Prior to 1973 rare materials were kept in the library director’s office then in a locked area in the South Library. Special Collections was established in 1973 by Library Dean Norman Tanis in the new Delmar T. Oviatt Library to house the growing manuscript and rare book collections. Dean Tanis also appointed the first curator of Special Collections, Dennis Bakewell. Special Collections was located in Room 4 until 1992 when it moved to a larger location with its own reading room and closed stack area in the newly constructed west wing of the Oviatt Library.
In 1993 Library Dean Susan Curzon approved joining the Urban Archives Center and Special Collections into Special Collections and Archives. The Old China Hands archive was added in 1996 and the International Guitar Research Archive was transferred from the Music Department to Special Collections and Archives in 2000.
As a result of severe damage to the Library from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the west wing was rebuilt and a slightly enlarged. Special Collections and Archives reopened in 2000. The Reading Room was remodeled in 2003 during the installation of new exhibition cases in the C.K & Teresa Tseng Gallery outside the Reading Room. At this time the Special Collections and Archives security system was expanded and improved with lockers for researchers.
- Dennis Bakewell, MLS (1974 – 1983)
- Donald Read, MLS (1984 – 1987)
- Tony Gardner, MA, MLS (1987- 2011)