The mission of the Special Collections unit of the Lakeland Public Library is to acquire, preserve and make accessible to researchers materials which document Lakeland's history. The materials focus specifically on the city's people, institutions, organizations, industries and events. Materials relating to Polk County and the state of Florida are also acquired as those items have a Lakeland connection. The collections consist of records, manuscripts, printed and published material, maps, photographs, films, videotapes, audio cassettes, scrapbooks, posters, news clips, newsletters and ephemera, especially postcards and citrus labels. The unit also maintains an index to obituaries in The Ledger from 1911 to 1975 and 1999 to the present and an index to deaths in Polk County between 1975 and 1998.
Though the Lakeland Room is not a museum, the unit will on occasion accept artwork and artifacts that have a direct connection to the city. The holdings of Special Collections are in a variety of formats, including manuscripts, photographs, books, and scrapbooks. The manuscript materials consist of personal papers and business records of a number of prominent citizens of Lakeland, including Norman Riggins, Herbert Drane, Columbus Dean, Albert Lodwick, and the Carter family. Also included are the records of such civic organizations and social clubs as the Lakeland Chapter of the DAR, the Sorosis Club, the Woman's Club, and Historic Lakeland.
The Special Collections unit is home to more than 10,000 photographic prints and negatives documenting Lakeland from the turn of the century to the present. Among the most significant of these collections is the Earl Morgan Savage Collection, with its many photos of Lakeland's developing downtown district in the 1920's, and the Dan Sanborn Collection which documents Lakeland's growth and development from the 1930's to the 1960's. The collection of books, pamphlets, other printed materials and maps has been specifically developed to document the history and development of Lakeland and, to a lesser extent, Polk County and the state of Florida as a whole. Most of the items in the collection are monographs, although there are also periodicals, maps, directories, and municipal, county, and state publications. The scrapbooks in the collection document the activities of a number of organizations in Lakeland and are often the only evidence of the organization's existence.