Special Collections evolved from a small collection of rare books housed in the library director's office to a closed shelf collection administered by the Language/Literature Library and ultimately to a separately administered division of the University Libraries.
In 1962, when the division was formed, the book collections were moved to their present location on the west side of the 4th floor of Ellis Library. The majority of the Libraries' microforms were also moved to the division. The division was named Special Collections in 1977. In 2005, the Special Collections Division and the University Archives merged to become a single administrative unit called the Division of Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books (SCARaB). The departments maintain their original locations in Ellis Library and Lewis Hall.
The growth of the Rare Book Collection in the second half of the 20th century is due largely to the efforts of Art History and Archaeology Professor Homer Thomas and Library Science Professor Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt and the collections, in a large measure, reflect their interest. Professor Thomas, who was Chair of the University Faculty Library Committee for many years, traveled extensively in Europe and was able to acquire valuable titles in art history, archaeology and works of travel. Most of the Libraries' collection of academy publications were acquired by Thomas. Professor Lehmann-Haupt's first contact with MU Libraries was as a sales representative for H.P. Kraus. He joined the faculty of the School of Library and Informational Science in 1968 and served informally as rare book consultant to the Libraries until his retirement in 1981. Professor Lehmann-Haupt selected illustrated books from the sixteenth through nineteenth century.
The Friends of the University of Missouri-Columbia Libraries organization and individual members have also played an important role in collection development.
Many of the collections were gifts. The Thomas Moore Johnson Collection was a gift of the Johnson estate in 1947. The Frank Luther Mott Collection was given to the Libraries in 1945 by Mott heirs. Early textbooks and the University of Missouri Collection were acquired from several gift sources. The Comic Art Collection houses original art given to the libraries by cartoonists or their families: Mort Walker, V.T. Hamlin, Edgar Martin and James Tinney McCutcheon.
University of Missouri-Columbia collections are small, but have research potential in specific types of illustrated books, in printing and the book arts, seventeenth and eighteenth century British religious thought, Plato and the Neoplationists, English book hands of the tenth to the twelfth century and University of Missouri-Columbia history.