Collection Resources

Explore our collections with helpful research guides, videos, educational resources, and more. You can also read our collecting guidelines to learn more about our collection history, strengths, and future development.



The University of British Columbia is a global centre for teaching, learning and research, consistently ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. With more than six million volumes, the UBC Library is a vital support for research, learning, and teaching excellence.

Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC) at UBC Library is home to outstanding research collections of rare books, archival materials, historic maps, photographs, broadsides and pamphlets, artifacts, and more. As the premier rare book and archival collection on Canada’s west coast, RBSC has attracted significant donations from people who have settled in western Canada from around the world. Our main area of specialization is British Columbiana. The private libraries of British Columbia Judge Frederic William Howay (1867-1943) and Dr. Robie Lewis Reid (1866-1945) originally formed the nucleus of Rare Books and Special Collections when they were donated in 1943 and 1945, respectively. RBSC continues to build upon these foundational collections, developing our British Columbia book and archival collections with a focus on exploration and settlement, history, business, labour, literature and the arts, politics, and all the communities and notable individuals who populate B.C.

We also collect non-B.C. material in existing areas of strength, including Canadian history (particularly western Canada), Canadian literature, English literature, early children’s literature, Pacific and Arctic exploration, the history of cartography, music, the history of science and medicine, Chinese rare books, Japanese rare books and maps, and sports and leisure.

In addition, we work to develop collections in areas beyond the scope of RBSC’s traditional collecting mandates, in consultation with faculty and local community members, in order to support teaching and research at UBC. As part of this responsive collection development, RBSC deliberately pursues acquisitions that represent non-European perspectives, and perspectives of  historically, persistently, and systemically marginalized groups and individuals.

Working within the framework of the overall UBC Library collection development policies, our collection development strategy concentrates on acquiring material through purchase and donation to augment existing strengths and address collections gaps or emerging research at UBC. We work closely with UBC faculty in diverse departments and subject areas to regularly review and identify gaps in our holdings, thereby seeking to enrich our contribution to the University’s scholarship across all disciplines. Transfers of existing material from other areas of the Library are also considered on the basis of age, value, and rarity.

Languages represented most frequently in the collection include English, French, German, Latin, Chinese languages, Japanese, and Italian.

Archival Collecting Areas

Primary source archival acquisitions at RBSC focus on a number of broad, yet interrelated areas. The history of British Columbia is paramount, particularly how the province grew and developed over time, its politics, social history, arts and culture, resource extraction industries (forestry, mining and fishing), labour history, and the equal contribution of all individuals and cultures from diverse backgrounds. RBSC is particularly interested in foregrounding the voices of traditionally marginalised groups, and their contribution to building British Columbia, as well as their struggles and triumphs. We also strive to document the voices and experiences of women, Indigenous communities, and the Asian and Black diaspora, as well as other immigrant communities. RBSC archival holdings also support research and teaching at UBC generally, and we collect archives related to English literature, European history and other teaching areas. RBSC has traditionally collected histories of colonisation and its impact, and it is our hope that through this documentation, these materials can be used towards decolonial research and praxis.

For more information and a detailed listing of the more than 700 archival collections, please go to

Major Book and Map Collections

Rare Books and Special Collections acquires books, maps, and ephemera in a number of diverse subject areas. Our traditional collecting strengths and emerging areas of interest include artists’ books and fine and private press books, British Columbia and Canadian history, Canadian literature, cartography and exploration, historical children’s literature, French Revolutionary pamphlets, 2SLGBTQIA+ histories, the history of the book, miniature books, popular folk and early modern music, sports and leisure, and western literature and language.

In addition, the consolidation of UBC Library’s rare and special collections with the transfer of materials to RBSC from the Asian Library, Woodward Library, as well as the former Music Library between 2015-2017 has expanded RBSC’s holdings to include notable collections of Chinese and Japanese-language rare materials and materials on the history of science and medicine.

A descriptive list of our major book and map collections is available upon request. Please email to obtain a copy.