The Chapin Library (conceived 1915; opened 1923) supports instruction and research at Williams College by acquiring, organizing, cataloging, and preserving primary and related secondary sources, which are made available under the guidance of expert staff. The Library embraces works of significance which document the peoples, ideas, and events of civilization, and which serve the whole of the Williams curriculum. Because of the international importance of its holdings, the Chapin Library also serves as a resource for scholars outside of the College, for local elementary and high school students, and for the general public. (An extended mission statement and the founding deed of gift of the Library are posted elsewhere on this site.)
The Chapin Library is a collection of rare books, manuscripts, and other materials within the Special Collections Department of the Williams Libraries. With the approval of the President and Trustees, Alfred Clark Chapin, Williams Class of 1869, gave to his alma mater some 12,000 volumes, broadly divided into incunabula (15th-century printed books), Americana, English and American literature, continental (European) literature including Greek and Roman classics, Bibles and liturgical works, illustrated books, and scientific texts. Mr. Chapin also provided a selection of manuscripts and broadsides, and the nucleus of a major reference collection. Since Mr. Chapin’s death in 1936, the Library has grown to some 70,000 volumes, with more than 100,000 manuscripts, maps, bookplates, and other ephemera, and has expanded into further subject areas, such as African, Caribbean, and African-American history, women’s and gender studies, and modern fine printing and artist books, as materials have become available and interests at Williams have moved in new directions.
In addition, since its founding the Chapin Library has acquired separate prints, paintings, photographs, and artifacts which act as historical or cultural documents. Often these are related to book or manuscript holdings, are an integral part of a larger collection, or are in an area in which the Library specializes, such as book illustration. The Library has also received archives of artists, with books and papers used most efficiently in a library setting, and with original works of art which are used most successfully alongside the artist’s business records and working library. In regard to such acquisitions, Chapin staff may confer with their colleagues at the Williams College Museum of Art, who also have a significant interest in the use of art to support learning, or with the staff of the Williams College Archives and Special Collections when prints, photographs, etc. offered to the Chapin Library are related to the history of the College.
- The Chapin Library’s collections are developed primarily to support current or projected educational and curricular needs at Williams. Acquisitions also may be made with regard to the broader scholarly and intellectual interests of the College community.
- Preference is given to acquisitions which fill gaps in the Library’s existing collections relative to curricular needs, which have more than one possible use for teaching and research, which support more than one part of the overall curriculum, and which are held to have lasting literary, historical, social, or artistic merit.
- Materials purchased on the Library’s endowed funds, or from monies specially raised, are selected according to the funds’ specified purposes and their donors’ intents.
- Reference books and periodicals are selected primarily as aids to the use and interpretation of the Library’s collections of rare books, manuscripts, and prints.
- For purchases, when multiple copies of a desired item are available on the market, preference is given to whichever reputable vendor provides the best copy at the best price.
- Since the Chapin Library emphasizes materials in their original form, as artifacts as well as containers of texts and images, rare books and manuscripts are not rejected for acquisition solely because an electronic alternative is available. At present, most reference books in the Library’s fields of interest are not available in electronic form.
- In addition to usefulness in learning, ancillary factors are considered when purchasing an acquisition or accepting a gift-in-kind, such as costs of repair or rebinding or of archival enclosures, relative to available funds.
- In general, the Library acquires only materials which are in very good or better condition, and rejects those which would require costly restoration or unusual care.
- When a large number of books or other items are offered as a gift, of which the Library wants to retain only a portion, the whole of a collection may be acquired provided that it has been made clear to the donor(s) that some portion of the gift will not be added to the Chapin Library, and a formal agreement has been made whereby the Library is permitted to give away, transfer, sell, trade, or otherwise dispose of those items not wanted, within the terms of any tax law which may apply to the donation.
- When considering the acquisition of a larger collection, defined as one with more than 250 items or which occupies more than 15 linear feet of shelving, factors such as potential processing and cataloging workload and available storage capacity are weighed in addition to the appropriateness of the collection and its research value.
- The Special Collections Committee (formerly the Chapin Library Committee), in consultation with the Provost, reviews in advance, and recommends to approve or reject, any proposed acquisition of a larger collection as defined above, or whose purchase price would be greater than $20,000, or any acquisition for which there would be significant costs to conserve, process, catalog, or store. Under ordinary circumstances, the Chapin Librarian, after consulting with the Head of Special Collections, proposes such major acquisitions in writing to the Committee, offering pros, cons, and any mitigating factors in regard to costs, before making any commitment to a vendor or donor. If, in the Chapin Librarian’s judgment, the full Committee cannot be consulted as quickly as needed for an acquisition of special significance, e.g. during a period of College vacation, the proposal is directed to the chair of the Committee or to the Director of Libraries.
- The Williams faculty at large are invited to suggest additions to the Chapin Library and new areas of collection development. Individual faculty are consulted as appropriate to gauge the potential usefulness of proposed purchases or gifts.
- The Chapin Library cooperates with other parts of the Williams Libraries, especially the Collection Management department and Archives and Special Collections, to minimize duplication of acquisitions and ensure that gifts-in-kind are directed to the most appropriate department for administration.
Expenditures for acquisitions are made within an annual departmental budget approved by the College. This includes a general operating fund which is used in part to purchase reference books and periodical subscriptions; thirteen income-producing funds which may be used for acquisitions; and three non-income-producing acquisitions funds. The sixteen current acquisitions funds are:
- The H. Richard Archer Fund for modern fine printing
- The W. Edward Archer Fund for unspecified acquisitions
- The Pauline Baynes Fund in support of the archive of artist Pauline Baynes
- The Tobias Cabot Fund for natural history books
- The Class of 1940 Americana Fund for American history and culture
- The Robert A. DeVilbiss Fund for angling literature
- The Field Family Fund for works by or related to clergyman-historian David Dudley Field (1781–1867) and his descendants, especially David Dudley Field, Jr. (Williams Class of 1825), Cyrus W. Field (Williams hon. 1859), Stephen J. Field (Williams 1837), and Henry Martyn Field (Williams 1838)
- The Thomas A. Frank, Class of 1963 Memorial Americana Fund for pictorial Americana
- The Bruce Healy, Class of 1968 and Alice F. Healy Fund for rare books in the field of French cuisine
- The J. Brooks Hoffman, M.D., Class of 1940 Americana Fund for American history, emphasizing manuscripts and broadsides
- The John S. Van E. Kohn Fund for American literature
- The Hugh M. MacMullan, Class of 1928 Fund for works by or concerning poets T.S. Eliot, Rupert Brooke, and James Elroy Flecker
- The Mary L. Hurt Richmond Fund for “any items that Mr. Chapin might have acquired”
- The Herman Rosse Fund in support of the Herman and Helena Rosse Archive
- The John T. Snyder Library Fund for works by or concerning author Edwin Arlington Robinson and literature contemporary with Robinson
- A fund for miscellaneous gifts
The Chapin Librarian is happy to discuss with donors, in collaboration with the College Development Office and other appropriate parties, the creation of additional funds to help the Library compete in an increasingly expensive rare book marketplace.
The Chapin Library frequently is offered gifts of books, manuscripts, and other materials, from single items to collections. Over the years, gifts-in-kind have enhanced the Library’s ability to support teaching and research at Williams as much as acquisitions made from restricted funds. Every gift offered to the Library is weighed on a scale of usefulness, and judged also by factors mentioned in the guiding principles given above. The Chapin Librarian is always pleased to confer with potential donors, to view possible gifts, and to advise if suggested gifts are not suitable for addition to the Library’s collections.
Decisions to withdraw (deaccession) materials in the collections of the Chapin Library are made infrequently, and only after full and scrupulous consideration of the public interest and the needs of researchers. This is done in as open a manner as possible, ensuring that withdrawal of the material is not restricted by conditions of its receipt, or if there is a restriction, that any procedures which follow are carried out correctly and with expert advice from the Special Collections Committee, the Provost, the Development Office, or legal counsel, as appropriate.
The Chapin Librarian has primary responsibility for approving acquisitions. The Special Collections Committee is informed of acquisitions on a quarterly basis. The Committee annually reviews the Chapin collection development policy and works with the Chapin Librarian to make any needed revisions. The Committee submits an annual report on acquisitions and policy to the Provost for review and approval. Faculty and other members of the Williams College community are likewise regularly informed of recent acquisitions, and are encouraged to suggest possible additions to Chapin holdings.
Areas of Collecting
The Chapin Library collects primarily, though by no means exclusively, the following subjects, authors, and artists, to a greater or lesser degree according to the curricular needs of Williams College, the availability of funds, and the purposes of established endowments:
Art and architecture
Bibles and liturgical books
Classics (Greek and Latin literature)
Cookery and food history
European literature (French, German, Italian, Spanish)
Fine printing and artist’s books
History of books and printing
Incunabula (15th-century printed books)
Maps and atlases
Performing arts (dance, film, theatre)
Photography (including stereo views)
Science and technology
Sporting and fishing books (including mountaineering)
Women’s and gender studies
Individual authors and artists:
William Cullen Bryant
Samuel (“Erewhon”) Butler
Winston S. Churchill
James Elroy Flecker
Daniel Chester French and family (Chesterwood Archives)
Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Frank Lloyd Wright
The collection development policy of Williams College Archives & Special Collections guides the department's staff in making informed decisions regarding potential acquisitions. The policy is a component of the department's appraisal process through which material is acquired for the College's collections. The guidelines ensure an appropriate balance between the department's resources and its commitments.
General collecting guidelines
The department collects in areas that:
- support the College's curriculum and the research interests of its students and faculty
- anticipate future research needs
- support the Archives' existing collections
- extend the Archives' research strengths, interests, and needs
- show a high ratio of use to volume, condition, and processing costs
- complement rather than compete with the collecting priorities of other regional special collections repositories
Acquisitions are normally made through transfer from a College office or department, donation, or purchase. Prospective donors of material outside the scope of the Collection Policy will normally be referred to other repositories that collect in the area/s described by that material.
While the Archives maintains no official cooperative acquisitions agreements, the department works unofficially with other repositories and College offices to ensure that prospective donations are offered to the institution/office that may best be able to preserve the material and to provide access to it. Institutions and offices with which the Archives currently works closely include the Chapin Library of Rare Books, the Williams College Museum of Art, the Williamstown House of Local History, the North Adams Public Library, and the Berkshire Athenaeum.
Policy review and de-accession
The Collection Development Policy will be reviewed periodically to ensure that it reflects the College's collecting needs. If at any time donated material is deemed outside the scope of the Archives' collecting plan or otherwise unsuitable for the collections, it will be considered for de-accession. The Archives will normally consider several options for de-accession: return of the material to the donor, return of the material to the donor's family, donation of the material to another College office, donation of the material to another repository, or destruction of the material.
For further details: