About the Kislak Center

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Main content

About the Kislak Center

The Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts advances learning and inspires discovery in Penn's community and around the world. The goals of the Kislak Center align with those of the Penn Libraries as a whole: to make our collections accessible; to use technology in innovative and meaningful ways; to enhance teaching and research; and to preserve our cultural resources for future generations.

Accessing the Kislak Center Collections

The Kislak Center's Charles K. MacDonald Reading Room is open by appointment to all researchers. Appointments are available on weekdays between the hours of 10am-4pm and must be made 24 hours in advance by emailing kislak@pobox.upenn.edu.

When entering the Library, Penn-affiliated visitors must show a Green Penn Open Pass. Visitors from outside the Penn community must complete a COVID-19 screening through PennOpen Campus (learn how it works). The University requests that visitors not come physically to campus if they feel ill, have been exposed to a case of COVID-19, or if they are not up-to-date with their vaccinations.

To support remote access to our collections, we offer increased reprographic services. Users may request on-demand digitization of special collections material for up to 100 pages for free, depending on the condition of the material and any copyright restrictions. Requests can be submitted via the Special Collections Research Account form. For more information, please contact: kislak@pobox.upenn.edu.

Annual Report

2020 Kislak Center Annual Report


With over 300,000 printed books and codices and over 14,000 linear feet of modern manuscripts, the Kislak Center’s collections span the ancient world to the contemporary era and are global in scope. The collections are interdisciplinary and continue to grow.

Collections of digital images from the Kislak Center collections and other Penn Libraries departments can be found on the Digital Penn project pages.

Detailed information about collection materials may be found in the library's online catalog, Franklin, and on the following pages:

Other special collections in the Penn Libraries are held at the Library of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies; the Fisher Fine Arts Library; and the Penn Museum Library.

Digital Innovation

The Kislak Center fosters innovative approaches to integrating material and digital research and advocating for open data. The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS), located in the Kislak Center, is a dynamic research think tank focusing on pre-modern manuscripts and manuscript culture, and supports an array of manuscript related digital projects, including the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SDBM). Other Kislak and SIMS supported projects include OPenn, a resource to make primary digital resources available to everyone, and the Provenance Online Project (POP), sharing images of ownership marks that tell the history of books and manuscripts. For more information, see the Digital Penn project pages.

Research, Learning and Events

Located on the 6th floor and parts of the 5th floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, the Kislak Center's recently renovated, award-winning facilities provide a variety of opportunities for learning and research. The Charles K. MacDonald Reading Room can accommodate twenty researchers at a time in addition to small groups in each of three study rooms. Five Kislak Center classrooms provide a space for students to interact with original editions of the works they have been studying and to learn how earlier generations encountered those same books, documents, manuscripts, or codices. Students, faculty and staff engage in the study of both digital humanities and material culture in the technology enabled Vitale Special Collections Media Lab.

  • To learn about the many exhibits, workshops, lectures and other events taking place at the Kislak Center, visit the Exhibits and Events Page.
  • More information for readers and researchers who wish to consult collections is on our Reader Services page.


The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies offers a number of fellowships for visiting researchers and graduate students.

The Lorraine Beitler Collection of the Dreyfus Affair inaugurated a new fellowship program in 2022.

Exhibits and exhibition loans

The Kislak Center supports a robust program of Library-wide exhibitions. These are programmed in multiple venues, including, in Van Pelt-Dietrich Library, the Goldstein Gallery, the Kamin Gallery, and the Ormandy Gallery; the Fisher Fine Arts Library; the Dental Library; and others. More information about schedules and programs.

Loans to other institutions: we are happy to consider loan requests from institutions with established exhibition programs and with professional staff proficient in handling and exhibiting items safely. More information about loan policies and procedures (pdf document).

About Jay I. Kislak (1922-2018)

Jay I. Kislak was an avid collector of books and artifacts and a longtime supporter of the University of Pennsylvania. A graduate of the Wharton School in 1943, he is the first of three generations of his family to graduate from the University and served as a navy pilot in the Second World War. In the 1950s, he moved to Florida and expanded his family's business into a privately held real estate and financial services empire. Together with his wife, Jean, Mr. Kislak assembled rich collections of primary research materials on the history of Florida, the Caribbean and Mesoamerica, with special emphasis on native cultures, their contact with Europeans and the colonial period to about 1820.

A leader in making primary resource materials available for scholarship, Mr. Kislak made his collections available for research through his family collections; through the Jay I. Kislak Foundation and gallery; through a 2004 donation of more than 3,000 books and other objects to the Library of Congress; through donations to the University of Miami and to Miami Dade College; and  through a gift of books from the library of Jacques-Auguste de Thou to the Kislak Center at the Penn Libraries. In recognition of his efforts to preserve cultural heritage, Mr. Kislak was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the U.S. State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee from 2003 through 2008 and, in 2013, received the Encomienda of the Order of Merit Civil from the King of Spain, among other awards and appointments.

"Preserving cultural history and making materials from the past available to researchers has always been my passion," Mr. Kislak has said. "Through the renovation of the [special collections] space, the Penn Libraries have shown their commitment and leadership in the field, particularly in the digital humanities. My family and I could not be more pleased to support their endeavors."