Rare books & special collections was created largely through the efforts of earlier university librarians, specifically Dr R.F.M. Immelman who was determined that the University Library would have a research collection of which a university at the southern tip of Africa could be proud.
He felt that its holdings should not only reflect the needs of undergraduates, but also be representative of universal, historical and cultural developments. He believed that the library would be failing future generations, and the world of scholarship generally, if its shelves housed titles only required for the teaching programme.
Undaunted by the fact that financial constraints did not allow UCT Libraries to compete with like libraries overseas, by judicious selection and purchase of material, and the solicitation of donations, he was able to create a small research library that was large in "the richness, variety and sheer unexpectedness of its content".
The non-Africana research component of UCT Libraries envisaged by Dr Immelmann has found expression in the Rare books & special collections department, which is fortunate enough to contain many books that were formerly housed in his personal library. Materials are currently selected with Dr Immelman's vision in mind.
The Special collections include:
Ballot-Kicherer Collection; McGregor Poetry Collection; Bowle-Evans; Mossop Chinese Collection;
Cape Town Diocesan Library; Rare Books Collection; Cameron-Swan Scottish Collection; South African Children's Literature Collection; Historical Children's Literature Collection; South African Speleological Association's Collection; Jack Maclean Memorial Collection; Speculative Fiction Collection; John Davidson Phrenological Collection; Willis Naval and Aeronautical Collection and Kipling Collection.
The Rare books collections:
This collection consists of books and journals about, and representative of, man's intellectual and cultural development. Book arts and the history, development and future of the book and related subjects are collecting interests. It includes a fine selection of 18th, 19th and early 20th century general encyclopaedias. Apart from some rare editions (such as William Henry Fox Talbot's Pencil of nature, 1844, the first book to contain photographs), the collection also has on its shelves what is thought to be the world's largest collection of fore-edge paintings.