The Southwest Collection is a major regional historical repository and library, a center for research about the history of the American Southwest. Although it was not formally established by the Texas Tech Board of Regents until 1955, its beginnings date to the founding of Texas Technological College. Shortly after its establishment in 1923 Texas Tech named as its first librarian Elizabeth Howard West, who had been the head librarian for the Texas State Library in Austin. Miss West was an avid historian, and almost immediately after the school open in 1925, she began collecting historical manuscripts. In 1929, with the assistance of the chairman of the board of regents, Clifford B. Jones, West collected the records of the Espuela Land and Cattle Company, and then, in 1930, through the assistance of a new history professor, William Curry Holden, she acquired the records of the Matador Land and Cattle Company. These records became the nucleus for what later would become the Southwest Collection. In 1948 Holden met with Lubbock business leaders George Dupree, Retha Martin, and others to form the Southwest Collection. They envisioned a research center that would be for Texas Tech what the Barker Texas History Center was for the University of Texas-a major regional historical research center that would document the history of the Southwest and West. Soon after the 1948 meeting materials that had been previously collected by the library and museum were pulled together in a special room in the library. These materials included the records of several historic West Texas ranches, including the Matador, Spur, and Double U. In September 1955 these materials were transferred to new quarters in the basement of the West Texas Museum, which was in Holden Hall, and the college hired its first professional archivist, Seymour V. Connor, to oversee the collection.
By 1963 the Southwest Collection had far outgrown its modest space in the basement of the museum, and in that year moved to the old library, later the Mathematics Building. There, the Southwest Collection had 3 million manuscript items and a staff of four and occupied 16,000 square feet. Since that time, the Southwest Collection has grown to include 20 million items and has a full-time staff of eleven and a part-time staff of twelve. Included in its holdings are original manuscript material, such as letters, diaries, and business records; more than 50,000 books on the American West and Southwest; 350,000 photographs; 4,500 oral history tapes; 1,500 newspaper and periodical titles; 8,000 reels of microfilm; and 1,300 reels of motion picture film and video tape. Its collections on ranching, the oil and gas industry, water usage, land colonization, black soldiers in the West, railroads, and agriculture have been lauded as among the best in the nation. Included are the papers of longtime congressman and former chief justice of the United States Court of Claims, Marvin Jones, and his successor in Congress, George Mahon, who served his district for forty-four years and became chairman of the powerful House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. Also, the Southwest Collection has been unique in its dedication to collecting historical information on a democratic basis. For example, its holdings include information related to farmers, miners, blacksmiths, women, African Americans, Hispanics, and others who contributed to the development of the region. Collectively, these written, oral, and other graphic materials reflect humanity's ongoing relationship to each other and to the land of the great Southwest.
As a result of its impressive holdings, the Southwest Collection attracts scholars from throughout the state, the nation, and the world. Its staff handles more than 7,000 inquiries annually. Hundreds of authors who have cited its resources include such names as novelist James Michener, Jeanne Williams, and Elmer Kelton, and historians C. Clark Spence and William H. Leckie. Users also include major film and documentary production companies. The Southwest Collection is considered one of the major regional historical repositories in the nation with resources to provide insight into the past, present, and future of the American Southwest. Much of the Southwest Collection is available on line through the university libraries' public access catalog, TechPAC. In August 1996 the Southwest Collection will move to a new $8.8 million building, which includes 79,000 square feet, a large reading room, conservation laboratory, oral history and video labs, and climate controlled secured storage. Since its formal establishment in 1955, the Southwest Collection has had only three directors, S. V. "Ike" Connor (1955–63), R. Sylvan Dunn (1963–77), and David J. Murrah (1977-).