the rare books collection

The origins of the rare books collection at the J. Willard Marriott Library can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, with the founding of both the University of Deseret and the Utah Territorial Library, and the donation of some 3,000 volumes from the personal library of University of Utah President, John R. Park. 

As the early collection consisted mainly of books on Utah and the Mormons, these materials were put together and set aside in a special room called the Utah Room, or Treasure Room. Other gifts and donations came in gradually and by 1965, the rare books collection numbered almost 30,000 bound volumes. Thanks to University funding and generous gifts, the rare books collection has continued to grow over the last five decades.

While the criteria which determines what makes a book rare can vary, some of the most important qualities include age, scarcity, print history, and provenance – in addition to considerations placed on historic, cultural, and aesthetic value. Today, the rare books collection has a holdings of more than 80,000 items, comprised of books, maps, ephemera, and realia documenting the record of human communication: from four-thousand-year-old Sumerian clay tablets to twenty-first century artists' book.

The strengths of the rare books collection include the history of science, religion, and printing, materials that highlight overland exploration and the American West, limited editions of fine press and artists’ books, manuscript facsimiles from Medieval Europe and Mesoamerica, and one of the nation’s largest Middle East collections. By actively collecting and digitizing material of historical and aesthetic importance, the Rare Books Department preserves a heritage of thought, artistic endeavor, and innovation that inspires the human spirit today.

The Rare Books Department provides reference, research and educational access to local, regional and international communities – strengthening the ability of faculty to teach, students to learn, and communities to find common denominators. Without a doubt, the rare books at the J. Willard Marriott Library are special, and while a certain set of criteria might make a book rare, the true value of a book should not be determined by a price tag. Books are important to our understanding of history, and to ensure that our history reflects all kinds of voices, the Rare Books Department continues to collect books and continue to tell their stories. Most importantly, we will continue to argue that there is nothing like