About the Kislak Center

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Main content

About the Kislak Center

The Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts advances learning and inspires discovery in Penn's community and around the world. The goals of the Kislak Center align with those of the Penn Libraries as a whole: to make our collections accessible; to use technology in innovative and meaningful ways; to enhance teaching and research; and to preserve our cultural resources for future generations.

Special Procedures for Fall 2020 Re-Opening

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kislak Center staff are mostly working remotely during the Fall 2020 semester. We will continue to offer expanded digital access to our collections, including through virtual curator sessions and increased reprographic support.

Our focus is on the teaching, learning, and scholarly research needs of the University of Pennsylvania community. To support these needs, we anticipate re-opening the Kislak Center in a limited manner on October 12, 2020, but may move the date later depending on the coronavirus situation. Though re-opened, our primary concern is the health and safety of staff and researchers. Thus, we’ve developed new processes on access to special collections material detailed below. We may amend these processes as the coronavirus situation evolves and adjust access based on staffing levels.

  • Access to the Kislak Center will be by appointment only for University of Pennsylvania faculty, graduate students, and staff with active PennCards.
  • All requests to consult special collections materials in-person must be submitted at least one week in advance via the Aeon system. After submitting a request, a staff member will contact you.
  • The Charles K. MacDonald Reading Room will provide in-person, pre-scheduled access to the collection between 1pm and 4pm during weekdays for up to two concurrent researchers.
  • In-person classes are limited to a maximum of five students and one instructor. Sessions must be pre-arranged with Kislak Center staff.
  • All in-person events and exhibitions are canceled, but we will attempt to offer virtual options where feasible.

We've implemented a number of health and safety protocols for any on-site individuals:

  • Prior to arrival, monitor and notify us if you have any COVID-19 related symptoms.
  • Upon arrival, you will need to complete the COVID-19 self-examination certification at the Van Pelt Library entry door guard station.
  • If you show COVID-19 symptoms, you will be asked to reschedule your research appointment
  • While on-site, you must wear a CDC-recommended mask (2-ply cloth or surgical-style mask) at all times with no exceptions, follow social distancing rules (at least 6 feet between individuals), and wash your hands before using materials and after breaks.
  • Bring your own paper and sharpened pencil or mechanical pencil if needed.

Additionally, we've implemented the following health and safety protocols at the Kislak Center:

  • Staff are required to wear masks at all times in shared spaces.
  • Staff are required to self-report COVID-19-related symptoms before entering the library building. Staff reporting COVID-19-related symptoms will not enter the building.
  • All materials will be quarantined for 72 hours before and after use.
  • Lockers, tables, and chairs will be disinfected before and after each use.
  • Other high-touch elements such as door handles will be disinfected regularly.
  • Hand sanitizer is available throughout the building.

For more information, please contact: kislak@pobox.upenn.edu


With over 300,000 printed books and codices and over 14,000 linear feet of modern manuscripts, the Kislak Center’s collections span the ancient world to the contemporary era and are global in scope. The collections are interdisciplinary and continue to grow.

Collections of digital images from the Kislak Center collections and other Penn Libraries departments can be found on the Digital Penn project pages.

Detailed information about collection materials may be found in the library's online catalog, Franklin, and on the following pages:

Other special collections in the Penn Libraries are held at the Library of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies; the Fisher Fine Arts Library; and the Penn Museum Library.

Digital Innovation

The Kislak Center fosters innovative approaches to integrating material and digital research and advocating for open data. The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS), located in the Kislak Center, is a dynamic research think tank focusing on pre-modern manuscripts and manuscript culture, and supports an array of manuscript related digital projects, including the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SDBM). Other Kislak and SIMS supported projects include OPenn, a resource to make primary digital resources available to everyone, and the Provenance Online Project (POP), sharing images of ownership marks that tell the history of books and manuscripts. For more information, see the Digital Penn project pages.

Research, Learning and Events

Located on the 6th floor and parts of the 5th floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, the Kislak Center's recently renovated, award-winning facilities provide a variety of opportunities for learning and research. The Charles K. MacDonald Reading Room can accommodate twenty researchers at a time in addition to small groups in each of three study rooms. Five Kislak Center classrooms provide a space for students to interact with original editions of the works they have been studying and to learn how earlier generations encountered those same books, documents, manuscripts, or codices. Students, faculty and staff engage in the study of both digital humanities and material culture in the technology enabled Vitale Special Collections Media Lab.

  • To learn about the many exhibits, workshops, lectures and other events taking place at the Kislak Center, visit the Exhibits and Events Page.
  • More information for readers and researchers who wish to consult collections is on our Reader Services page.

About Jay I. Kislak (1922-2018)

Jay I. Kislak was an avid collector of books and artifacts and a longtime supporter of the University of Pennsylvania. A graduate of the Wharton School in 1943, he is the first of three generations of his family to graduate from the University and served as a navy pilot in the Second World War. In the 1950s, he moved to Florida and expanded his family's business into a privately held real estate and financial services empire. Together with his wife, Jean, Mr. Kislak assembled rich collections of primary research materials on the history of Florida, the Caribbean and Mesoamerica, with special emphasis on native cultures, their contact with Europeans and the colonial period to about 1820.

A leader in making primary resource materials available for scholarship, Mr. Kislak made his collections available for research through his family collections; through the Jay I. Kislak Foundation and gallery; through a 2004 donation of more than 3,000 books and other objects to the Library of Congress; through donations to the University of Miami and to Miami Dade College; and  through a gift of books from the library of Jacques-Auguste de Thou to the Kislak Center at the Penn Libraries. In recognition of his efforts to preserve cultural heritage, Mr. Kislak was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the U.S. State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee from 2003 through 2008 and, in 2013, received the Encomienda of the Order of Merit Civil from the King of Spain, among other awards and appointments.

"Preserving cultural history and making materials from the past available to researchers has always been my passion," Mr. Kislak has said. "Through the renovation of the [special collections] space, the Penn Libraries have shown their commitment and leadership in the field, particularly in the digital humanities. My family and I could not be more pleased to support their endeavors."