The University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collections was founded in 1974 as the Special Collections Division, the direct result of a gift by Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins Garrett of Fort Worth, Texas. Mr. and Mrs. Garrett donated more than 10,000 books, documents, graphics, maps, periodicals, manuscripts, newspapers, and pieces of sheet music. The university built rooms on the 6th floor of the Central Library to house this material, which focused on historical materials related to the history of Texas, Mexico, the Mexican War (1846-1848), and maps, which depicted the cartographic history of the Gulf of Mexico region and the greater Southwest. Special Collections’ collecting efforts have built upon the subject areas found in the initial donation from the Garretts, as demonstrated by significant acquisitions in several collecting areas.
- Texas History – in 1979, a room on the 6th floor was designed for the processing of the Robertson Colony Collection.
- Cartography – the Cartographic History Library was established in 1978, and was then supplemented by the donations of hundreds of maps from Mrs. Garrett in 1990 and 1997. On October 1 of the latter year, the Cartographic History Library was renamed the Virginia Garrett Cartographic History Library.
- Spanish archives – since the early 1970s, the archivist in charge of this collecting area has conducted many microfilming projects in the Mexican state of Yucat'n and the Central American country of Honduras.
- Photograph collections – in 1984, Special Collections became the official repository of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram; this initial donation included almost a million photographs and negatives, and vertical files and ephemeral materials.
Other collecting areas were added to the department in 1981, when the administration of the library consolidated the Texas Labor Archives with Special Collections. The Texas Labor Archives, established in 1967, collects the records of the labor unions and their officials, as well as conducts oral history interviews with union leaders and rank-and-file union members. Other components of the archives include the University Archives and the Texas Political History Collection.