Crerar Library with the extensive science collections from the University of Chicago into one building.  The exceptions were mathematics, computer science and statistics which remained in Eckhart Library and the chemistry collection which remained in the Jones Library. 


Subject specialist

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Barb Kern
Director, Sciences and Social Sciences & Director, the John Crerar Library