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.