Collection Development Policy


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.

General Principles


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 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:

African studies
African-American studies
American literature
Arabic studies
Art and architecture
Asian studies
Bibles and liturgical books
Children’s books
Classics (Greek and Latin literature)
Cookery and food history
English literature
European history
European literature (French, German, Italian, Spanish)
Fine printing and artist’s books
History of books and printing
Incunabula (15th-century printed books)
Jewish studies
Maps and atlases
Military history
Performing arts (dance, film, theatre)
Photography (including stereo views)
Political science
Reference books
Science and technology
Sporting and fishing books (including mountaineering)
Women’s and gender studies

Individual authors and artists:

George Ade
Pauline Baynes
Rupert Brooke
William Cullen Bryant
Gelett Burgess
Samuel (“Erewhon”) Butler
Winston S. Churchill
Joseph Conrad
Dante Alighieri
T.S. Eliot
C.B. Falls
William Faulkner
Field Family
James Elroy Flecker
Daniel Chester French and family (Chesterwood Archives)
Julio Granda
Lafcadio Hearn
Oliver Herford
Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe
Samuel Johnson
James Joyce
Rudyard Kipling
John Milton
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Theodore Roosevelt
Herman Rosse
William Saroyan
John Sayles
Booth Tarkington
Carolyn Wells
Walt Whitman
Frank Lloyd Wright

Copyright © 2011–2016 by the President and Trustees of Williams College
This page was last updated on 27 October 2016