A Short History of Penn State Special Collections

Special Collections at Penn State began in 1904 with the creation of the Statiana Alcove in the Carnegie Library. Here college librarian Erwin Runkle collected archival materials to document the history of the College for its fiftieth anniversary. These materials included letters, photographs, and college publications dating from the 1850s onward. In the 1920s, the archival records of Centre Iron Furnace were presented to the College Library by the Thompson family. These materials form the basis for the historical manuscripts collections. After the library had moved from Carnegie to Pattee in the 1940s, college librarian Willard Lewis began to move rare books, including Pennsylvania historical materials donated by Governor James A. Beaver, from the stacks into a separate area. The Plumb Bible Collection, also donated at this time, became a foundation for the rare books collections, and included the first examples of incunabula.

Charles W. Mann, Jr. was appointed Rare Books and Manuscripts Assistant in 1957. From that time on, Charley, as he was universally known, began to build the rare book collections. While American and British literature and art and architectural history became primary strengths, many unique collections were added. Among the most significant are collections of utopian literature; Pennsylvania writers John O'Hara, Conrad Richter, and John Updike; Australiana; Pennsylvania German materials; Pennsylvania imprints; and German literature in English translation. 

Mann also oversaw the creation of the Pennsylvania Historical Collections in the early 1960s, launched to collect historical manuscripts, and coordinated its joining to the Labor Archives, also started in the 1960s, which quickly became a major resource with the signing of an agreement in 1967 for Penn State to be the archival repository of the United Steelworkers of America. At the same time, the Penn State Room continued to develop separately under curators who built valuable collections of books and serials, photos, archives and manuscripts, created reference vertical files, and indexed University publications.

In the 1970s, the three units--the Rare Books Room, Historical Collections and Labor Archives, and the Penn State Room --were joined administratively as a Department of Special Collections. All three continued to grow and develop, with the Penn State Room being designated the University Archives in 1988. In the 1990s planning began to bring the three units together in a single facility and this was accomplished in 1999 in the new Paterno Library. Thanks to a generous gift from long-time Penn State supporters, the Eberly Family, the new Eberly Family Special Collections Library was named in their honor.