The main entrance to the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center is now open. Van Pelt Library and the Fisher Fine Arts Library are currently open to Penn Card holders, Penn affiliates, and certain visitors. See our Service Alerts for details.

Accordion List

The relative youth of Penn’s Criminology Department, started within the School of Arts and Sciences in 2003, belies the long and distinguished history of criminology research at the university. Starting with Thorsten Sellin (at Penn, 1916-1967) and continued through the career of Sellin’s student, Marvin Wolfgang (at Penn, 1955-1998), Penn’s focus has been on developing criminology as a scientific discipline and as the basis for an informed criminal justice policy. The formal Criminology Program started in the Wharton School’s Sociology Department. When the social sciences departments migrated to the School of Arts and Sciences in the early 1970s, the Criminology program remained in the Wharton School and based in what became the Sellin Center for Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law. When the SAS Criminology Department was created under Lawrence Sherman, the Sellin Center was renamed the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology.

The current Criminology Department continues in Sellin’s footsteps, studying the causes and prevention of criminal behavior; the department has a strong empirical focus with emphasis on quantitative methods. BA, MS, and PhD degrees in criminology are offered. The BA degree’s core requirements include an introductory course in criminology, an introductory course in criminal justice, and a research seminar in experiments in crime and justice, with additional multiple courses in three concentrations : socio-political context of crime, bio-psychological-social analysis of crime, and criminal justice research. The MS degree is aimed at students seeking to spend their careers applying research in public and nonprofit organizations, with core requirements include courses in quantitative methods for public policy, criminal justice data analytics and research methods, with additional courses in criminology in practice and evidence-based crime prevention. Core requirements for the PhD degree resemble the MS degree’s, with additional courses in applied statistics and independent study. Over the past decade (2013-2024), 15 PhDs have been awarded. The department hosts the Crime and Justice Policy Lab, and publishes the Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

 Penn centers with an interest in criminology include the School of Social Policy and Practice, with its Center for Carceral Communities and the Ortner Center on Violence and Abuse; and the Carey Law School’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice, Criminal Law Research Group.

The Criminology faculty historically have taken a keen interest in the criminological literature. Professor Sellin’s “Sociology” contribution to the Faculty Survey of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries (1940) noted that “in the field of criminology and penology our resources are somewhat unbalanced”, between the General Library and Biddle Law Library : 19th-century and early 20th-century international periodicals and monographs were “fairly well represented”; contemporary monographs, especially foreign, were weak; and “our collection of criminal statistics, both American and foreign, is very deficient” (p. 185). 

Following Professor Sellin’s tenure, Professor Wolfgang closely supervised the Wharton School Center’s criminology library from its founding in c.1971; that library, renamed the Lipman Library in 1985 to acknowledge the creation of an endowment “"to purchase books and related research materials on criminology for graduate students in the Wharton School's Center for Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law", was relocated from the McNeil Building to a Lippincott Library seminar room in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center in the 1980s. During the 1990s, the Lipman Library was closed as a physical space, the Lipman Library’s books and periodicals were merged into the Van Pelt Library general stacks, and the Lipman Library’s endowment was transferred to the Criminology materials allocation fund.

Upon Professor Sellin’s death in 1994, his sons donated his personal library to the Penn Libraries. This gift brought more than 7,200 books and journal issues, a very large offprint collection, and Professor Sellin’s papers. The donation included ca. 150 rare and antiquarian books, as well as multiple issues from early and mid-20th-century foreign criminology, criminal justice, and penology journals, effectively addressing Professor Sellin’s 1940 criticisms.

Current acquisitions in criminology are funded through three allocated funds, Approval (covering domestic and foreign approval plans), One-time, and Ongoing. Two endowments are available for acquisitions. The Lipman Criminology Library Fund is a major endowment focused generally on criminology. The Nile, Sutton, and Jeena Cohen Endowment for the Study of Criminal Justice Reform, activated in FY2020, covers materials related to experimental approaches to criminal justice policy and practice, methodological training, and evidence‐based thinking around criminal justice in addition to the general study of criminal justice reform. Annual acquisitions funding for criminology has grown 67% during the past five years (FY2019) and 156% during the past decade (FY2014).

At present, the Penn Libraries print criminology collection is based in Van Pelt Library, with older and lesser-used materials housed at LIBRA. The print collection, covering LC classes HV6000 through HV9999, Criminology and Criminal Justice Administration, holds approximately 23,700 book titles (26,480 barcoded book volumes) and 648 serial titles (3,791 barcoded serial volumes). The print collection’s subject coverage is roughly balanced between Criminology (56% of books), including its subdivision, Crime and Offenses/Criminal Offenses (43%, with 12% being Terrorism) and Criminal Justice Administration (44%), including Penology (25%, including Juvenile Delinquency) and Police (15%). 

The print book collection is predominantly Anglophone (80%), with French, German (4% each), Spanish, Russian, Arabic (2% each), and Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Hebrew (1%) as major language concentrations : 56 languages are represented in the print book collection. The print criminology serials collection has a similar language distribution. The print collection’s subject coverage is roughly balanced between Criminology (56% of books), including its subdivision, Crime and Offenses/Criminal Offenses (43%) and Criminal Justice Administration (44%), including Penology (25%, including Juvenile Delinquency) and Police (15%). 

During the past decade, the Criminology collection has been moving from print format to electronic. In FY2019, 405 print books were acquired through approval plans and firm orders versus 64 ebooks. In FY2023, 109 print books were acquired versus 272 ebooks. During this period, the Penn Libraries began acquiring new book titles from many major publishers, including presses with strong criminology catalogs such as New York University Press, Cambridge University Press, and Sage, through broad frontlist collections. Criminology funds contributed to many of these frontlist bundles, but subject matter from these acquisitions are not incorporated in our collection statistics; they do, however, account for a large portion of the difference between FY2019 and FY2023 total print or electronic titles-acquired counts.

In similar fashion, the Criminology collection’s serials collection is difficult to evaluate, as we move almost completely to ejournal format. The Penn Libraries currently subscribe to 98 of the 114 titles ranked in InCites Journal Citation Reports 2022 : Criminology & Penology, as e-journals either through subscription (78 titles), open access (5), or recent-issue embargos (15, via Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text, HeinOnline, and other third-party aggregator databases). The print collection holds 625 serial titles, currently received or in closed runs, with only four currently-received subscriptions.

The principal bibliographic tools for identifying scholarship in criminology are Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text (EBSCOhost) and the now-emasculated NCJRS database. For foreign literature, KrimDok is also consulted. Other databases of interest to Penn criminologists include Sociological Abstracts, Index to Legal Periodicals (Current & Retrospective) and HeinOnline, and APA PsycInfo. Gray literature is found through Rutgers Unversity’s Gray Literature Database, subscription databases such as Policy Commons (with fulltext content), PolicyFile, and PAIS, and open access archives that include CrimRxiv, EconPapers, and SSRN. 

The Penn Libraries have acquired complete sets of the NCJRS, Crime & Juvenile Delinquency, and Urban Documents microfiche collections. Print special collections held in the Kislak Center include the Johan Thorsten Sellin papers (1886-1990), Olof Kinberg dossiers of criminally-insane patients (1931-1938), records of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons (1787-1883), and an 1843-1857 prison reform scrapbook. Through Reveal Digital, ProQuest History Vault, Gale Cengage Archives Unbound, and other online platforms, we hold digitized collections of American prison newspapers, 1880s-present; FBI files on individuals and organizations (mostly African American and radical, extremist, and Communist), filing and record procedures, and manuals of instruction, investigative procedures, and guidelines; the African American Police League records (1961-1968); Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency records (1853-1999); the Sacco-Vanzetti Case Papers and records of the Greensboro Massacre, 1979; records of the U.S Commission on Civil Rights project on Police-Community Relations in Urban Areas (1954-1966), Kerner Commission (National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1967-1968), Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (1965-1967), National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (1968-1969), and Cabinet Committee on Drug Law Enforcement (1976-1977); and Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture 1790-1920. Quantitative datasets are provided through the Penn Libraries Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research membership and TRACfed, with additional open-source datasets available in ICPSR’s National Archive of Criminal Justice Data and other open data repositories.


Chiefly contemporary. Historical topics that inform contemporary subjects are also collected.


All formats are acquired, that is, books, periodicals, datasets, videos and videostreams, microforms. The ejournal format is preferred over print. The ebook format is generally preferred over print; however, print trade-imprint titles may be acquired when their ebook version is not suitable for library use.


Chiefly United States. Canadian and Western European countries are covered mostly through approval plans, with some firm ordering. Other areas of the world are acquired mostly by Global Collections.


English, with other Western languages acquired selectively. Non-western language materials are acquired mostly by Global Collections.

Publication Dates

Current, with some retrospective acquisitions.

Books and ebooks are supplied through our domestic and European approval plans, based upon a subject and publisher profile we have filed with our vendors. Publisher catalogs are consulted for new titles and for retrospective acquisitions. Selected journals are monitored for book reviews, including Theoretical Criminology, Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, British Journal of Criminology, and Punishment & Society.

For US books, our subject profile is broad, based upon the LC classes HV6000-HV9999, covering general and advanced academic books criminology and criminal justice, with notification slips for textbooks, popular works, and professional works; our publisher profile is also broad, with specific publishers blocked from the plan for whom we have acquired ebook frontlist collections (these include Oxford Scholarship Online, Cambridge Core, Sage Knowledge, ElgarOnline, and de Gruyter partners such as NYU Press and Bristol University Press). Special attention for firm ordering is paid to publishers with strong professional lists, such as Charles C. Thomas, CRC Press, and Aspen Publishing.

For Western European books, our approval plans are very narrow, aiming at high-visibility “core” titles as determined by our approval vendors. This is supplemented by firm ordering based upon searching for specific topics of current interest to Penn’s criminology faculty and students.

For the OCLC Conspectus category, Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Penn Libraries collects at Research Level (bordering on Comprehensive Level) for Anglophone materials and between Instructional Support Level and Research Level for materials in other Western languages. The Conspectus category has no subdivisions; we aim to collected at Research Level for the separate LC classification divisions, Criminology and Criminal Justice Administration, and the latter’s subdivision, Penology, Prisons, and Corrections.

Outside the OCLC Conspectus category, materials of interest to Penn criminologists are collected in cooperation with other subject funds, including Social Work (social pathology, social and public welfare), Political Science (social and political aspects of law), Psychology (deviance), and Sociology (social control, social psychology, social problems, communities). Government documents, e.g., publications of the US Department of Justice and its centers, agencies, and bureau, are collected through our United States Federal Depository Library Program. Works on research methodologies, including statistical methods, interviewing, and GIS, of interest to Penn criminologists are also collected in cooperation with other subject funds, including Social Sciences General.

Within the OCLC Conspectus category, no subjects are excluded.

Biddle Law Library, the library of Carey Law School, also collects in criminal justice through its main focus on the theory and practice of law. The Penn Libraries and Biddle Law Library coordinate the acquisition of large purchases.