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Robert K. O'Neill
The Honorable John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections houses the University's rare books, special collections and archives. The Burns Library is home to more than 150,000 volumes, some 15,000,000 manuscripts and important collections of architectural records, maps, art works, newspapers, photographs, films, prints, artifacts and ephemera. These materials are housed in the climate-controlled, secure environment of Burns either because of their rarity or because of their importance as part of a special collection.
Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably Irish studies, British Catholic Authors; Jesuitica; fine print, Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; Caribbeana, especially Jamaican studies; Balkan studies; and Congressional archives. It has also won acclaim for its significant holdings in the fields of nursing, American detective fiction, Thomas Merton, Japanese prints, Colonial and early Republic Protestantism, and banking.
Rare Books Collection
The Burns Library houses an impressive array of bound volumes from thirteenth-century illuminated codices on vellum to special limited editions of modern press books. Old and/or rare or fragile or valuable volumes that do not fit neatly into discrete subject collections, e.g., Jesuitica, are grouped into the rare books collection. Rarities include an early fourteenth-century Franciscan Antiphonary on vellum with the rhymed Offices of St. Francis and St. Clare, containing an apparently unrecorded 14-stanza sequence in honor of St. Francis, plus an extremely rare example of Franciscan polyphony; a beautifully-illuminated Dutch Book of Hours on vellum with four exquisite miniatures (ca. 1470); a stunning fifteenth-century French Book of Hours on vellum with 15 large and 14 small miniatures with foliated borders; more than thirty incunabula or fifteenth-century printed books, including the 1473 edition of the Decretales of Pope Gregory IX, printed in Mainz, Germany by Peter Schoeffer; significant holdings of early modern European and Latin American imprints, including a first edition of the two-volume Rheims-Douai Bible (1582, 1609-10); and a number of important facsimiles, including the Fine Arts facsimile copy of the Book of Kells.
Certain of the Library's most rare and exciting volumes are to be found, however, as part of discrete subject collections. For example, the rare and much coveted Mosada of William Butler Yeats, the poet's first printed book, is part of the Library's renowned Irish Collection. See also Rare Books and Special Collections Descriptions.
The Burns Library is home to more than twenty special subject collections ranging from American detective fiction to Japanese prints. Traditionally, the Library has been especially well known for its holdings in the areas of British Catholic authors; Irish history, life and culture; Fine print; Jesuitica; and Catholic liturgy and life. In recent years, the Library has developed strong research collections in the areas of Balkan studies, American detective fiction, medical ethics and nursing. The Rare Books and Special Collections Descriptions page provides brief descriptions of the following collections, organized alphabetically.
On the Web
The BC Libraries continue to digitize collections to be made available via the web. View a listing of Burns Library digitized collections.
Interdisciplinary Elements of Subject Area
The collections of the John J. Burns Library offer support to researchers in a wide variety of fields. See the Rare Books and Special Collections Descriptions page for an overview of the wide variety of interdisciplinary materials available.
Formats and Types of Materials
In addition to printed materials including books, music scores, pamphlets, broadsides, maps, and engravings the Burns Library's rare books and special collections holds manuscripts (ranging from the fourteenth century to the present) and including correspondence, literary works, biography, bank ledgers, sketches, liturgical and other religious manuscripts, and diaries. Stained glass, oil paintings, sculpture in wood, metal and stone, video and audio tapes, compact discs and phonograph records as well as microfilm are other formats present in the John J. Burns Collections.
The bulk of the John J. Burns Library holdings are in English but there are substantial holdings in Latin (particularly in the Jesuitica and Rare Book Collections). Most of the languages of Western Europe are represented including the Romance languages and German. Romanian and Bulgarian are also well represented. Other languages include classical Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic.
Substantial holdings in the John J. Burns Collections originate in Great Britain and Ireland. The continent of Europe is well represented, particularly in the Jesuitica and Rare Books Collections. The Congressional Archives collections as well as the Bostoniana and Dectective Fiction Collections, and Irish American publications provide a substantial number of publications and manuscri;pts originating in the United States. Romania and Bulgaria are also areas of concentration. The Liturgy and Life collection focuses on Catholic devotion and spirituality in the United States. The Morrissey Collection of Japanese prints offers researchers insight into an aspect of Japan's culture. The Williams Collection, although most of its imprints are European or from the U.S. offers researchers material relating to the Caribbean and Africa, particularly West Africa.
Collections in the John J. Burns Library date from the fourteenth century to the twentieth. The Rare Books and Jesuitica Collections provide substantial holdings for the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries while the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are well represented in holdings in other areas.
Subject Areas Collected by Library of Congress Classification Number
Because its collections cover such a wide variety of disciplines the John J. Burns Library covers the entire range of Library of Congress Classification Numbers.