The Center maintains a Rare Books Collection. Among the rare books of great significance in this collection are William Shakespeare's Four Folios and the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493. The collection also includes historic first prints by leading American authors from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens. The collection also includes historic prints of many of the first books of history and literature that were printed in Virginia and the counties that presently make up the state of West Virginia.
The Center dates back to 1930, when the University Library accepted the responsibility of preserving the papers of Senator Waitman T. Willey, a founding father of West Virginia. The library's collection has grown from these humble beginnings, now including over 20,000 linear feet of personal papers, photos, pamphlets, business records, and more. The digital collection includes multiple terabytes of digital content, books, microfilm, audio recordings, and more.
The West Virginia and Regional History Center hosts changing exhibits and also permanent display cases of objects and works of art. One work of art on display in the reading room is Justice Guarding the Sleeping World by David Hunter Strother, a journalist, artist, soldier, and diplomat. Born in September 1816 in Martinsburg, Strother painted this piece in 1843, during a three year journey to Europe, in which he found himself in a frenzy of artistic activity, producing nine paintings in 12 months. These three years were crucial to the life of Strother, as he yearned for a better understanding of the European artist he hoped to imitate. The painting depicts a sleeping family: a man, a woman, and their baby as a woman sits watch over them. The image creates a sense of understanding that justice looms over this world as its fated guardian. Strother, also going under the pseudonym ‘Porte Crayon,’ would go on to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War, where he would fight in over thirty battles. Strother would spend the rest of his days in West Virginia, where he would die at the age of 71 in Charles Town.