Library visitors will discover the gems of the Library's substantial holdings in its Special Collections Room. Reconstructed in 2006, the Room provides a state-of-the-art preservation environment for these rare and valuable items. Many of the materials in this extraordinary collection were acquired at the beginning of the Library's existence, in the early 1800's, when it also collected non-legal materials related natural and social history, philosophy and literature. This "legacy" collection includes the oldest and most valuable works in the Library.
Perhaps the Library's most prized possession is its collection of John James Audubon's "Birds of America" prints. These hand-colored lithographs printed in the 1830's by Robert Havell from the engravings of Audubon's drawings are artistically and historically significant—Audubon's detailed portraits of North American birds represented the first time that drawings of birds were portrayed in their natural environment. The Library's 430 individual prints, representing nearly the complete set of 435 total prints, underwent a comprehensive two-year restoration process through the professional services of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia. Thus, these rare pieces—only 120 sets are in existence today—have the finest appearance possible. In a custom-built display case in the Library's main reference area, one or two individual prints are displayed on a rotating basis.
In addition, the Library possesses other decidedly notable materials. Visitors to the Library's Special Collections Room may study these and other valuable works:
- Acts of Congress, 1789-1791, signed by then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson
- History of the Indian Tribes of North America, by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall, 1837
- An Abstract of all the Penal Statutes Which Be General, in Force and Use, Ferdinando Pulton, 1579 (the oldest book in the Library's collection)
- The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America, authorized by the Continental Congress, 1781
- United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842
The Library takes seriously its obligation to preserve on behalf of Marylanders these extraordinary and priceless works. The Special Collections Room features advanced climate controls to maintain an ideal environment of 62 degrees F and 40% humidity. It also includes a sophisticated leak detection system and an FM-200 chemical fire suppression system. The Library Staff makes sure that delicate books are properly stored in archival boxes. Visitors and Staff comply with materials handling guidelines designed to ensure that fragile works last for as long as possible. Staff evaluates the condition of books in other parts of the Library to determine if their condition requires storage in the Special Collections Room.
The Library acquires materials to add to its Special Collections primarily through donations. One recent gift, The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America, given to honor the memory of longtime weekend reference librarian Eugene Kowalczuk, represents a valuable addition to the Library's wide-ranging collection of early American law books. These donations expand the research resources available to all Marylanders.