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Accordion List

The Department of English, one of the largest at the University of Pennsylvania, is staffed by 45 to 50 faculty members and teaches about 75 graduate students, dozens of majors, and well over 500 students per semester. Many other departments or programs use the same library materials as the Department of English. These include, but are by no means limited to: Cinema Studies, Africana Studies, Linguistics, American Studies, Religious Studies, Folklore, and History, as well as programs in literary history and theory, ancient and modern foreign language studies, and comparative literature. Students and faculty in each of these departments or programs, sensitive to and reliant on literary forms of evidence, increasingly define "literature" in newly broadened ways, as does the Department of English.

The Department teaches courses and directs doctoral dissertations across the universe of literature written in (and, occasionally, translated into) the English language. The curriculum includes both traditional and non-traditional period courses, as well as courses on many special topics, authors, genres, or approaches. Interests range from canonical to non-canonical works and encompass primary, secondary, reference, historical, and linguistic materials, as well as "literature" in untraditional forms (cinematic; graphic novels; etc.) and in various formats. This enormous diversity of interests and possibilities reflects both the breadth traditionally and the changes increasingly characteristic of English and American literatures as disciplines.

Library collections of literature in English also serve as a source of literary reading for our entire community of students, faculty, and staff.

The general collections are strong in both primary and secondary sources, as well as in the reference tools that students and scholars of literature in the English language rely on. Particularly in the traditional, historical areas of English and American literature as defined through the end of the 1960s, the Libraries' collections are impressive. English- and non-English language scholarship and references are abundant. A significant amount of material in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts is directly relevant to the needs of English-language literature students. The Special Collections: Printed Books collection development policy should be consulted for details.

In addition to standard printed sources for earlier English literature, the Libraries collects medieval manuscript materials on film, in hardcopy printouts, in facsimiles, and in various other formats from a variety of English and Continental repositories and sources. These, whatever their language, are often directly relevant to the study of English-language literature. Non-systematically collected, these materials are added on an essentially "on-demand" basis. Printed sources for the study of English literature from both the Pollard and Redgrave period (1476-1640 and Wing period (1641-1700) of the Short Title Catalogue are available on film and hardcopy printouts, but most accessible through databases such as Early English Books Online (EEBO), to which Penn Libraries subscribes. While retaining legacy formats (e.g. microform), the Libraries is invested in formats that facilitate discovery, access, and user experience throughout the Penn community. Digitizing physical resources—when copyright restrictions allow—and subscribing to, or acquiring, digital databases form a large part of the Libraries' commitment to increased access. For instance, while microform sets make available Early American Imprints from 1640 through 1800 (Evans) and post-1800 (Shaw-Shoemaker, et al.), the Library’s recent digital subscription to both series boosts discovery and accessibility to these resources. 18th century English fiction, 18th century English and Irish newspapers, 19th century English and American plays, African American literature, 20th century radicalism, and numerous other microform sets make available a variety of primary source materials across the full chronological and geographic range of Department interests, and are similarly available through digital databases.

Certain areas within this general background of overall strength are weak. For instance, our collection of English-language fiction reflects a turn, after World War II and especially after the 1960s, to increased "selectivity" in acquisitions that leaves huge gaps in our postwar holdings. Poetry suffered, as did drama, during the same period. Long-term reliance on "literary standards" for acquisitions decisions means that much retrospective acquisition is needed to bring to hand materials in genres once considered "sub-literary" but now studied (mysteries, popular fiction, westerns, romances, graphic novels, comic books) or by writers previously neglected by scholarly focus (women, people of color, or denizens of geographically, politically, or culturally marginalized backgrounds). We are actively improving holdings of literature produced by authors from sub-Saharan Africa and the Republic of South Africa; Canadians; Australians; New Zealanders; Native Americans; Indians; Caribbean authors; Latinx authors; African American writers; Welsh, Irish, Scottish, or Cornish poets; and LGBTQ+ writers. Despite small caches of materials for the study of children's literature, this field, too, needs additional development, although on a relatively small scale. In addition, occasional gaps in our holdings of generally acknowledged "literary authors" from recent periods need attention.

Funding limitations mandate some active selection principles. These can be summarized in descending order of importance as preferences for the acquisition of (1) primary as opposed to secondary materials; (2) materials derived from diverse geographical and literary cultures as opposed to the traditional sources of literature in English; and (3) works in genres and by types of authors skimpily represented in the collections. The Library continues to acquire materials that build on existing traditional strengths.

The Libraries organizes and maintains collections of subject-based Internet links useful to students and scholars of English and American literature. In addition, the Libraries acquires feature films and dramatic performances on DVD and streaming formats.

Fiction, poetry, drama, essays, autobiographies, and other relevant genres are currently chosen title by title.

  1. Chronological 
    No restrictions
  2. Formats 
    Print, electronic, streaming video, DVD, and any other relevant format depending on availability and approval. We purchase specialized datasets and text corpora relevant to literary studies by request. Monographs are increasingly purchased electronically due to patron requests; literary works (novels, poetry, drama, children’s and young adult books, graphic novels, comics, etc.) are purchased almost exclusively in print.
  3. Geographical 
    Principally the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. But we actively seek out works from sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Liberia, South Africa), the English-speaking Caribbean (e.g., Jamaica, Dominica, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago), India, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and other English-speaking communities.
  4. Language 
    English and, less commonly, other languages depending on the work’s subject matter.
  5. Publication dates 
    While recent publications are prioritized, retrospective purchases play an important role in addressing collection gaps.
  6. Open Access
    The Penn Libraries seeks out opportunities to support open access efforts whenever possible and prioritizes products that contribute to open access publications and resources, such as the humanities publisher Punctum Books. Similarly, the Libraries supports efforts to digitize print materials held by Penn. As a member of HathiTrust, the Penn Libraries works to digitally preserve the cultural record and contributes to the over 6 million public domain titles available through that platform.

  1. Approval plans bring in university press and trade publications relevant to all literary fields more or less automatically. Other approval plans focus on a broad range of trade publications, automatically selecting titles matching one of many categories of distinction (award winners, DEI-awards winners, bestsellers, reviewed by a major literary publication, etc.). These approval plans are reviewed and updated periodically to ensure that they continue to represent the changing landscape of literary studies.

  2. Bibliographers also consult publisher catalogues; reports in various general, professional, and library reviewing media; and national catalogs for the rest of the world's production of literature in and books about literature in English. Faculty and student recommendations are always a welcome and useful source of information about materials to be added to the collections.

  3. The Libraries actively seeks to add, as they become available and as it can afford them, collections of large groups of primary and reference materials published in microform or other formats.
  4. Serials are selected from the large universe of potential additions with an eye on both the research interests and pedagogical needs of faculty and students. The Libraries has tended to emphasize scholarly journals with articles about literature, rather than journals of literature in its acquisitions, but this practice requires reconsideration. Aligning with patron use patterns, the Library is moving away from print-only journals and tending towards electronic journal subscriptions.

Literary works by women authors and works about women authors are included in the period and genre categories listed below, although the RLG conspectus, on which this list and the attached collecting level values are based, distinguishes such materials for separate analysis and consideration.

It should be specified that the Conspectus values above reflect strengths not only of the general collections but also of the complementary resources found in Special Collections. The policy statements mentioned above should be consulted for details.

The Library acquires hardbound, alkaline-paper copies of printed books, where available, in preference to paperbound, acidic paper copies, and is sensitive to the preservation characteristics of microform reprints.

Subject Level Location
English Language 4/4  
Anglo-Saxon, Old English 4/4  
Middle English 4/4  
Early Modern 4/4  
Modern 4/4  
Dialects and Provincialisms 2/3  
Slang, Argot, Vulgarisms 2/3  
English Literature 4/4  
Anglo-Saxon Literature 4/4  
Middle English Literature 4/4 including Anglo-Norman
Renaissance Prose & Poetry 4/4  
Renaissance Drama 5/5  
Seventeenth Century 4/4  
Eighteenth Century 5/5  
Nineteenth Century 5/5  
Twentieth Century 3/3/4  
Anglo-Irish Literature 4/4  
Provincial & Local 1/2  
Folklore & Folk Literature 3/3  
American Literature 4/4  
Colonial 4/4  
Nineteenth Century 4/4  
Twentieth Century 4/4  
Folklore & Folk Literature 2/3  
African American Literature 3/3/4  
Asian American Literature 3/4  
Hispanic American and Latinx Literature 3/4  
Native American Literature 3/3  
Translations of English and American Literature 2/2  
Special Genres and Types of American and English Literature 3/3/4  
Comic Books, Westerns, Science Fiction 2/3  
Detective and Mystery Stories 1/2  
Espionage 1/2  
LGBTQ Literature 2/4  
Historical Fiction 1/2  
Little Magazines 3/4  
Romance 1/2  
Australian Literature 1/3/4  
Canadian Literature 2/3/4  
English Literature    
-- West Indies 1/3/4  
English Literature    
-- New Zealand 1/3/4  
Anglo-Indian Literature 1/3/4  
Anglo-African Literature 1/3/4  



The Library categorically excludes collecting in no areas of what can be called "literature" in English.

Some genres (for example, pornography, romance, westerns, and mysteries) lie largely but not entirely outside our interest despite faculty work in the field. Form of publication in such genres (acidic paper or perfect-bound paperbacks) or difficulty in retaining material can present insuperable preservation problems.

We generally do not buy literary textbooks or general grammars.

The literature collections rely on several other area libraries for assistance in getting readers to materials, especially in historical fields. For example, the Dickens collections at the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Defoe collection at the Rosenbach, the Ishmael Reed archive at the University of Delaware, the American literature, Americana, and African American holdings generally of The Library Company of Philadelphia, and the 19th century collections at Bryn Mawr College and The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, all provide for the research needs of literary students in fields that can no longer be replicated here. More distant collections, like the Chaucerian and Darwinian collections at Lehigh University, the resources of Princeton University's general and special collections, the large collections at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress, the resources of the New York Public Library and the Morgan Library and Museum also provide for the needs of students and senior researchers.