Special Collections

Service Guidelines Saving your Collections Archivally at Home

On April 30, 1877, David Starr Jordan, professor of natural history at Butler University, presented a collection of preserved fishes to the University Cabinet. This remained the only recorded gift of a special collection to the university until the year 1925, when Charles W. Moores donated his collection of Lincoln material. Six years later, in 1931, William F. Charters gave his collection of books about the South Sea Islands to Butler; it remains today one of the largest and most important single gifts yet received by the Butler University libraries.

From 1931 until the Irwin Library was opened for service in 1963, no special collections were acquired. New libraries, however, seem to inspire donors, and the first gift to the Irwin Library was the Gaar Williams-Kin Hubbard collection of original art, books, manuscripts, and memorabilia given by Blanche Stillson in 1964.

The construction of the Hugh Thomas Miller Rare Book Room, which was dedicated on November 20, 1971, provided proper housing for library special collections for the first time in the university's history. During its first four years, the new facility saw the acquisition and donation of a wide variety of special collections. Accompanying this largesse, however, was an enormous increase in problems and responsibilities for the care, cataloguing, and maintenance of this material. Lack of support funds brought a temporary halt to activities in August 1974. In 1979, the Rare Book Room received a substantial legacy from the estate of Blanche Stillson, which allowed for the hiring of a qualified person to manage the neglected collections. Today, special collections continue to hold vital meaning for Butler University, the larger community, and the world of learning.

from "Special Collections at Butler University," by Richard A. Davis, in Treasures at Butler University

Strengths of special collections cover such areas as Jean Sibelius, Abraham Lincoln, Kin Hubbard, Gaar Williams, 15th to 19th century botanical and zoological prints, early educational materials, 19th-century American sheet music, and African American poets.

Listed below are major collections of books or archival materials housed in Irwin Library's Special Collections and Rare Books Room. Materials are described in the University's on-line catalog. Some collections also have supplementary access lists; these are available on-site and, as they become available, via the Special Collections and Rare Books webpage.

For descriptions of the collections, appropriate search strategies, available access lists, and copyright information, click on the appropriate links.

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Note: The National Track & Field Hall of Fame Historical Research Library collection has been moved to the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles. Please contact them directly at:, or visit their web page:



Last updated January 8, 2013.