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Special Collections

Burns Library
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Collection Overview

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 250,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. 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 printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives. To learn more about specific holdings in Burns, click on the collection listings below.

You can also connect with the Burns Library online by viewing the Burns Library’s Flickr site, subscribing to the Burns Library’s Blog or liking the Burns Library’s Facebook page. The Burns Library’s digital collections are among the listings at

Selected Resources

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.

Special Collections
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.

Balkan Studies Collection Boston / Area Studies Collection British Catholic Authors Collection
Caribbeana Collection Congressional Archives Collection Detective Fiction Collection
Fine Print Collection Irish Collection Japanese Prints
Jesuitica Collection Liturgy and Life Collection Named Collections
Nursing Archives Salem Divines Collection Nicholas M. Williams Ethnological Collection

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.


Collection Parameters

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.

Geographic Areas
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.

Time Periods
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.