Special Collections was previously located in the historic James D. Hoskins Library. Originally opened in 1931, Hoskins served as the central library until 1987. The building’s collegiate-Gothic architecture is evident on the interior and exterior. Designed by Knoxville architects Barber & McMurry, the building features pointed arches, vaulted ceilings, stone doorframes, and two small gargoyles guarding the main entrance.
A massive grand staircase leads to a second floor with painted ceilings and plaques honoring famous individuals from academic disciplines. Exposed ceiling beams are painted with decorative motifs using scrolling, foliation, and heraldic devices. The painted beams in the ceiling of the former reference room follow the development of the book covering Egyptian hieroglyphics, Chinese scrolls, illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages, and early American books.
The former reference room on the second floor of the building once served as the central hub of the library, with an equally impressive delivery hall adjoining where patrons would request books from the closed stacks. The eight-level stacks featured glass floors to provide natural lighting. Completed for $300,000, the building measured 50,000 square feet, could hold 200,000 volumes, and had 500 seats for patrons. In 1934, the university completed a tower on the front of the building to house the Eleanor Deane Swan Audigier collection of objects, paintings, and furniture.
In 1944, the university recognized the need to expand the library, which was nearing its total storage capacity. In 1950, the University renamed the central library as the James D. Hoskins Library in honor of his service as faculty member, dean, president, and library supporter. With legislative support for the expansion, in October 1957 Hoskins led the groundbreaking ceremony for a $1 million addition.
Completed in 1959, the expanded library featured a Special Collections room, more spacious workspace for staff, graduate student study carrels, and an air conditioning system. In 1966, the Estes Kefauver Wing opened on the west side of the building to house the University's growing Special Collections department and the papers of the late Senator Kefauver. Twenty years later in 1987, renovated John C. Hodges Library (once an undergraduate library) replaced the Hoskins Library as the central library on campus. Hoskins became the home to Special Collections, Map Services, and the Preservation Collection. Recently both Special Collections and the Map Services relocated to Hodges Library as well.