The Rare Book Department has collected about 160 thousand items from between the 15th and 21st centuries. It is the largest depository of old books in Lithuania, its holdings and significance rivaling the most famous libraries of Eastern Europe. The Library was started by a famous humanist, Vilnius Suffragan Bishop Georgius Albinius and Sigismund II Augustus, the ruler Lithuania and Poland, who donated their collections to form the foundation of the Library. Later on the collections of the Library were supplemented by generous gifts from the most distinguished representatives of Radziwiłł dukes and Sapieha family, many bishops of Vilnius, prelates and canons of cathedral chapter, other high priests, Lithuanian statesmen and cultural icons.
Vilnius University Library keeps the largest collections of incunabula and palaeotypes in Lithuania and the largest selection of old Lithuanian books in the world – the latter contains such unique examples as Catechism – the first Lithuanian book by Martynas Mažvydas – as well as Mikalojus Daukša’s Catechism, the only works by Baltramiejus Vìlentas and other progenitors of Lithuanian literature known in the world, extremely valuable selection of old atlases and maps, and the authentic book collection of the library of the old Vilnius university Bibliotheca Academiae Vilnensis.