That is the question we hear a lot at the beginning of the new academic year as students explore Butler Library and end up here, in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, aka “The Pink Palace.”
The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) is Columbia’s principal repository for primary source collections. The range of collections in the RBML spans more than 4,000 years and includes rare printed works, cylinder seals, cuneiform tablets, papyri, and Coptic ostraca; medieval and renaissance manuscripts; posters; art; comics & cartoons, and oral histories.
Forming the core of the collections: 500,000 printed books, 14 miles of manuscripts, personal papers, archives and records, and 10,000 (and counting) oral histories.
One can find literary manuscripts from the 14th century, Hebrew and Islamic manuscripts, as well as the papers of Herman Wouk and Erica Jong. Papers of CLR James, Hubert Harrison, Amiri Baraka, Serge Prokofiev, Bella Abzug and Arthur Mitchell are housed here. Archives as varied as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Random House, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International-USA, Russian émigré collections, oral history transcripts, and the archives of Columbia University are available for research. The history of printing & typography, graphic arts, and the performing arts are strengths of the collections.
Here are some of our research guides that detail what’s available and how to use our collections:
Exhibitions, lectures and public events are held throughout the academic year and are open to the Columbia community!