Rare Books

The Rare Books Unit of the Booth Family Center for Special Collections acquires rare, antiquarian and modern books of enduring value both for intellectual content and as historical artifacts. Materials are collected in subject areas across the humanities and sciences. Materials for the collections are acquired in many languages, and include a wide variety of subject areas. In addition to our broad, general rare book collection, there are named collections that focus on specific subjects, such as book arts, religion, science, literature, music, or American history. These materials are open for research to all those interested.

The Rare Books Unit holds approximately 150,000 rare and historically significant printed books in Western languages dating from the 15th century to the present. Collection strengths include art history, 19th- and 20th-century British literature and Victorian novels, African-American literature and imprints, Jesuit history, American history and literature, intelligence and espionage, and the libraries of many important writers, scholars, presses and collectors. The rare books collection is comprised of many first editions, translations, inscribed and signed copies, and adaptations enabling textual and bibliographical research. 

The library is fortunate in having amassed over the years a number of incunabula, supplemented by representative examples of the work of most of the distinguished printers of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, ranging from Aldus, Plantin, and Estienne to the Elzeviers.

Current collecting adds selectively not only to the general rare book collection but also to the named collections. Titles are selected for a variety of reasons, including strengthening of holdings important to faculty for both current and future teaching and research.


Our Rare Books may be viewed only in the Paul F. Betz Reading Room. They do not circulate. To search for a book in our holdings, you may use the Georgetown University Library catalog, HoyaSearch. The location for books in our collection begin with the designation "Lauinger Library Special Collections.”

There are a number of historical newspapers in the Rare Books collections; for a list of titles click here.

Please review our Paul F. Betz Reading Room use policies.


Special Collections is an integral part of the teaching mission of Georgetown University. Our materials and facilities are used every year as part of class visits from a variety of disciplines.

Special Collections welcomes dozens of courses to our Barbara Ellis Jones (C’1974) Inquiry Classroom each year, facilitating student engagement with primary sources and object-based learning. We are committed to integrating our diverse collections of manuscripts, books, art, university archives, and other material into the academic life of Georgetown.

We believe that primary source research encourages learners to develop a range of skills. Students experience course material in a hands-on, active-learning environment; relate to history on a personal level; grapple with complexity, uncertainty, and contradictions; find inspiration for creative projects; become familiar with archives and primary source research; improve their critical-thinking and communication skills by researching, writing about, and presenting on historical objects; and acquire investigative skills essential to future study and employment.

Class visits can be tailored to your needs. Some instructors simply use library materials as the basis of lectures, while others create interactive exercises such as document analysis worksheets. Student presentations and performances are among the many other options available. Library staff have expertise in several areas, including primary source literacy, the history of books and printing, literary history, the history of photography, and rare books as material culture. Whatever your field of study, we are happy to work with you to identify materials that fit into your curriculum and design meaningful experiences for your students.

Class sessions can range from surveys of faculty-selected collection material to sessions for which our staff provide guided explorations. Courses usually visit us for a single, focused, hands-on session, but we have also hosted classes for several weeks (and occasionally an entire semester). We're also happy to support students through assignments which require engagement with our collections. Bring your class in for an hour or schedule several visits for in-depth investigations of archives, manuscripts, maps, rare books, and more.

Our main teaching classroom seats 30 students and is fully equipped with a document camera, computer and projector; its tables can be configured to suit larger or smaller groups.