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Sibelius Collection

Rare Books and Special Collections


COVID-19 Statement - April 2020

Because of the measures Butler and the state government are taking to limit exposure to COVID-19, Special Collections is closed to on-site researchers, and staff is working from home for the foreseeable future. 

We will answer reference queries via email and phone.  Queries that require accessing physical materials in the archives will be answered as soon as possible, but this could mean days or weeks depending on changing policy.

Our remote hours are the same as our usual hours: 9:00 AM-4:30 PM, Monday-Friday.  Please be advised that reference service could be disrupted further, and we apologize for the inconvenience.

For more information on services and policies offered by Butler Universities Libraries during this time, please refer to the latest update. For more information on COVID-19, please check out this Butler University Libraries LibGuide.


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.

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.

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. Rare Books collection strengths include such areas as: South Pacific Islands during the 18th and early 19th centuries, herbology and botanists, Native Americans, American authors in first editions (many of them signed), African American poets, American westward expansion, American natural history, and early educational materials.

Listed below are major collections of books or archival materials housed in Irwin Library's Special Collections and Rare Books Room. Many materials are also described at either the collection or book level in WorldCat Discovery - limit by Library: Special Collections after trying your search. 

More information on Butler's Special Collections history can be found in Richard Davis' "Treasures at Butler University" published in 1986.

For descriptions of the collections, appropriate search strategies, available access lists, and copyright information, click on the appropriate link below to download a collection guide (pdf).

Rare Books Collection Guides
Special Collections Collection Guides