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Special Collections : Collections

Special Collections is the rare book facility for Walker Library. Its mission is to acquire, preserve, and provide access to valuable, unique, and fragile materials.


Special Collections holds and manages collections of rare books and other valuable, unique, or fragile materials that would be impossible to replace.  Consequently, access to and use of our holdings is limited—that is, materials do not circulate, photo-reproduction is on a case-by-case basis, and some items can only be consulted with staff assistance.  Please be mindful that you might request an irreplaceable book and, as such, this book requires careful and deliberate handling.

Collection strengths include Book Arts, Tennessee History, Equine Studies, Civil War, and Historical Works on Printing. 

Early Tennessee Imprints

The Early Tennessee Imprints Collection aims to assemble a comprehensive collection of all books, pamphlets, and serials printed and published in the state between 1791 and 1866—that is, between the year the first printing press was established in the state at Rogersville, and the first full year after the Civil War. 

The Collection currently consists of approximately 200 items that can serve as primary resources for a variety of academic disciplines.  Subjects include, for example, sermons and works of theology associated with Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist doctrine; early nineteenth-century medical practices and nostrums; state law and government; biographies of notable Tennesseans; justifications of slavery; and accounts of contemporary scandals.

Robert Allen Ragland, Sr. Memorial Civil War Collection

The Robert Allen Ragland Sr. Memorial Civil War Collection includes nineteenth and twentieth-century books and other materials that cover various aspects of the Civil War. The collection has numerous materials that focus on the war in Tennessee and on the Battle of Stones River. Of note are numerous original editions, often referred to as “regimental histories,” that were written by veterans of the Union and Confederate Armies and recount their and their unit’s experience of the war.  Most of these were published from the 1870s to the early 1920s.

Government Documents

Special Collections actively collects government issued materials. Materials are collected at all levels of government and date back to the 18th century. In 2023, we officially became a GPO Preservation Steward to preserve FDLP documents collected as part of our Distilling, Fermenting, and  Brewing Collection. 

Collections strengths include materials that support the Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing Collection, Early Tennessee Imprints, a growing selection of materials in education, and the philatelic collection. 

Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing Collection

The Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing Collection (DFBC) was started in 2020 to both support MTSU’s Fermentation Science program and preserve the cultural and social heritage of Tennessee whiskey, wine, and beer industries. 

The DFBC contains over 450 monographs, as well as a growing collection of archival materials and ephemera, such as letters, photographs, advertisements and advertising materials, bottle labels, postcards, and revenue and postage stamps. Additionally, we are collecting cultural artifacts, and the collection includes examples of earthenware whiskey jugs, glass wine and liquor bottles, beer cans, and swizzle sticks.

Subject coverage includes the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages from colonial America to the present day. Special micro-collections include the American temperance movement, Prohibition, and government documents.


Philatelic Collection

Started in 2021 to support the Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing Collection, the Philatelic Collection has expanded to reflect and enhance all the unit’s collections and collecting interests. The collection contains worldwide postage and revenue stamps, covers, postcards, and a small but growing collection of philatelic literature.

Reference Collection

Holdings in the Special Collections Reference Collection include bibliographies and other works relevant to our collections as well as standard bibliographic works useful to special collection librarians in their day-to-day work.

The reference collection is openly available in the Reading Room. 

Margaret Lindsley Warden Collection for Equine Studies

The Margaret Lindsley Warden Collection for Equine Studies comprises a substantial research resource on practically all aspects of the horse and horsemanship with the exception of veterinary subjects.

The Collection consists of over 900 books, periodicals, pamphlets, photographs, research files, letters, and other materials assembled by Margaret Warden, who wrote the weekly “Horse Sense” column for the Nashville Tennessean from 1939 until 1994. It includes rare historical editions printed from the 1500s to the early 1800s as well as numerous modern titles. It contains approximately 45 periodical titles, some with issues dating back into the 1800s. There are approximately 2,900 photographs in the Collection. The Collection also includes approximately 30 linear feet of interview and research notes compiled by Ms. Warden.

Four other equine collections complement and extend the Warden Collection’s scholarly potential: the Gilbert McWilliams Orr Papers, William J. McGill Papers, Ethel Rankin Papers, and the Joan Hunt Collection. These consist of periodicals, photographs, correspondence, personal documents, and other materials.

The Joan Hunt Collection includes between 800 and 1,000 books, chiefly published in the twentieth century, and represents a working stable library. 


Lee and Sophie Owens Eudora Welty Collection

The Eudora Welty Collection consists of approximately 90 books with the majority being first editions (with some titles in multiple copies) as well as special and occasional publications. Additionally, the Collection includes copies of periodicals where Welty’s short stories and other writings first appeared.

Dimensional and Artist Book Collection

Established in 2002, the Collection comprises various genres of movable, pop-up, and otherwise "transformational" books (that is, books that change or shift their material form, or that have elements that do so) as well as examples of artists’ books, mixed media objects which intersect with the form, content, or function of printed texts. It is an intentionally eclectic collection with an underlying coherence aiming to bring together books that explore the nature or boundaries of what a book is or how the form of a book can change the "normal" relationship between reader and text