Special Collections

Main Library, 3rd Floor
325 Superior Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
Manager: Robin Wood


The Special Collections Department attributes its legacy to John G. White, eminent Cleveland citizen and president of the Cleveland Public Library Board of Trustees 1884-1886 and 1913-1928. He was a vital force in shaping the research aspects of the Cleveland Public Library.

Through his efforts the Library acquired rare books and unique editions that could not be purchased with public funds. He donated significant collections from his personal library. A prime mover in planning and designing the Main Library Building, John G. White underwrote the construction of the Fine Arts and Special Collections reading room and the Exhibit Corridor. A trust fund he established continues to purchase special volumes.

The Collection

Building on this firm foundation, the Cleveland Public Library consolidated rare holdings from the subject departments into a unified collection designed for optimum housing, preservation and security. Special Collections continues to benefit from the generosity of donors in acquiring individual items as well as entire collections. Researchers now and in the future are assured availability of the Library’s greatest treasures. While most of the special collections are listed in the Library’s online catalog, some materials are listed only in the card files housed in the Fine Arts and Special Collections reading room.

The core of the collection focuses on materials related to chess and checkers, folklore, and the peoples and histories of Africa, Oceania and Asia.

The next time you visit the Main Library, be sure to experience the unique treasures, objects, and books of the Special Collections.

Collection Highlights

  • Chess and Checkers Collections
  • Folklore, Roma culture, and Africa, Oceania and Asia
  • Miniature Books
  • Tobacco Collection
  • Schweinfurth Collection: Rare architectural publications
  • Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards: The only American book award designed to recognize works addressing issues of racism and diversity.
  • Access, Use & Policies

The Special Collections Reading Room is for researchers who are using materials from this division. Individuals using the area are required to register and read the following Conditions of Use.

Conditions of Use

  • Registrant must show identification (preferably a photo ID) with current address and telephone number. Identification is held at the service desk while materials are being used. Readers are encouraged to call 24 hours in advance or request materials for their next visit. 216.623.2818 or special.collections@cplorg.bigscoots-staging.com
  • Briefcases, backpacks, coats, etc. must be stored in the lockers located in the corridor.
  • Requests are made by using a Request/Hold Slip.
  • Manuscripts and unique or valuable materials may only be used one at a time.
  • Maximum of five items may be used at one time.
  • Materials may not be removed from the room. Readers are responsible for the safekeeping of materials and must not leave them unattended.
  • Readers are financially responsible for repair or replacement of materials damaged or lost while in their care.
  • The Library appreciates your cooperation in protecting fragile research materials. Use pencil only when taking notes. Do not mark or trace materials. Use gloves provided by the Library when handling manuscripts, photographs, or rare and unique items. Do not place materials “face down.”
  • The use of personal computers is permitted.
  • Materials are to be returned to the service desk 20 minutes before closing time.
  • Materials requested from storage require retrieval time. If items are requested 30 minutes before closing, there is the possibility that the material may not be available upon request.
  • Upon request, materials may be held on reserve for a limited time.

Reproduction Copies

(photocopies, digital, photographs, etc.)

Request permission before copying materials.
Personal digital cameras and scanners are allowed in the reading room on a case-by-case basis. The items that a researcher may want to scan or photography must be examined by the staff and evaluated for physical condition, copyright issues, and donor restrictions.
NOTICE: The copyright law of the United States (Title 17 U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies of other reproductions of copyrighted material. This law provides severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, publication, distribution, exhibition or public performance of copyrighted materials.
Images of materials that are made from the collection may not be used for publication or use on a web site without permission from the department. The Cleveland Public Library requests a donated copy of any publication that is a physical format (print, CD/DVD, etc.) in which a a text or image from its collections is reproduced.
All responsibility for questions of copyright that may arise as a result of making copies for publication, further distribution, public display or public performance is assumed by the patron.
Readers disregarding these conditions will be denied use of research library materials.