Special Collections and University Archives History

Special Collections and University Archives grew from the work of the History Department, which began collecting materials about Oregon history shortly after the University was founded in 1876. The Oregon Collection was developed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition and formed the nucleus of the Rare Book collections augmented in the 1930s by the Burgess manuscripts. Special Collections was formally created in 1947 as a library department under curator Martin Schmitt, who worked with Ed Kemp to acquire manuscript, book, and photograph collections. Kenneth Duckett wrote an award-winning guide to the UO collections that was a major contribution to the profession. The Library was named the official repository for University records in 1948. Archives rejoined Special Collections in 1998; University Records was separated from Archives and Special Collections in 2007.

Special Collections is housed in the 1937 portion of the Knight Library. Librarian M.H. Douglass campaigned for construction of the building, as Fenton Hall had become woefully inadequate. Designed by architecture dean and campus architect Ellis Lawrence, and built under the auspices of the WPA, the structure has been described as "one of Oregon's best examples of the integrated art and architecture that characterized that last great surge of public building." The original structure was expanded in 1950 and 1966, and expanded, renovated, and renamed in 1993-1995. The Knight Library is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

The main space, which features a high ceiling and fine natural light from the ample north-facing windows, has always been used as a reading room. When the building opened in May 1937 it was the Open Shelf Reading Room, and later the Upper Division Reading Room. At each end are cedar panels carved by Art Clough, with the assistance of Ross McClure and Jim de Broekart. In 2006, the room was renamed in honor of a donor, the Paulson Investment Company, Inc. The room underwent renovation in 2019 to include new carpet and furniture, task lighting for researchers, and a new reference desk.