50 Years of Special Collections & Archives at Kent State

A brief history:

University Libraries had maintained collections of rare books and archival items for many years and, in 1967, a formal special collections program was established. It was during the Sixties that Kent State University enrollments were rising, the Libraries were building extensive collections and services to become a major research library, and the University offered its first-ever doctoral degrees. In order to support the research needs of graduate level students in particular, the Libraries committed to establishing a bona fide special collections program comprised primarily of rare books and manuscripts. Under the leadership of its inaugural Curator, Dean H. Keller, major acquisitions were made from the 1960s through the 1980s, establishing the unit’s key collection strengths in British and American literature, true crime, performing arts, children’s literature, and the history of the book. Other collecting areas emerged including detective fiction, science fiction and fantasy, cryptology, and labor history.

Immediately following the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, the Libraries established an archive of primary sources related to this pivotal historic event. Later that same year, the Libraries created an archives division that would go on to systematically collect additional May 4 material, university historical records, and local and regional history sources. In 1991, the department, comprised of the original rare books/manuscript division and the archives division, was renamed as “Special Collections and Archives” with a combined reading room and fully integrated staffing. Its mission is to provide access to primary sources and rare materials that support the teaching and research programs of Kent State University. In addition to serving national and international scholars, the department provides Kent State students with the opportunity to work with rare books, unique archival collections, and other primary sources for research projects, papers, theses, dissertations, and creative works. The department maintains a strong commitment to providing excellent public service and emphasizing access through both traditional and digital venues in response to evolving user needs and expectations.

The exhibit celebrates 50 years of this commitment to the Kent State community and, by spotlighting these collections, also looks forward to the next generation of students and researchers who will use them in their work.


Curated by Kathleen Siebert Medicus