Established by a provision of the 1846 charter, the library of the University at Lewisburg opened in 1849 under the supervision of the first Librarian, Professor George R. Bliss. A few months after the library was established, the university received a valuable gift of rare books from the estate of Dr. William Staughton. In 1892 the main collection was merged with smaller campus libraries, particularly those of student societies.
When the Carnegie Library opened in 1938, additional rare imprints from major donors, together with seminal works in various disciplines provided by the societies, were housed in the Treasure Room. This material was transferred in 1951 into the newly constructed Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library. In 1975, Special Collections was greatly enhanced through the generosity of Dr. LaFayette Butler, Hazelton industrialist and bibliophile who bequeathed a significant collection of literary manuscripts and first editions from his Fountain Lawn Library.
The LaFayette Butler Reading Room and storage facilities for Special Collections/University Archives in the enlarged and renovated Bertrand Library were dedicated in 1986. Special Collections continues to be enriched by gifts from the Friends of the Library and other major donors.
The overarching objective of Special Collections is to serve as a teaching/learning resource, offering accessibility of original and primary sources to undergraduate students. The goal is to collect effectively across many disciplines to encourage the use of rare imprints in a broad range of intellectual areas.
Collecting criteria include books in good condition produced in Europe before 1830, or in America before 1870; books in limited editions with hand-produced elements; and rare books of local historical interest. Some selected areas of focus are American history; the book as art form; children's literature; contemporary issues; early sciences, social sciences, and technology; fine illustration; first edition poetry; geographic exploration; the Irish Literary Renaissance; medieval illumination; musicology; narrative; Pennsylvania history; private presses; the Pre-Raphaelites; theatre and costume history; and women authors.