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Collection Development Policy

Political Science

Political Science, with Law, Military and Naval 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. 

J1-981  General legislative and executive papers.  --   Various levels.

It is somewhat difficult to characterize collections for this category, which is limited to the legislative and executive papers of national governments.  (State and other sub national government papers are generally classed in JK, JL, JN, and JQ; local government documents in JS; and the papers of international organizations in JX (formerly) and JZ.  Gazettes and statutes are currently classed in K.)  Our collections for United States legislative papers are essentially exhaustive.  In addition to rich and comprehensive print holdings, we have nearly comprehensive digital files for virtually all Congressional working papers from the beginning of the republic until 1970, and from approximately 1990 to the present, with more to come.  Similarly we have very extensive, almost exhaustive print holdings for the British Parliamentary papers from 1538, with digital files covering the same period:  The House of Commons Papers, 1801+, and files in British History Online for earlier coverage.  Our holdings for French national legislative papers are essentially complete through the 1980’s, from which period digital files are freely available on the net.  We have extensive holdings of German parliamentary papers, including those of the Federal Republic and Democratic Republic.  Our Canadian parliamentary papers are essentially  Other western European countries vary.  Ireland:  nearly complete; Italy, very spotty.  Papers of older Spanish Cortes proceedings are full, but like those many other countries, they are classed in JN, etc.  “Area studies” countries often are represented by extensive files, at least for recent decades.  Latin American legislative proceedings are comparatively scant.  It is difficult to generalize about the degree to which national legislative proceedings are freely available on the internet, but the trend toward making them available is unmistakable.

The Center for Research Libraries possesses extensive collections of the publications government agencies of more than 100 foreign countries, amounting to several hundred thousand volumes.

JA—Political Science (General).  Research level. 

This category includes theory and history of political science.  Our collections are extensive. 

JC—Political theory.  The state.  – Research level.

This subclass includes material on the oriental, Islamic, ancient, medieval, and modern state; nationalism and the nation state; political geography; political violence; patriotism.  Our collections are large and important.

JF—Political institutions and public administration.  --  Research level. 

Includes general treatments on government, organs and functions of government, including executive and parliamentary or legislative functions, political rights, civil service, and political parties.

JK-JL-JN-JQ—Constitutional history, government, and public administration of various regions and states --  Research level, with variations in intensity according to regions and countries.

JK—United States.  – Research level.  This is a particularly rich and varied collection, dealing with all aspects of US government and public administration, political rights, political parties, etc.  This class also includes works on state governments, for which our retrospective documentary collections are notably rich; but after about 1950 they are only representative.  The Center for Research Libraries, on our campus, holds a nearly exhaustive collection of state documents issued prior to 1951.

JL—Canada and Latin America.   – Research level. Our Canadian holdings are notable.  While our Latin American holdings of published parliamentary proceedings are spotty, over all we have a good representation of the most important government publications from major Latin American countries.

JN—Europe.  Research level. 

The collections for Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain are comparatively full; those for Netherlands, Belgium, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Portugal rather less so.  [See Area Studies for Eastern Europe.] 

JQ—Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific area.  Holdings for Israel are at research level.  Likewise for Australia.  Collecting for Pacific Islands generally at study level. [See Area Studies]

JS—Local government. – Research level.

It is particularly difficult to describe the collections and collecting policies for this subclass.  The retrospective collections include very considerable documentary material for local government, including many scarce and infrequently held serials from cities and local administrations around  the US and the world, but they nonetheless are representative rather than systematic holdings tending toward completeness.  Currently collected municipal documentary collections for the Americas and Western Europe are restricted, and limited to those of a few major world cities.  Scholarly monographs on local government for the Americas and Western Europe are collected at the research level.  The collection includes only the most important documentary serials for Chicago government.  The Chicago Public Library, in succession to the Municipal Reference Library, is expected to maintain a comprehensive collection of Chicago area government serials and monographs.  [For Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, see Area Studies.]

JV—Colonies and colonization.  --  Research level.

JX, JZ—International relations.  --  Research level.

Retrospective collections are in JX, an obsolete classification; current additions locate in JZ.  Our retrospective holdings are very full and rich, and we are making robust additions to support very active research in these areas.  The Law Library collects international relations materials very thoroughly; there is considerable duplication between the Regenstein international relations holdings and those of the Law Library.  The Law Library’s holdings are generally even more complete than the Regenstein’s, and they include very full collections of international law, which is collected much more sparingly for the Regenstein collections.  See KZ, law of nations.

In addition to monographs and serials, we hold very considerable primary documentation in microform for international relations, notably extensive holdings of  U.S. State Department Central Files, documenting diplomatic and political relations with many countries of the world.  Licensed digital resources include Columbia International Affairs Online, Digital National Security Archive, Declassified Documents Reference System, Union of International Organizations, Official Document System of the United Nations, and others.

The University of Chicago was an original depository of the League of Nations, and its collections of the League’s published proceedings are nearly exhaustive.    Similarly the Library was an original depository of the United Nations, and it possesses extensive, near exhaustive collections of published proceedings and documents through the 1990’s, after which the Library holds microform versions of the published papers.  The online United Nations Official Documents System provides access to all types of official UN documentation since 1993.  The library also holds large, but not exhaustive collections of publications from other international organizations, such as the OAS, etc.


We do not collect Law systematically for the Regenstein collections.  However, a very considerable amount of core material for political history, politics, international relations, social and economic history and other social science disciplines winds up being classified in the K classification.   The Law Library collects all aspects of Law, and it is likely that practically all the materials classed in K the Regenstein collections are also held in the Law Library.

U—Military Science.  – Research level.

Military history and military sociology is collected at reasonably high intensity.  Strategy, military administration, and the professional literature of the various branches are collected rather more sparingly.

V—Naval Science . – Research level.

Naval history is collected at reasonably high intensity.  Strategy, naval administration and organization, and the professional literature of the various aspects of naval science are collected rather more sparingly.