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Fales Library of English and American Literature

Overview of the Fales Library of English and American Literature collection in the Special Collections at New York University.

Fales Library Collection Development Policy


The Fales Library is committed to preserving the creative work of artists and writers in their original formats, paying close attention to the book as a physical object and other media in their original state when possible. Materials preserved in the Library are meant to be used for scholarly research that requires use of the original editions or works in original formats. These collections complement the collection policies in the general stacks by supplying rare or fine editions of texts and original copies of media or by prospectively collecting works that will become important historical evidence.

  1. Fales Library of English and American Literature

    Preference is given to works by New York writers, experimental writing and new narrative from beyond New York, and authors representative of trends in mainstream fiction.

    1. General Guidelines

      Novels and other works of fiction that document styles, genres, and themes of fiction expressed in narrative form. In general, fiction is collected from ca. 1740 to the present. Other materials will be acquired for authors who are collected in depth, such as plays, poetry, adaptations, or for the modern period, cartoons, filmscripts.

    2. Retrospective Collecting

      Attention is given to "filling in gaps" in "major" author collections to assure completeness of first editions or significant editions of an author's work. Lesser known authors' works of fiction in the same period are added, especially those that give an impression of publishing trends and literary styles. Preference is given to first editions of works in original bindings. If this is not applicable or not possible, rebound copies of good quality may be purchased.

    3. Prospective Collecting

      Contemporary authors are collected based on a list of authors whose work is deemed representative of trends and styles in contemporary fiction. All new books by these authors are purchased as they are published to assure comprehensiveness. Following reviews and current writers, other texts are purchased that document trends in fiction. Works by both experimental authors and more popular authors are collected for these purposes.

    4. Primary and Secondary Literature

      Preference is given to the acquisition of primary materials, that is, first editions of works or other significant editions. Following precedents within Fales, significant new scholarly editions of works are acquired as are publications of letters, diaries, sketch books, and other primary sources. Biographies of note will be acquired. Critical works will not be acquired. It is assumed these materials will be purchased for the general stack collection.

    5. Contributions to Other Works

      Contributions by authors to other texts, such as introductions, collaborative works, prefaces, etc. will be collected depending on the level at which an individual author is collected.

    6. Language

      By its very nature the Fales library collects literature almost exclusively in English. The primary language of biographies, memoirs, and critical works collected is also English.

    7. Geographical Aspects

      The Fales Library collects English fiction, covering the literatures of England and the United States; and to a lesser extent Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Africa, and the Caribbean.

    8. Chronological Aspects
      • Pre-1800

        In general, little is added to the pre-1800 collection. Fales holds a strong collection of epistolary and gothic novels, but is overshadowed by other major collections in the area.

      • 1801-1900

        This is the period of most retrospective acquisitions. Works by major and lesser- known authors are acquired to fill gaps. Rare or scarce other works of fiction are acquired to give a profile of fiction in the period.

      • 1901-1945

        Special emphasis is being given currently to lesser-known authors of the Edwardian period, essentially extending the comprehensive holdings of Victorian fiction into the 20th century. Major authors of the period are well represented. Works of popular fiction are especially being added.

      • 1945-present

        Post-war fiction is being purchased to fill in gaps of major British and American authors. Fales does not attempt to be comprehensive in contemporary fiction.

  2. Manuscripts and Archives

    1. English and American Fiction

      The Fales Collection has significant holdings of manuscripts and documents by English and American authors. The Fales Manuscript Collection, built largely by DeCoursey Fales, holds some 15,000 items, mostly from the Victorian and Edwardian period, including strong holdings of Sir Walter Scott. Other authors' papers include E.L. Doctorow, M. L. Rosenthal, Jerome Charyn, and Elizabeth Robins. Additions are made selectively.

Types of Materials

Fales collects books, journals, newspapers, yearbooks, annuals, manuscripts, archives, ephemeral materials, film, video, and a variety of other original materials. Emphasis is placed on acquiring items in their original states. Authors' books should be acquired in their first appearance. In general this means the first edition in the country of the author, though precedence is given to the first appearance in print. Collected editions of works are purchased for major authors. Scholarly editions of works are also added for major authors. Facsimiles are purchased, but sparingly. Most facsimiles should be purchased by the general stacks. (See the English Literature policy statement.)

Strengths & Weaknesses of the Collection

  1. Strengths

    The strengths of the collection lie in its extensive 19th century British fiction holdings, which compare favorably with those at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The American holdings are very strong for the same period, though not as strong as the British. Detective fiction, Gothic novels, popular fiction of the Edwardian period (1900-1914), African American novels, proletarian fiction, and the works of 19th-century women writers are especially well-represented in the holdings. In addition, the Berol Collection of Lewis Carroll material is an outstanding resource for the study of Carroll.

  2. Weaknesses

    The major weakness of the collection is its lack of 19th-century journals, which are increasingly requested by users. Other areas that could be strengthened include 18th-century novels, and popular fiction since 1945.


Because the collection is primarily composed of 19th- and 20th-century novels, a large portion of the holdings are in danger of becoming brittle. Some materials have been microfilmed, others deacidified. There is much work to be done to rehouse and preserve the collection. A rough estimate indicates that ca. 75% of the collection needs some kind of preservation treatment from the simplest protective covering of dust jackets to full conservation treatment of historically important bindings.

Transfer Criteria for Moving General Stacks Materials to Special Collections

The following criteria govern the transfer of general stacks materials to Special Collections. If a book meets one or more of these criteria, it can be routed to Special Collections for review. Special collections staff will evaluate the book and decide on a case-by-case basis whether to transfer the book or return it to the general collection.

English and American Books

  • All books printed before 1801.
  • Books printed in the Western Hemisphere before 1821. (Rare Americana is determined largely according to those dates when printing was introduced in each state. A list of these dates, by state, is appended.)
  • Confederate imprints, 1861-1865.
  • English and American drama before 1851.
  • Landmark books in the history of learning (usually 1st editions).
  • Books of famous printers such as Baskerville, Elsevier, etc.
  • Private Press Books by such presses as Ashendene, Chiswick, Cuala, Kelmscott, Merrymount, Peter Pauper, etc.
  • Limited edition titles (usually 500 copies or less) are collected according to the importance of the author or illustrator. They are not collected per se and will be added to Special Collections only if the text is of special interest or if the author is a writer collected by the Fales Library.
  • Autographed books (signed by author, artist) or association copies (personal copies of famous people).

Deaccession Policy for the Fales Library & Special Collections


The deaccession of materials in special collections is governed by different principles from those for general research collections. Because of the primacy of preserving special collections materials in their original format and, concomitant with that, the role of special collections as repositories for cultural history, the Fales Library will carefully assess all materials before accepting them to lessen the likelihood of deaccession. This said, there are valid reasons why materials in special collections may be deaccessioned.

Acknowledging these points, The Rare Book and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries included a lengthy set of guidelines for deaccession of materials in Standards for Ethical Conduct for Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Librarians, with Guidelines for Institutional Practice in Support of the Standards, 2d edition, 1992. The following policy for deaccession of materials from the Fales Library and Special Collections incorporates and upholds the standards established by RBMS for the ethical deaccessioning of materials from special collections.

Guidelines for the Deaccession of Materials

  1. In the deaccession of rare books and manuscripts, the Fales Library will weigh carefully the interests of the public for which it holds the collections in trust, the interests of the scholarly and cultural community, and the Fales Library's own mission.
  2. The Fales Library will consider any legal restrictions, the necessity for possession of valid title, and the donor's intent in the broadest sense.
  3. Procedures for the deaccession or disposal of materials will be at least as rigorous as those for purchasing and should be governed by the same basic principles. The decision to dispose of materials must be made only after full and scrupulous consideration of the public interest and the needs of researchers; the process of deaccession will be carried out in as open and public a manner as possible.
  4. Mandatory restrictions on disposition which accompanied a donation will be observed unless it can be shown clearly by appropriate legal procedures that adherence to them is impossible or substantially detrimental to the New York University. When statements of donor's preferences accompany an acquisition, any departure from them will be carefully considered and negotiated with the donor or the donor's heirs or settled by appropriate legal procedures.
  5. Responsibility to the needs and reputation of the Fales Library requires that, in preparing for and accomplishing any deaccession, the Fales Library will take care to define and publicly state the purpose of the deaccession and the intended use of monetary or other proceeds of the deaccession, to avoid any procedure which may detract from the Library's reputation for honesty and responsible conduct, and to carry out the entire process in a way which will not detract from public perception of its responsible stewardship.
The following points must be taken into consideration:
  • The Fales Library will insure that the method of deaccession will result in furthering the agreed purpose of the deaccession, whether this be monetary gain or more appropriate placement of scholarly resources.
  • The Fales Library will disclose to the potential new owner or intermediary agent any action, such as the retention of a photocopy of the material, which may affect the monetary or scholarly value of the material.
  • To the fullest extent possible, the Fales Library will make public information on the disposition of deaccessioned materials.
  • The Fales Library will not allow materials from its collections to be acquired privately by any library employee, officer, or volunteer, unless they are sold publicly and with complete disclosure of their history.
  • Due consideration should be given to the library community in general when disposing of items. Sales to, or exchanges between, institutions will be explored as well as disposal through the trade.

Other Resources

Because of its location within New York City, the Fales Library is complemented by several other major collections of rare materials and primary sources for the study of literature and the contemporary arts. Included among these other collections are the Pierpont Morgan Library, The New York Public Library, The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University, The New-York Historical Society Library.

Other resources for literary texts here at NYU include the various microfilm sets of English and American Literature housed in the microform division.