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The Cary Collection is one of the country's premier libraries on graphic communication history and practices.The original collection of 2,300 volumes was assembled by the New York City businessman Melbert B. Cary, Jr. during the 1920s and 1930s. Cary was director of Continental Type Founders Association (a type-importing agency), a former president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and proprietor of the private Press of the Woolly Whale. His professional and personal interests in printing led him to collect printer's manuals and type specimens, as well as great books of the printer's art. In 1969, the Cary Collection was presented to RIT by the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust as a memorial to Mr. Cary, together with funds to support the use and growth of the collection. Today the library houses some 40,000 volumes and a growing number of manuscripts and correspondence collections.

While the collection’s original strengths continue to be an important focus, other aspects of graphic arts history have also been developed. For example, the Cary Collection is committed to building comprehensive primary and secondary resources on the development of the alphabet and writing systems, early book formats and manuscripts, calligraphy, the development of typefaces and their manufacturing technologies, the history and practice of papermaking, typography and book design, printing and illustration processes, bookbinding, posters, and artists’ books.

Though many of the volumes in the library are rare, the Cary Collection has maintained, from the beginning, a policy of liberal access for all students and especially those enrolled in the RIT’s College of Art and Design. An additional feature is the inclusion in the curriculum of several courses that actually meet in the library. The Collection's holdings are also available to outside researchers and scholars. While use is strictly supervised and nothing in the Collection circulates, all of its resources may be examined and studied, a priceless opportunity for students who are preparing for careers in the graphic arts.

The development of the Cary Collection into a nationally recognized graphic arts resource has been dramatically boosted by a number of major gifts. In 1982, for example, The New York Times Museum of the Recorded Word was donated. In 1983, through the generosity of the Frank M. Barnard Foundation, the Bernard C. Middleton Collection of Books on Bookbinding was acquired, the most complete collection of its kind in the world. More recent gifts include the Jonathan and Patricia England Collection of American Fine Printing, the Ismar David archive, and the most substantial collection in America on the work of the type and book designer Hermann Zapf.

The Cary Collection also manages the Graphic Design Archive, comprised of some 36 archives documenting the work of important 20th-century Modernist graphic designers, and has been aggressively acquiring examples of avant-garde book typography.

In keeping with its policy of generous access, the Cary Collection is pursuing a number of digital initiatives that will enable users all over the world to sample the wealth of rich materials housed in the library. These include the development of a substantial digital archive of images from the collection and an on-line digital library of public domain titles from the renowned Middleton Collection on bookbinding.