Brief History of the Department of Special Collections, Rare Books, and University Archives
The department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Butler University officially organized and opened in the fall of 1971. This opening was announced with the formal dedication of its space in the northwest corner of the third floor of Irwin Library: the Hugh Thomas Miller Rare Book Room, named after a generous benefactor and professor of the University. The University had received special collections before this time, but they were scattered around campus and never officially overseen or cared for. Gifts include an assortment of Lincoln materials donated in 1925 by Charles W. Moores, a unique collection of books about the South Sea Islands donated in 1931 by William F. Charters, and preserved fishes donated by the Butler University professor David Starr Jordan in 1877, which was the first recorded donation to the University.
Rare Books and Special Collections operated in an official capacity from 1971 to 1974. From the fall of 1974 through 1979, there was no librarian officially in charge of the space. The Rare Book Room was not regularly open to the public during this five-year period, and collections were maintained when other librarians had the time that allowed it.
In 1979, a generous gift was given to the library to support Special Collections and to finance a librarian to oversee the department. A new Rare Books and Special Collections librarian started in January 1980, and the position has been filled since that time. The generous gift came from the estate of Blanche Stillson.
Butler University's Archives were established in 1987. University Archives preserves the institutional, physical, scholarly, and, to some extent, the personal history of Butler University, its programs, facilities, and people. Butler University opened its doors in 1855 as a fully co-educational school. Much of the University's history is intertwined with the growth of transportation, communication, business, and cultural institutions in Indiana.
Hugh Thomas Miller (1867-1948) was one of Butler University's most notable alumni, faculty members, and benefactors. He was president of the Irwin-Union Trust Company and the Cummins Engine Company in Columbus, Indiana, and he was elected lieutenant governor of Indiana in 1904. For nearly 50 years he served on the Board of Trustees of Butler University.
In 1889, Miller joined the Butler faculty as professor of history and romance languages. He recognized the central role of an academic library in the process of education and was responsible for the marked growth of the University's collections during his years on the faculty (1889-99). He also introduced the then very modern practice of cross-referencing for all Butler library collections.
The department of Special Collections, Rare Books, and University Archives published various catalogues and informational brochures on its larger collections from circa 1981 to 1994 (these publications are available online on Butler University's Digital Commons under the collection Special Collections Bibliographies). These publications were bound and more formal in nature than other on-site inventories and collection guides.
Please be aware of inaccuracies contained within these older publications. These older publications are still a good starting place for researchers and the content in these publications is still worth noting, but they do have inaccuracies and include out-dated content.
For more current and up-to-date information on collections and collection materials held by Special Collections, please consult the online library catalog and other resources available on the Special Collections website. Listed below are links to the individual publications.
Please contact Special Collections with questions.