MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

Pages from Rare and "Special" Books at MIT

The first four in a series of exhibits:

Dampf und Elektricität
(Leipzig, ca. 1900)

The Atmosphere
(New York, 1873)

Report on Canals, Railways, Roads...
(Philadelphia, 1826)

De re metallica
(Basel, 1621)

About MIT's Rare Books

The MIT Libraries rare and special books cataloging project continues. As of May 2008, 3,000 volumes have been cataloged and are accessible through Barton, the MIT Libraries catalog. Brief information about the rest of the items in the collections is accessible on microfiche catalog cards available at the Institute Archives and Special Collections and all MIT Libraries.

The first of the thousands of volumes in the rare book collections came to MIT in the mid-1890s. Many of the early donations consisted of private libraries that reflected the interests of the person who assembled them. An important example is the Vail collection, presented to MIT in 1912 by Theodore Vail, president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company and MIT Corporation member from 1913 to 1920. The Vail collection contains many early works on telecommunications, electricity, ballooning, aeronautics, and animal magnetism. Another important collection is that of William Barton Rogers, founder and first president of MIT. Some of Rogers's books were part of the circulating collections in the MIT Libraries for many years, but because of their age, fragility, and continuing value for historical research, they were transferred to the rare book collections. The subjects of individual collections are wide-ranging and offer historical glimpses into a number of disciplines: civil engineering, mathematics, microscopy, glass-making, physics, spectroscopy, geology, and more. While a few items in the collections were published before 1600, most date from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries.

The Institute Archives and Special Collections houses MIT's rare and special books. All volumes should be requested in advance of an appointment to use the materials. The books may only be used in the Archives reading room during hours of normal operation. For more information about the rare books and other historical resources located at MIT, visit us in Room 14N-118 or write to

MIT Libraries