About the Collections

Collections Policies

Special Collections acquires, arranges, preserves, and promotes the use of rare and unique materials that support the information, instruction, and research needs of the University of Tennessee community.  Special Collections seeks to create and provide broad access to local collections for scholars in regional, national, and international communities, as well as the general public.  Materials are acquired in all formats, including print, audiovisual, and born digital materials.  Special Collections seeks new initiatives and acquires new collections to support changing academic needs and interests.  Special Collections continually works to create improved access to local collections through digitization efforts.  Special Collections focuses on topics of global interest with regional significance.

Special Collections focuses its collecting activities with an awareness of the collecting priorities and holdings of other local, state, and national repositories.  In general, Special Collections attempts to avoid duplicating or dividing collections.  Special Collections seeks to build collections in areas not well covered by other repositories.

Special Collections works closely with other departments in the University Libraries, to acquire, manage, and provide access to collections.  In addition, Special Collections collaborates with related university departments including the Center for Jacksonian America, the Center for the Study of War & Society, the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

Description of Major Collections


The manuscript collection contains approximately 6,000 linear feet of private papers, literary manuscripts, business records, political files, broadsides, and historical records primarily relating to Tennessee and the Southeast.

Significant holdings include papers and documents related to:

  • Clarence Brown, film director
  • William Bass, founder of the University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility
  • Charlie Daniel, editorial cartoonist
  • Great Smoky Mountains
  • Civil War
  • World Wars I and II
  • Tennessee authors including James Agee, Alex Haley, David Madden, and Wilma Dykeman Stokely

Rare Books

The rare book collection contains approximately 60,000 titles, including many titles published before 1700 and several thousand published during the 18th century.  The vast majority of the titles have publication dates from 1800 to the present.

The primary focus of the collection is Tennesseanna, providing colorful and vivid accounts of the developing nation from the perspective of the region.

Significant holdings include materials from or related to the following subjects:

  • Southeastern Native American history
  • The presidencies of Tennesseans Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James K. Polk
  • Civil War and Reconstruction
  • Tennessee authors
  • The Great Smoky Mountains Regional Collection
  • The Shaheen Antiquarian Bible Collection

University Archives

The University Archives maintains the institutional legacy of the University and serves as the official repository for the University of Tennessee, with materials deposited on a voluntary basis.  The collection consists of approximately 4,000 linear feet of records and small collections of prints, photographs, ephemera, and electronic records.

Included in the collection are the official unpublished records of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  These historically important materials include the papers of UT Presidents, minutes of the Boards of Trustees, records of student organizations, and files from most of the University’s academic departments and administrative offices.  Archives is also dedicated to collecting the published works of the University of Tennessee, including books detailing the history of the university, student newspapers, UT Press publications, and yearbooks.  The University Archives also retains preservation copies of all official University Theses and Dissertations dating from the early 1900s to 2004.

Modern Political Archives

The Modern Political Archive (MPA) contains approximately 4,500 linear feet of archival material (150 collections) representing select members of the U.S. Congress and Senate, the federal judiciary, and presidential cabinets.  The material includes manuscripts, books, photographs, sound recordings, digital files, and ephemera.  MPA collections are housed and serviced in the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

The MPA collects material from political leaders of Tennessee who had a major impact on the state   during the modern era (1945 – present).  The primary focus is on those individuals who were elected or appointed to federal office.  The MPA does not collect materials related to municipal, county, or state offices with the exception of gubernatorial candidates with strong ties to east Tennessee, Knoxville, or the University of Tennessee.

Significant holding include papers and documents relating to:

  • Howard J. Baker Jr.
  • Estes Kefauver

Collecting Priorities

With the general scope of Tennesseanna, the library focuses on a few select topics for comprehensive coverage.  These areas of focus are:

  • Tennessee and the Civil War
  • Tennessee political materials of the 1800’s
  • Tennessee imprints
  • Confederate imprints
  • Great Smoky Mountains
  • Native American materials, primarily Cherokee and Creek Tribes
  • 20th and 21st Century Tennessee authors
  • Civil Rights activities in Tennessee
  • Tennessee Family Papers
  • University of Tennessee history

If the items coincide with established collecting priorities, other materials are also considered:

  • Books that exemplify historically important binding types or printing methods
  • Autographed books
  • Significant First editions
  • Limited editions of 250 or less

Collecting Methods


The Head of Special Collections is responsible for setting policy and coordinating collection development activities, in consultation with the Dean of Libraries and other Special Collections faculty.

Acquisitions through Purchase

Materials are selected and purchased from dealers, private individuals, or organizations.  Purchases are funded by Special Collections acquisitions funds, endowment income, and donations.  Special Collections does not purchase materials from UT employees.

Acquisitions through Gifts

For more information regarding donations

Special Collections solicits gifts of materials from individuals and organizations, and often works in conjunction with the Library Development Office.  Tennessee alumni, faculty members, and other members of the University community are encouraged to provide assistance in identifying potential donors.

In certain instances, potential donations may be deemed inappropriate for Special Collections due to content, condition, size, format, or other factors.  When possible, these donors should be referred to other more suitable repositories.

General Guidelines:

  • Duplication of holdings in Special Collections is generally avoided.
  • Loan or deposit materials are accepted only in rare cases.
  • In select circumstances, materials may be accepted with temporary use restrictions on condition that the materials are available for use within a reasonable period.
  • With the exception of University Archives, gifts of artwork and other artifacts are generally not accepted due to the lack of appropriate storage for such materials.
  • Special Collections may deselect any materials that do not meet the selection criteria outlined in this policy. Special Collections will consider any legal restrictions and the donor’s intent in the broadest sense.