The Audio-Visual Archives began in 1974 when it became clear that audio-visual materials throughout Special Collections needed special attention and had special value. As the audio-visual archives grew, Terry Birdwhistell traveled state wide to advocate the archiving of local radio and television news materials. Through a 1978 NEH grant, an effort was made to locate, separate, describe and microfilm photographs from the manuscript collections. In 1985, a staff position was established to address the specific needs of all audio-visual materials. The Audio-Visual Archives contains one of the largest, university based collections of archival film, video and audio recordings in the United States. Major sections of the Audio-Visual Archives include university generated educational and public affairs programming, as well as athletic film and video; the state's only broadcasting archive consisting of extensive collections of local television and radio programming; and the works of Kentucky-related independent film makers. The collection also includes over 2 million still photographic images.
The mission of the Special Collections Research Center is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic, and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Materials are acquired regardless of format and include both primary and secondary sources; Kentuckiana is collected comprehensively. Special Collections maintains the records management program for all records generated by the University and serves as its archival repository for permanent records. As part of the mission, the Special Collections Research Center advances and supports the research, teaching, and scholarship of the University and beyond by preserving and providing access to its holdings.