VCU Libraries organized Special Collections and Archives units in both the James Branch Cabell and Tompkins-McCaw Libraries in 1975. Each library had acquired both historical materials and archival records prior to this date but had done little to make these valuable resources accessible. Building additions in the mid-1970s created spaces at both libraries for departments dedicated to acquiring, preserving and making available primary research materials to the VCU community and general public. At Cabell Library the space included a late-Victorian style suite to house the personal library of Richmond author James Branch Cabell. VCU hired its first archivist for the MCV Campus in 1975 followed by a special collections librarian for the new department at Cabell Library in 1976.
During Special Collections and Archives’ formative years, the departments benefited from the generosity and support of former faculty members and benefactors who played a vital role in the formation and development of the Book Art, Comic Arts and Medical Artifacts collections. Both units maintained an active collecting program in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s that helped establish VCU as a repository of note for 20th century records and manuscript collections documenting the history of Richmond and the health care professions in Virginia. Today, Special Collections and Archives continues to build collections and programs that advance research, creative expression and student success at VCU.