The LSU Libraries’ Special Collections houses more than 150,000 books that support study and teaching in fields from ancient history to present-day Louisiana.
General descriptions of the library's book collections are available below. For detailed checklists and overviews of rare books in selected subject areas please see the separate LibGuide to Rare Books. You can explore our entire collection via the LSU Libraries’ online catalog. Need help starting your search? See Tips for Finding Books.
Louisiana & Lower Mississippi Valley Collection (LLMVC)
In addition to its manuscript collections, the LLMVC includes more than 50,000 books, periodicals, maps, state documents, newspapers, pieces of sheet music, musical recordings, and other published materials dating from the 17th century to the present that document the social, economic, political, cultural, literary, and environmental history of Louisiana and its people. The collection is especially strong in books on plantation life, Civil War-era Louisiana, state and local politics, and fiction and poetry written by Louisiana authors, as well as early travelogues about French colonial North America. The LibGuide to Louisiana History Research Tools lists commonly used published reference resources for researching people and places in Louisiana History.
Rare Book Collection
The Rare Book Collection dates back to the beginning of European printing in the fifteenth century. Its strengths include the history of books and printing, eighteenth-century British literature, Christianity, travel and exploration, fine printing and book arts, and the history of slavery. With over twenty-five thousand titles, the collection is an excellent source material for research, teaching, and creative projects.
Highlights of the collection include several incunables (books from the first fifty years of printing), Albrecht Dürer's book on perspective and the shaping of letters, atlases by Ptolemy and Ortelius, and Denis Diderot's Encyclopédie. First editions of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and John Donne’s Poems, as well as the Second Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays, printed in 1632, are held, along with William Morris’ edition of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the Kelmscott Chaucer.
Among other notable works in the collection are a 1610 copy of John Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Lord Kingsborough's Antiquities of Mexico, and Edward Curtis's The North American Indian. The Description de l'Égypte, an illustrated chronicle of the antiquities and natural history of Egypt produced by French scholars accompanying Napoleon’s expedition to the Middle East, is another one of the Rare Book Collection’s most important items. Also available are high-quality reproductions of more than 125 manuscripts dating from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
To learn more and explore recent acquisitions, see the LibGuide to Rare Books.
E. A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection
In 1971, John Stauffer McIlhenny donated to LSU the natural history portion of the library of his uncle, Edward Avery McIlhenny, scion of the prominent Louisiana family who has produced the world-famous Tabasco hot pepper sauce since 1868. McIlhenny was also a well-known conservationist who established a bird sanctuary and botanical garden on the family properties at Avery Island, Louisiana. His collection was combined with existing holdings in the LSU Libraries and has continued to be developed since its inception.
Particularly strong in botanical and ornithological illustration, some highlights of the collection include the double elephant folio edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America; an archive of original pencil drawings, some in Audubon's own hand; important works by Mark Catesby, John Gould, Edward Lear, and Sir Joseph Banks; a complete run of Curtis's Botanical Magazine, published continuously since 1787; and the original watercolors of the Flora of Louisiana by Australian botanical artist Margaret Stones. For more information, see the E. A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection page.
In 1986 LSU purchased the library of New Orleans photographer Clarence John Laughlin, the 'father' of American surrealist photography and author of Ghosts along the Mississippi (1948). Originally called "The Laughlin Library of the Arts," the collection has more than thirty thousand items, with a focus on science fiction, fantasy, and mystery writing. Other subjects represented include 19th- and 20th-century art and design (particularly Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau book design), photography, Victoriana, humor, sex, psychology, spiritualism, surrealism, and the occult.
Russell Mann Sherlock Holmes Research Collection
This extensive collection was acquired in 2016 from Dr. Russell Mann, a retired professor of journalism at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Mann started building his collection in the 1990s. It is especially strong in 'non-canonical' fiction (Holmes stories written by authors other than Arthur Conan Doyle), comic books and graphic novels featuring Holmes, works pertaining to Holmes on stage, screen, and radio, and rare scholarly publications, including journals of Holmes societies from around the world. The library did an exhibition of items from the Mann collction in the fall of 2016.
Andrei Codrescu Collection of Outsider Literature
Codrescu, a Romanian émigré, was a professor of English at Louisiana State University from 1984 until his retirement in 2009. The author of more than 30 books, Codrescu was the founding editor of the literary journal Exquisite Corpse. The collection contains approximately 5,000 volumes of late 20th-century fiction and poetry, many of which are ephemeral in nature or were published by small presses. Codrescu's personal papers are also held in Special Collections.
Bowlus Comic Book Collection
The William Morton Bowlus Collection includes more than 7,000 comic books, many from the 'Silver Age' (late 1950s and 1960s), and related materials. Bowlus, an LSU alumnus, began collecting comic books in grade school and continued until his untimely death in his late 20’s. The collection was donated to the LSU Libraries by his mother, Mrs. Martha Bowlus, to honor his memory and preserve a collection he loved. The Bowlus Collection offers a wealth of graphic art and storytelling from a formative period in American cultural history.
Gladney Chess Collection
Representing a portion of the personal collection of the late Frank Gladney, this collection contains nineteenth- and twentieth-century books and periodicals related to the history of the game of chess. Instruction books, biographies of famous chess players, and issues of American and European chess magazines and newsletters are complemented by a small quantity of ephemeral publications.
Carriere Collection of Poker and Hoyle
Judge Oliver P. Carriere was a New Orleans jurist whose hobby—the study and play of the game of poker—was translated into a large and comprehensive book collection on that subject. It includes most of the early editions of the works of Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769), an eighteenth-century English writer on fashionable card games and, later, board games such as chess and backgammon. Carriere also collected virtually all of the vast literature on poker. This unusual assemblage of material documents not only the history of the development of games of chance and other leisure pursuits, but also the complex social and legal questions associated with them. The library also holds Judge Carriere's personal correspondence.
Judge Warren Jones Lincoln Collection
A native of Nebraska, Warren L. Jones enjoyed a distinguished legal career in Florida. Early in his life he developed an interest in Abraham Lincoln, later generating an extensive collection of books, pamphlets, and printed ephemera on the Great Emancipator. Attracted to LSU by the prominence of Civil War historian T. Harry Williams, Judge Jones donated his collection to the university in 1970.
Rhoades Crayfish Collection
Spanning four centuries, this exhaustive accumulation of scientific literature relates to the taxonomy and culture of crayfish (the scientific, as opposed to culinary, spelling of crawfish). It was the working collection of Ohio zoologist and aquaculture pioneer Rendell Rhoades and was acquired though a joint gift/puchase arrangement with his widow Nancy Rhoades. Dr. Rendell Rhoades was a professor of biology and director of the Science Division at Ashland College in Ashland, Ohio. From his days as an undergraduate until his death in 1976, Rhoades collected books that made any reference to crayfish, and the resulting diverse collection includes such varied texts as a 1548 edition of Pliny's History of the World, to the Natural History of Economic Crustaceans of the United States (1893), which states that "Americans, as a rule, do not regard the eating of cray-fishes with much favor." Many rare and important early works on natural history are included, including texts in French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German, Russian, Chinese, and of course Latin.
David Madden Collection of Civil War Fiction
Established in 2002, this collection focuses on works published after 1950, complementing the Richard H. Wilmer, Jr. Collection of Civil War novels housed at the University of North Carolina, which consist primarily of pre-1950 works. While researching his novel Sharpshooter (1996), Madden, an LSU English professor, assembled a large collection of works of fiction on the Civil War. These novels, which he donated to the LSU Libraries through the auspices of the former United States Civil War Center, form the core of the Madden Collection.
Michael Lehman Williamson Collection of Civil War Books for Young People
Established in 1994 by the Lehman Williamson family in memory of their son, Michael, this collection features books published from 1862 to the present. Other major donors include Bell South and Mrs. George Ann Brown, who contributed in memory of her husband, Felton. Unique in the nation, the collection features more than 900 books about the Civil War written for children, including biographies of famous people, fiction about children's experiences during the war, and non-fiction designed for children. In 2002, a selection of books from the collection was exhibited in Hill Memorial Library. Blue and Gray for Boys and Girls: An Exhibition of Children's Civil War Literature is an online version of that exhibition.