Policy UL-SP04 Special Collections Access Statement

Main Policy Content

  • Background
  • Confidentiality and Privacy 
  • Donor-Imposed Access Restrictions
  • Access through Reproduction and Digitization
  • Researcher Responsibilities
  • Protection and Care of the Collections


The Pennsylvania State University Libraries (hereafter “Libraries”) acquires and organizes primary source and other collections for use by researchers. The Libraries make available these resources in its possession on equal terms of access in accordance with the University’s statutory authority, its institutional mandate, the “ACRL/SAA [the Association of College and Research Libraries and the Society of American Archivists] Joint Statement on Access to Original Research Materials,” the SAA “Code of Ethics for Archivists,” and the “ACRL Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians.” The Libraries do not deny access to materials to any researcher with a serious interest, nor grant privileged or exclusive use of materials to any researcher, nor conceal the existence of any body of material from any researcher, unless required to do so by statutory authority, institutional mandate, or donor or purchase stipulation.

As the accessibility of material depends on researchers knowing of its existence, it is the responsibility of designated Libraries staff to report information about the collections in its custody. This may be accomplished through local, regional, or national catalogs; inventories and other internal finding aids; published guides; the maintenance of a departmental website where relevant information about holdings may be posted, and the assistance of staff members.


The Libraries are committed to preserving research materials and to making them available for research at the earliest practicable time after acquisition. Libraries faculty and staff also recognize that occasionally there may be legal and institutional obligations to protect confidentiality in its collections. Confidentiality and privacy may relate to:

  • Student educational records, “Policy AD11 University Policy on Confidentiality of Student Records.”
  • Records generated by healthcare providers or healthcare researchers containing information about identifiable individuals is protected by the Health Information Privacy and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for which there are both University and governmental policies: 
  • Records concerning submission of manuscripts submitted for publication are closed for fifty (50) years from the year of submission.
  • Peer review documents solicited by publishers are closed for fifty (50) years from the year of the review to protect the anonymity of the reviewer.
  • Records pertaining to individuals in the promotion and tenure process are part of the personnel file for Penn State faculty which is closed until death. Promotion and tenure documents of other institutions will be closed for seventy-five (75) years from the year of the document.
  • Records in which there is information that constitutes an unreasonable invasion of individual privacy (e.g., content which could be harmful to an individual not in the “limelight” or health information from sources other than healthcare providers or researchers). Such instances will be carefully reviewed with a preference for disclosure as soon as practicably possible.
  • Access may be given to researchers for projects in which information is aggregated and in which no personally identifiable information is published by the researcher or used in any other way. Such researchers will be asked to warrant their compliance with this provision by signing a statement to that effect.
  • Records created by The Pennsylvania State University and not designated public are closed for twenty (20) years from the year of their creation.

The Libraries must balance its obligations under the law and University policy with our mission to ensure the widest possible access to research materials. Restriction of documents will be minimal, and all such cases must be approved by Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair and Head, Special Collections Library, and with guidance provided as appropriate by designated University officials and legal counsel.


  • Private donors may also have the right to impose reasonable restrictions upon their papers to protect privacy or confidentiality for a reasonable period of time.
  • It is the responsibility of the Libraries staff to inform researchers of the restrictions which apply to collections. 
  • Libraries staff should discourage donors from imposing unreasonable restrictions and should encourage a specific time limitation on restrictions that are imposed. 
  • Libraries staff should periodically reevaluate restricted material and work toward the removal of restrictions when they are no longer required.


The Libraries facilitate access to collections by providing reproduction services. These services can include electronic, paper, or photographic copies; microfilm; or other means of reproduction. All reproductions are made in accordance with statutory authority, including copyright law, institutional mandate, and repository regulations. Reasonable fees may be charged for these copying and/or research services.

Documents and other materials from the holdings of The Pennsylvania State University Libraries may be digitized for access on the Internet. Such documents will be digitized only to support non-profit educational and research uses. Other uses require permission of The Pennsylvania State University Libraries. Please consult the Libraries website for more information on fees.  

If individuals or other entities believe their rights have been compromised through digitization leading to unwarranted access to such documents, The Pennsylvania State University Libraries may undertake a review of any such claims and remove digital surrogates in those cases where there is a valid claim. Such requests will be reviewed by the Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair for Special Collections and Head, Special Collections Library in consultation with the Associate Dean for Research and Scholarly Communications and others, including University Counsel, as appropriate. All digital collections will be posted along with a statement that outlines these terms of use and provides contact information for filing such claims.


The Libraries provide to researchers a suggested form of citation crediting the Libraries and identifying items within its holdings for later reference. Citations to copies of materials in other repositories should include the location of the originals, if known.

It is the researcher's obligation to satisfy copyright regulations when copying or using materials found in collections. Whenever possible the Libraries will inform a researcher about known copyrighted material, the owner or owners of the copyrights, and the researcher's obligations with regard to such material.


To protect and insure the continued accessibility of the material in its custody, all materials must be used in accordance with the rules of the Libraries. Rules governing access and use of the Libraries’ materials are conveyed to each researcher who is asked to sign a statement at the time of registration stating that they will comply with such rules. These rules are applied and enforced equally. The Libraries may:

  • limit the use of fragile or unusually valuable materials, but should try to provide suitable reproductions to researchers in lieu of the originals.
  • restrict access to unprocessed materials, as long as the limitations are applied and enforced equally.
  • loan or place on deposit with another repository, in special circumstances, part or all of a collection.
  • refuse access to an individual researcher who has demonstrated such carelessness or deliberate destructiveness as to endanger the safety of the material, or to a researcher who has violated the policies and regulations of the repository.
  • require, in accordance with statutory authority and institutional mandate, acceptable identification of any individual wishing to use its materials, as well as a signature verifying the individual has read a statement defining the policies and regulations of the repository.

Effective Date: May 11, 2009
Date Approved: May 11, 2009 (Dean's Library Council)

Revision History (and effective dates):

  • May 11, 2009 – New policy

Last Review Date:  November 2009