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WKU Special Collections Library

Collection Strengths:

While we have materials from all parts of Kentucky and all topics related to Kentucky, our focus in collecting has been the south central region of Kentucky, specifically the following counties:

  • Allen
  • Barren
  • Butler
  • Cumberland
  • Edmonson
  • Grayson
  • Green
  • Monroe
  • Muhlenberg
  • Logan
  • Ohio
  • Simpson
  • Todd
  • Warren

Search publications by county, e.g. "Warren County, Ky."

Search manuscripts, photographs, etc. by county, e.g. "Warren County"

Blueprints, drawings and plans of homes, churches,  businesses and schools are available here along with oral histories and studies about vernacular architecture and historic preservation. The collection also includes correspondence and construction documentation from some local architectural firms. 

Search publications 

Search blueprints, drawings, oral histories, photographs, etc. 

Browse Landmark Association Report

Caves are numerous in our region and we have a large collection of books, journals, and thesis  regarding caves and karst geology. 

Lost River Cave Collection - We house a collection of administrative records and plans created by and about the Friends of Lost River Cave. 

Mammoth Cave Collection - We house publications, photographs, postcards, maps, ephemera, historical accounts by tourists describing the wonders of the cave; narratives of guides; archaeology at the cave and records relating to the creation of Mammoth Cave National Park. 

Search publications by cave, karst or specific cave name. 

Search manuscripts, photographs, etc. by cave, karst or specific cave name

Collections include records (originals and photocopies) from churches of many denominations in Kentucky and elsewhere. Typically, these records consist of publications, meeting minutes, membership rolls, but may also include constitutions; articles of faith; rules of decorum; lists of pastors, elders, deacons, baptisms, marriages and deaths. 

Search publications by denomination.

Search manuscripts, photographs, etc. by specific church name, e.g. "State Street Methodist Church"

Both Union and Confederate soldiers and civilians are represented in our collections. We house publications such as adjutant general reports, regimental histories, battle descriptions and maps as well as letters, diaries, military papers and other material documenting the experiences of Kentuckians and those who found themselves in Kentucky during the Civil War. 

Search publications 

Browse manuscripts, photographs and maps, etc. 

The library houses many court records from Warren County, Kentucky that are of interest to historians and genealogists. The most used collection contains substantial number (but not all) of the county's original marriage bonds, including more than 7,000 dating from 1797 to 1984.

Another significant collection is the Warren County Equity Court records from 1802 to 1856. The bulk of these cases concern debts, estate settlements and land title disputes, but many other matters include divorce, dower claims, contractual disputes and the disposition of property. 

There is also a collection of county records that includes municipal reports and records; court dockets; fee and order books; trustees' minutes; and local ordinance, surveyor's and commissioner's books.

There are published transcriptions of records from other southern Kentucky counties as well. 

Search publications, e.g. "Warren County, Ky."

Search county records, manuscripts, etc. e.g. "Warren County"

Our collections are used extensively by fashion students at WKU. We hold a large collection of department store catalogs such as Sears, J.C.Penney and Montgomery Ward as well as clothing patterns. Our photograph collections can be useful in tracing the changes in fashion over time. City directories, census records, birth and death certificates, and family history books are also helpful.

Ancestry Library Edition (KYVL) - includes censuses, vital records, immigration records, family histories, military records, court and legal documents, directories, photos, maps and more. 

CoPA (Commercial Patter Archive) - clothing and costume patterns from all over the world. Contact us at 270-745-5083 reference desk for username and password. 

Vogue Archive (Proquest) - a complete searchable archive of American Vogue (1892-present). 

Beyond the records of WKU and its founding institutions, we house catalogs, publications, photographs, manuscripts and ephemera from early colleges and seminaries from across the region as well as high schools. 

Search for books and periodicals

Search manuscripts, photographs, etc. by college/school name, e.g.  "Alexander College" or subject terms "higher education administration" or curriculum, etc.  

Educational Administration, Leadership & Research theses & dissertations

The Folklife Archives consists of papers and projects created by WKU Folk Studies faculty, undergraduate and graduate students about traditional and modern folk ways including music, beliefs, regional speech patterns, ethnographic studies, occupations, community surveys and vernacular architecture.  Included is a vast archives of sound recordings of interviews, oral histories and musical performances.  

The Folklife Archives was expanded in 2012 by the acquisition of the Kentucky Folklife Program Archive which consists of over 150 collections spanning the Commonwealth of Kentucky and covering over 20 years of research done by the Kentucky Folklife Program which is part of the Department of  Folk Studies & Anthropology.

The Lynwood Montell Collection contains oral history interviews regarding ghosts, gospel singing, occupations, Native Americans, log structures and folk remedies as well as drafts of Montell's published works. 

The Sarah Gertrude Knott Collection consists of correspondence, photographs and files related to the National Folk Festival Association. 

Search for books and periodicals

Search by topic

Browse digitized Folklife Archives Finding Aids and Oral Histories

Overview of Manuscripts & Folklife Archives

Our extensive ephemera collections can be used in the study of the concerns and conditions of everyday living experienced by past generations of average people from the southern Kentucky region. Advertising, foodways, politics, entertainment, newsletters, leaflets, manners, pamphlets, theatrical productions, marriage and dating customs, funerary customs, religion and many more topics are represented in the extensive ephemera collections. 

Search by topic

Browse broadsides.

Browse ephemera.

The collections include published genealogies; genealogical and lineage society publications; unpublished family files; photographs and records of local genealogists. Published county histories, cemetery books, funeral home records, newspapers, Kentucky death certificates 1911-1965, city directories and yearbooks are also available.  Many other categories of records listed here are useful for genealogy research such as county records, folklife archives and photographs. 

Browse digitized genealogical records

Search publications by family name, e.g. "Smith Family.

Search manuscripts, photographs, etc. e.g. "Smith Family."

Guide to Genealogy Research in the Special Collections Library.

Many items in the collection display graphic design. Advertising ephemera, political campaign materials, broadsides, event posters, flour bags to name a few. 

Browse publications about graphic design

Browse documents, photographs, etc. 

Jonesville was a predominantly African American community in Bowling Green from the early 1880s through the mid-1960s when the property was annexed by WKU. 

Browse documents, oral histories, photographs, etc. 

Jonesville History Project

There is a map collection as well as maps found throughout manuscript and archival collections. These include road maps, maps of caves, cemeteries, geologic regions, thematic and topographic maps. 

Browse published maps, atlases and books about mapping

Browse gazetteers

Browse unpublished maps and things related to mapping

Sanborn Maps Kentucky

USGS Topographic Map Collection

The Special Collections Library has a significant sheet music collections (nearly 5000 pieces), photographs, sound recordings, posters and ephemera illustrating the importance of music to this region from the 19th century into the present. 

Genres represented include gospel, country, rap, folk, pop, and rock and roll. 

A few of the artists represented in the collection include: Mary Clyde Huntsman's Merry Makers, Duke Allen & the Kentucky Ramblers, Shakers, Hawaiian steel guitar instructor Freddie Joe Lewis, New Grass Revival, The Kentucky Headhunters,  Hillvue Heights Music Group, John Edmonds' Gospel Truth and the Hilltoppers Quartet.

Search publications by genre or artist

Search sheet music, manuscripts, photographs, etc. by genre or artist

There are extensive collections of oral histories created by faculty, students and staff of WKU. They have interviewed people of the Southern Kentucky region regarding topics such as education, wars, politics, occupations, African American experience, folklore and many other topics. 

Browse oral histories 

Images of people, families, places and events throughout southern Kentucky from the late 19th century to the present are available in our collections. There are over 10,000 vintage postcards as well. 

Search photographs by name, location, event, etc. 

With over 10,000 examples of political memorabilia the Rather-Westerman Collection is an unusually large and unique collection. There are 3 main areas:

  • Kentucky candidates & campaigns
  • Kentuckians in national races 1830-present
  • National figures campaigning in Kentucky.

In addition to the Rather-Westerman Collection are collections of personal/political papers created by individual Kentucky politicians such as Tim Lee Carter, William Natcher and Joseph Underwood.

Search publications by politician, political party or related topic

Search ephemera, manuscripts, photographs, etc. by politician, political paty or related topic

The collection houses books by a variety of quilt guilds, quilt and needlecraft journals, quilt patterns  as well as interviews with quilters and the records of the Kentucky Heritage Quilt Society.  

Search publications 

Browse manuscripts, photographs, etc. 

Browse Kentucky Museum quilt collection

The Robert Penn Warren Library contains approximately 2,700 volumes. In it are a number of 18th and 19th century publications, but most of the collection consists of first editions of Warren's works, autographed gift copies from friends and colleagues, and books he used for reference. Fittingly, there are as many devoted to history as to literature. Some contain marginal notations penciled by Warren.

In addition to publications the library also holds approximately 300 photographs, a few manuscript items such as correspondence with publishers, several programs and other paper ephemera. Artifacts include Warren's desk, office furnishings and memorabilia. Among the honorary gifts he received are the laurel wreath for the Poet Laureateship, ribbons, plaques and medals. 

Browse publications.

Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies at WKU 

Joseph Blotner Archives - added to the Robert Penn Warren Library in 1998. Blotner used this research material in compiling Warren's authorized biography, Robert Penn Warren: A Biography. The materials inlcude Blotner's interviews with many of Warren's associates, notes, outlines, newspaper and magazine clippings, legal documents, xerox copies of correspondence, minutes of meetings, short unpublished essays on Warren's literary work, plus corollary research material collected from various literary archives. 

James A. Grimshaw, Jr. Collection - acquired in 2003 for the Robert Penn Warren Library.  Grimshaw served as Regents Professor of Literature and Language at Texas A&M University at Commerce. Professor Grimshaw's collection was considered the world's largest private compilation of Robert Penn Warren materials. The collection includes more than 1,200 items amassed over a forty-year span. Grimshaw used the materials to compile his authoritative bibliography of Robert Penn Warren's writings titled Robert Penn Warren: A Descriptive Bibliography. The collection includes special editions, a significant number of paperback editions, films, scripts, poetry, foreign editions, periodicals, broadsides, a small amount of personal correspondence, vertical files and secondary sources by or about Robert Penn Warren. 

Journals, diaries, account books, photographs, hymnals and business records chronicle the activities of the religious community of Shakers who gathered at South Union in Logan County, Kentucky from 1902 to 1922. These materials provide more extensive documentation of the South Union Shakers' 115 years of existence than any other repository.

Search publications  

Browse manuscripts, photographs, etc. 

Our collections include correspondence, diaries and papers of American armed forces personnel and civilians as they experienced wars of the twentieth century from World War I through Iraq and Afghanistan. Materials for World War II are particularly extensive. 

Search publications by military engagment or war

Search manuscripts, photographs, etc. 

In addition to Robert Penn Warren,  Kentucky authors are highlighted through publications and manuscript collections. Included are Janice Holt Giles, Jesse Stuart, Julia Neal, Alice (Caldewell) Hegan Rice and Elizabeth Madox Roberts. 

Search for Kentucky authors' published works, e.g. "Stuart, Jesse"

Search for Kentucky authors' manuscripts, photographs, etc. e.g. "Stuart, Jesse"


The Special Collections Library supports WKU’s mission by facilitating research and lifelong learning. We acquire and preserve a unique collection spanning many disciplines and historical periods, while highlighting diverse and historically underrepresented communities. These collections are accessible both in person and virtually to serve students, faculty, and the research community.  Through outreach and active learning encounters, these primary and secondary resources serve to support the University’s curriculum while fostering student success, critical thinking, and original scholarship.

Please note: Special Collections Library holdings include historically and culturally sensitive images and text; the University Libraries does not endorse such views and presents these for research purposes only.

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Monday 9-4 by appointment
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 Last Modified 3/22/23