The Libraries’ collection development philosophy is rooted in the missions of the University and of the University Libraries. The primary purpose of collection development is to provide access to the information resources necessary to carry out the University's teaching programs and to support the research of all of its undergraduate and graduate students and faculty, whether on- or off-campus.

The Collection Development Policy acts as a guide for planning the long-term growth of the collection.

The development of library collections in each subject area is the responsibility of the liaison librarians. Liaison librarians are the designated library contacts for the various Schools and Departments.

We participate not only in national cooperative efforts (interlibrary loan), but also in two local consortia (The Washington Research Library Consortium [WRLC] and The Washington Theological Consortium). Through our membership in the WRLC, the Libraries engage in cooperative collection development that aims to increase the scope of information available and preserve items that are distinct to each University.

Online access has proven to be increasingly important with the growth in distance learning students, hybrid classes, and the expectations of users that they can locate and read books and articles without being physically present in the library. The liaison librarians consider online access, understanding that some works are not published electronically and other works may be used heavily in both print and electronic formats. 

It is the exception, not the rule, that any academic library can house all of its collections on site. For this reason, we regularly transfer infrequently used titles to the WRLC Shared Collections Facility (SCF), so we can accommodate incoming acquisitions. At any time, library users may request a title from the SCF and it will be retrieved and brought back on site within 1-2 days.

Similarly, no academic library has the budget to purchase or subscribe to all the books, journals, and databases that are requested by faculty, students, and staff on campus. We prioritize those items that are required for class support and instruction and consider the number of potential users and the relation of the suggested title to the university’s mission. 

Interlibrary Loan (ILL), also known as Resource Sharing, began in the 19th-century and is a long-standing service whereby a patron of one library can borrow books, DVDs, music, etc. or receive article scans from another that owns the requested item. In addition to ILL, the University Libraries offers Consortium Loan Services. This is similar to ILL, but differs in two important ways:

  • Members of the WRLC share their collections, which are searchable in a shared catalog. This shared collection includes the titles owned by American University, Gallaudet University, George Mason University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Howard University, Marymount University, and the University of the District of Columbia. In brief, our users have access to more than 13 million items.
  • Books that are requested through the consortium arrive on campus quickly. The delivery service runs between all libraries seven days / week.

What We Collect

The Libraries acquire and license materials in support of the research and instructional needs of the University’s degree programs.


The following format guidelines apply to the selection of titles:

  • Primarily, English-language materials are collected.
  • Language audio materials and audio books are not collected.
  • Textbooks are not collected.


The Libraries subscribe to a large number of serials in both print and electronic formats in order to support the research and learning needs of the students and faculty. Since each subscription represents an ongoing financial commitment that increases annually with inflation and enrollment growth, the liaison librarians regularly review each title based on usage, cost and scholarly impact.


The Libraries subscribe to several general multi-subject databases, as well as many subject-specific databases ranging in content from article citations to primary texts. Existing and new subscriptions undergo annual review for retention, based on usage statistics, relative value, and full text content.

Faculty publications

The Libraries seek to acquire books authored by faculty. The CUA Press contributes two copies of each faculty work they publish and faculty are welcome to inform the Libraries about their publications so library staff is able to acquire the titles in a timely manner. Faculty members are encouraged to donate copies of their publications as well.


Our liaison librarians consider donations of books to the Libraries’ general collections when, in advance of delivering any books to the University Libraries:

  • The potential donor contacts the appropriate liaison librarian or the Director of Research and Instruction.
  • The potential donor provides the librarian with a list of the titles he/she would like to donate, including author, title, publisher, and date of publication
  • The liaison librarian has reviewed the list, determined if the titles are within the Libraries’ collecting scope and are useful additions to the collections, and communicates to the potential donor that she / he will accept all or some of the titles offered.
  • Donors may not place special restrictions on the use or disposal of the gifts. The University becomes the owner of all donated materials and reserves the right to determine considerations related to its use, maintenance, and retention.

In the case of the Libraries' special collections, potential donors are to contact the administrators of those units:

  • Special Collections (archival, rare books & museum collections): W. John Shepherd, Head of Special Collections and University Archivist, shepherw@cua.edu
  • The Semitics/ICOR Library: Dr. Monica Blanchard, Curator, blanchard@cua.edu

Special Collections

As articulated in its mission statement and particularly through its special collections the Libraries organize, manage, and preserve unique materials that serve as records of our Catholic intellectual heritage and culture. These special collections contribute to Catholic University's teaching and research missions and to the realization of goal number five of the University’s Strategic Plan: “Raising The Catholic University of America’s national and international visibility and reputation.”

Serving as the official depository for such organizations as the National Catholic Educational Association, Catholic Charities USA, the National Councils of Catholic Women and Men, and the United States Catholic Conference, the American Catholic History Collection is unrivaled as a source for the history of the American Church’s central institutions in the 20th century.

The Rare Books Collections houses one of the nation’s premiere historical canon law collections, with strengths as well in church history and theology, and a notable collection of 17th and 18th century materials surrounding the Jansenist controversy. Modern works on the book arts and history of the book support a collection of early printing, including the products of the Vatican presses.

The holdings of the Semitics/ICOR Library reflect the University’s interest in the languages and thought of the Bible and in the study of the early Church. They include important research collections for the study of Semitic languages and scripts. Valuable Coptic, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic collections document the heritage of Christianity in the Middle East and North Africa.

Mullen Library also houses the Oliveira Lima Library, one of the finest collections in the world for the study of the history and culture of the Luso-Brazilian world. Because there is no specialized collection in the United States that is of comparable depth, this library gives the University a prominent international profile in the fields of Latin American and early modern European studies. The Oliveira Lima Library reports directly to the Provost.


The Libraries’ acquisitions are funded, in large part, by an annual appropriation from the University.

The majority of the University’s materials appropriation pays for subscriptions to print and electronic journals, databases, and other electronic resources. The remainder pays for purchases in subject areas that support the University’s curriculum.

New Programs

When new majors or programs enter the curriculum, the Libraries will attempt to build a collection of sufficient depth to sustain course work and basic research. Building the collection is dependent on communication between the appropriate School or department area and the liaison librarian. In most instances, this will call for a new source of funding or a reallocation of the existing subject area budget(s) to cover these costs.

Balance and Intellectual Freedom

The Catholic University of America upholds academic freedom as a fundamental condition for research and delivers information following the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, a tradition grounded on respect for truth, social responsibility, and individual rights. It is a tradition that posits freedom of inquiry, open discussion, and unrestricted exchange of ideas as essential to the pursuit of knowledge.

The Library is committed to providing a balanced collection that represents a diversity of perspectives. In developing our collection, we adhere to the principles expressed in the following statements from the American Library Association's Library Bill of Rights:

Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

Within the defined scope of our collections, we attempt to represent all points of view and to consider objectively all purchase requests.

Collection Management

In order to maintain the quality and currency of the collections, and to preserve space in the Libraries, staff regularly monitor materials for condition and relevance. When possible, staff repairs damaged items.