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.
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. For more information on accessing collections please see our Reader Services page.
Detailed information about collection materials may be found in the library's online catalog, Franklin, and on the following pages:
In addition to the collections held at the Kislak Center, special collections can be viewed at the library of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, the Fisher Fine Arts Library, the Penn Museum Library, the Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, and the University Archives and Records Center.
Teaching and Learning
The Kislak Center ignites scholarly and artistic investigations into the archive and promotes the study of material culture. We work one-on-one with faculty across academic disciplines to connect students with special collections. Students learn with primary sources, enriching their learning experience and deepening their knowledge of a course's subject matter. Students are also encouraged to interrogate the histories of archival practice and imagine its futures. For more information about teaching with special collections, see our "Classes in the Kislak Center" page.
Kislak Center staff are available to consult with students, faculty, and researchers engaged in scholarly projects, artistic and cultural inquires, and projects in the digital humanities. With its partner institutions, the Kislak Center hosts a range of fellowships and research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.
The Kislak Center fosters innovative approaches to synthesizing 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) and the Books as Symbols in Renaissance Art Database (BASIRA). Other projects include OPenn, a resource to make primary digital resources available to everyone; the Provenance Online Project (POP), sharing images of ownership marks that tell the history of books and manuscripts; and the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica, which teaches us about four centuries of Jewish life throughout the western hemisphere.
Exhibits & Events
The Kislak Center supports a robust, year-round program of workshops, exhibits, and special events that promote scholarship and the arts. Exhibits are programmed in multiple venues, including the Goldstein Gallery, the Kamin Gallery, the Ormandy Gallery, the Fisher Fine Arts Library, the Dental Library, and more. Special events and workshops, such as the annual New Acquisition Showcase, the Music in the Pavilion Series, and the Workshop in the History of Material Texts occur in Class of 1978 Orrery Pavilion. We also support remote events, including the From the Kislak Stacks lecture series. To follow our events and exhibitions, please view our events 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."