The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections acts as the principal repository for rare books, archives, antiquarian maps, and related historical material at McMaster University in support of teaching, education, and scholarship. Named after William Ready, the University Librarian from 1966 until his retirement in 1979, the diverse collections consist of culturally significant books and unique records of national and international scope: manuscripts such as Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae written in 1150 A.D.; a collection of 35,000 pre-1800 books and journals with a concentration in the eighteenth century; the records of the Anglican Church for the Diocese of Niagara; and archives and books in literature, music, Canadian social history and politics, publishing, philosophy, business, advertising, labour, student organizations, temperance, popular culture, the West Indies, peace and war, Judaica, and the Holocaust. Of special note are the archives and personal library of the philosopher, social activist, and Nobel prize winner Bertrand Russell.

The present facilities of the Division of Archives and Research Collections include a reading room for consultation and research, temperature-and-humidity controlled storage areas at Mills Memorial Library, a digital work space, and a conservation lab. The staff is committed to excellence in the acquisition of rare books and archives, their preservation, description, access to these materials at McMaster University and globally, and in the provision of research help to a wide community of users. The Division of Archives and Research Collections works collaboratively with other repositories to achieve the greater goal of preserving historical resources. Digitization of material from the Division’s collection is an ongoing activity, giving students and researchers worldwide quick, online access to our resources. 

Mission and Ethics

The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collection embraces McMaster University Library’s mission and values to enrich the intellectual life at McMaster University in the advancement of teaching, learning, and research and through excellent customer service, facilitating access to information resources, providing welcoming spaces for intellectual discovery, and promoting the innovative adoption of emerging learning technologies. The staff of the Division of Archives and Research Collection adheres to the Code of Ethics established by the Association of Canadian Archivists and to the Special Collections Interest Group Code of Ethics of the Canadian Library Association.


Programs Supported by the Division of Archives and Research Collections



The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections acquires rare books, and archives in a variety of formats and media, including electronic and born-digital records, to serve the research and teaching needs of McMaster University’s faculty and students, to collect materials useful to researchers and scholars beyond McMaster, and to provide access to cultural materials for members of the public. The greatest emphasis is placed on unique or scarce materials of enduring historical, cultural, and research value. Collections are built by the Archives and Research Collections Librarian, the Associate University Librarian, Collections, and the Division's professional staff, in consultation with the University Librarian, other library staff, and members of the McMaster faculty. Materials are acquired primarily through donation and sometimes by purchase. The Division of Archives and Research Collections seeks the support of donors of both books and archives and monetary gifts. For more information on making gifts, please visit the Supporting Your Library section of our website.

Scope and Priorities of the Collections

Areas of collecting interest are defined in part by the collection policies and the existing strengths of the collections. New collecting areas are added in response to evolving research and teaching needs, new disciplines or modes of intellectual inquiry, new university academic priorities, in anticipation of the needs of future scholarship, or in response to gift or other opportunities. Each acquisition opportunity is reviewed on its own merits, and collecting policies and priorities are regularly reviewed. Because resources for acquisition and housing are finite, collecting is selective in all areas. See also:

Existing collection strengths

  • Eighteenth century books and journals,
  • Canadian history and politics,
  • Canadian literature and publishing,
  • Canadian music and popular culture,
  • Canadian business history, advertising, and labour,
  • Peace and War, with a particular emphasis on the Holocaust and Resistance, and
  • Bertrand Russell

With the exception of labour archives, the Division of Archives and Research Collections does not collect material relating to the history of Hamilton. Although the Division of Archives and Research Collections houses a substantial collection of post-1957 university archives, McMaster University Library does not have a mandate to collect university records.

Gift Policy

The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections does not accept materials without legal transfer of title, deed of gift, official receipt or other written transfer of legal ownership and custody. All donations are recorded and files kept to document their acquisition. Donors are entitled to the fair-market value of gifts-in-kind, as determined by an arm's-length appraisal process, for tax purposes. After transfer of ownership to McMaster University and appropriate description, all materials will be open to the public for research purposes unless restrictions on archives are made by the donor; restrictions to any records must be reasoned, targeted, and for limited periods of time. Ownership of archives by McMaster University does not include intellectual property or copyright in the material unless specifically included in the gift agreement.


Ordinarily, the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections does not accept materials on deposit (i.e. the Division has physical custody but not ownership of the materials). However, materials may occasionally be accepted when the conditions for acceptance are favorable to McMaster University Library with the understanding that such materials will be donated at a later date. Deposit agreements must be made in writing prior to acceptance. Materials on deposit will be properly housed, but they will not be cataloged or otherwise processed and described. Deposit materials are not necessarily covered by University insurance; owners may be required to provide their own insurance.

Archival Appraisal

In keeping with standard archival practice, the contents of all archives received in the Division will be assessed for historical, informational, evidential, and research value. In most cases, portions of the archive will not be kept. Material identified for removal from the archive will first be offered for return to the donor or creator. If not returned to the donor, items will be offered to other institutions, discarded or destroyed as appropriate.

Deaccession Policy

Occasionally, the Division will transfer ownership of a small collection of books or archival documents to another repository or library when that organization has similar material. Such transfers are made after careful consideration and a determination that uniting the items will have benefits to research and study. Decisions regarding the removal, return, transfer, or destruction of material will be documented in writing and kept with other administrative records on the archive. McMaster University Library does not accept books that would duplicate items in its collections unless they have associational or historical value or can be traded for cash or other appropriate research material for its collections.

Cataloguing and Archival Description

The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections seeks to make newly acquired materials available to the public as soon as possible. Catalogers and archivists follow national standards such as the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules and the Rules for Archival Description of the Canadian Council of Archives. Books in the Division of Archives and Research Collections can be discovered through the Library’s online catalogue and WorldCat. Brief descriptions of archives, with links to the detailed finding aid on the Division’s website, can also be found in those sources. Other sites such as Archeion and Archivescanada.ca also include information on our holdings.


The conservation of archives and rare books is a basic responsibility of the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections. All collections are non-circulating and are housed in closed stacks. Care is taken to maintain and to preserve books in their original state. Dust jackets are always preserved for modern books. Pamphlets and ephemeral material are placed in acid-neutral envelopes. Maps are preferably stored in flat-map cabinets. Posters and broadsides are often encapsulated in mylar sleeves. Archival holdings are stored in acid-neutral file folders and boxes. All essential archives are kept in a secure, temperature-humidity controlled environment. A professional conservator in charge of the preservation department carries out first-aid treatment, paper repairs, and full book restoration, taking into account the research use of the item, its scarcity and uniqueness, and the amount of time to carry out the treatment. The conservator is also involved in Library disaster planning and monitors the placement of all objects and documents in the mounting of exhibitions. The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections espouses the Code of Ethics and Guidance for Practice for Those Involved in the Conservation of Cultural Property in Canada and of the Canadian Association of Professional Conservators.

Research Access and Security

Books, archives, antiquarian maps, and journals are available to all researchers on equal terms in the reading room of the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections. The reading room is a silent study area specifically designed for researchers who wish to consult or examine materials held by this area of the McMaster University Library. All researchers must produce photo identification (such as University I.D. card, driver’s license or passport) and abide by rules for the handling of materials. Researchers may use digital cameras to photograph documents. The reading room is monitored regularly by staff and is under surveillance by a video camera for security purposes. Some materials may require advance notice to be retrieved and used in the reading room. In addition to reference service in the reading room, researchers are welcome to contact the staff by telephone or e-mail (at archives@mcmaster.ca). Books may be sent to other select libraries in Ontario (as well as McGill University Library) that have a designated area for special collections. Researchers wishing to use this service should contact the interlibrary loan unit at their home university. See the Services page at /archives/services for further information on visiting McMaster University Library (accommodation, parking, etc.) and the reproduction of materials. Researchers are advised to abide by established copyright laws and to provide appropriate citation and credit in any publication for the ownership of any materials at McMaster University Library.

Teaching and Outreach

The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections promotes the use and visibility of its collections through instruction in the classroom, public lectures, library events, exhibitions, tours, web sites, on-site and electronic reference services, and communication of significant acquisitions to the University and relevant scholarly communities. We invite faculty to contact us whenever materials of historical interest in the collections can be used by students in courses and research projects. Exhibitions about our collections, often highlighting materials thematically, are featured on a three-month basis in the foyer and reading room; a virtual side to the exhibitions is also available at our web site. Requests for documents and books drawn from the collections to be exhibited outside of McMaster are considered on a case-by-case basis.

Digital Programs

In an era when researchers demand global access, digitization is an important element of the work of the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections. Selected documents have been scanned and are available on the Library’s Digital Collections site. These large-scale projects involve a team of archivists, librarians, curators, web designers, technicians, faculty, and students, and take advantage of state-of-the-art digital software. Digitized books from the Division as well as other Library collections can be accessed from the Library’s digital repository. Titles can be browsed on that site or located via the Library’s catalogue or WorldCat. In addition, McMaster University Library has engaged commercial partners to digitize part of its collections, including archives pertaining to World War I. Such agreements are made when they benefit the Library in digitizing and providing access to large bodies of material. In all cases, the Library retains rights to the content and images, granting the commercial partner appropriate distribution rights. Free access to digitized resources is provided through the Library’s online repositories whenever possible. Increasingly, material under the care of the Division includes not only physical documents but also born-digital archives. This is a new and evolving area of archival work. Division staff are actively involved in developing the Library’s strategy for collecting, preserving, and providing access to these resources.