About Bruce Peel Special Collections

Thanks to visionary collectors and generous donors, a range of important collections in Bruce Peel Special Collections treat numerous local and international subjects, from the Indigenous peoples of North and South America to Historic Entomology and from Book History to the Chinese Experience in Canada.

Bruce Braden Peel (1916–1998) was Chief Librarian at the University of Alberta from 1955 to 1982. The publication of his A Bibliography of the Prairie Provinces in 1956 was a landmark achievement that documents the publishing history of western Canada, and his bibliography continues to grow today as an online database called "Peel's Prairie Provinces." Named to honour Peel's accomplishments, Bruce Peel Special Collections houses a world-class collection of more than 100,000 rare books and a significant collection of archival materials. Located in the basement of the Rutherford South building on the main university campus, researchers and visitors are welcome to visit Special Collections (also called the "Peel library") to browse the current exhibition or examine rare materials in the Gregory Javitch Reading Room on weekday afternoons throughout the year.

The Peel library is a climate-controlled space: ideally maintaining a steady temperature (18-20°C) and relative humidity (45-55%) all year round. It is a secure, closed-stack library, which offers visitors access to library materials in a supervised reading room. As the stewards of this collection, staff members are committed to both preservation and conservation. “Preservation” refers to the actions taken to minimize the chemical and physical deterioration and damage to collections that can occur through theft, vandalism, displacement, shocks/vibrations, fire, water, light (visible and ultraviolet), temperature, humidity, pests, dust, and other pollutants. “Conservation” is the examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care of cultural property on behalf of present and future generations.


To maintain the integrity of materials housed at Bruce Peel Special Collections, proper handling procedures must be understood and followed by all. Researchers are encouraged to read the Peel library’s Reading Room Policies prior to their visit. Instructive resources produced by our colleagues in other special collections libraries, such as those linked here, demonstrate correct handling procedures.

A stretched panorama shot of the Peel library


Where can I find answers to frequently asked questions about rare and older books and their values?

Please consult this online guide sponsored by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, and the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia.

What is the difference between the Peel library and Peel's Prairie Provinces database?

Researchers often mistakenly imagine that the library and the database are one and the same because both are named to honour Bruce Peel. Peel’s Prairie Provinces database is a growing source of information about everything that has been published in or about the Prairie Provinces. It is a digital version of a print bibliography. Each item is listed in the database as an aid to researchers whether or not a copy of the item is held by one of the libraries at the University of Alberta. Where possible, the database includes digital copies of items that are full-text searchable. If you wish to find a print copy of an item listed in the database, you can look for it in the University of Alberta library catalogue. If the item you seek is not available through the University of Alberta Library, you can search for books in libraries around the world using OCLC WorldCat and for archival materials (letters, photographs, documents, etc.) in local institutions through the Archives Society of Alberta's Alberta on Record database. Bruce Peel Special Collections is one of many libraries that may hold a print copy of an item that you find listed in the Peel’s Prairie Provinces database.

How much is my old book worth?

Many of us own old books that are not old enough or rare enough to have become valuable to collectors. These books may have value that is deeply personal and goes well beyond the resale value. In general, first editions tend to have significantly more monetary value than reprints, but this is just one of many factors that determine value. Other key factors include rarity, market demand, and the condition of a particular copy.

If you are just trying to get a general idea of value, you can find useful information by searching the Internet for book dealers who have listed similar items available for sale. A useful website for this is www.abebooks.com. There is often significant variation in the listed prices, even for copies of the same edition. Such price variations may be due to the condition of specific copies, among other things. If you are looking up your own books, please keep in mind that these are retail prices; an individual with a copy to sell to a dealer would be paid significantly less.

Members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of Canada (ABAC) actively buy, sell, evaluate, and appraise rare and modern books in their respective subject areas, so it is a good idea to have a look at the member directory on the ABAC website if you require a professional book evaluation or appraisal.

Do you accept donations of rare books?

The generosity of donors plays an instrumental role in the development of our research collections. To discuss whether the Peel library is the best place for your rare book(s), please contact Robert Desmarais, Head, Special Collections, at robert.desmarais@ualberta.ca.

What does the Peel library collect?

In accordance with the University of Alberta Library Collection Development Policy, the Peel library acquires materials by purchase or donation to support research and teaching at the University of Alberta, which includes a wide variety of formats: printed books, manuscripts, photographs, prints and drawings, maps, and print ephemera (e.g., posters, playbills, postcards, advertisements, etc.). Donations of gifts-in-kind are also an integral part of the Peel library’s collection development policy. In this regard, the Head of Special Collections works with donors to acquire books and collections that offer substantial research potential based on one or more of the following criteria:

  1. books or ephemera printed before 1800 anywhere;
  2. books or ephemera printed before 1867 in Canada;
  3. books or ephemera printed before 1900 in the Prairie Provinces;
  4. books or printed ephemera with significant research potential.

Preference is also given to materials that complement and build upon existing collection strengths.