Instituted in 1963 as Special Collections and renamed in 2003 to honor its founder, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center is the repository for the papers of individuals in the fields of literature, criticism, journalism, drama, music, film, civil rights, diplomacy, and national affairs. Although contemporary public figures is the specialty of the Center, there are substantial holdings of earlier historical documents and over 140,000 rare books.

Beginning with the sixteenth century, the historical collections include documents of United States presidents and the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Other historical holdings include papers relating to the areas of military history, eighteenth century Americana, nursing history, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franz Liszt. There are also individual letters and documents from monarchs, writers, and major historical figures.

The Center is a major resource for researchers, biographers, historians, producers, and students. The collections vary in size and content and contain a variety of manuscripts, drafts, galleys, notes, notebooks, journals, diaries, scrapbooks, reviews, photographs, memorabilia, and personal and professional correspondence. Most collections have a finding aid and are available for research by appointment.

Rotating exhibitions throughout the building showcase the manuscript holdings and rare books from the Center's various collections.