The University Library was founded in 1867 in the charter establishing the school that became the University of Illinois. It opened with the school in 1868 with 1,039 volumes and grew slowly over the next few decades. University President Edmund J. James, in a speech to the Board of Trustees in 1912, proposed to create a research library on a par with those at the great German academic institutions. He stated that the Library should accumulate "...at least a million of books as rapidly as possible..." and that the state "...spend a million dollars to build a new building to house the collection." The Library moved into its new building (the current main library building) in 1926. Under the inspiration of library dean Phineas L. Windsor, the building was designed to accommodate constant growth and influenced the architecture of academic library buildings for decades.
The one-millionth volume was acquired in 1935. During this period of intense acquisition, the Library amassed the beginnings of its extremely strong collections in classics, architecture, chemistry, mathematics, history, Milton, and Shakespeare. By 1940, the Library was the fifth-largest in the country.
Robert B. Downs became library dean in 1943. By the end of his tenure in 1971, he had acquired 120 of the Library's 177 special research collections, and the Library had become the third-largest in the nation. Among the most notable acquisitions are collections dealing with H.G. Wells, Marcel Proust, Carl Sandburg, Shakespeare, Elizabethan and early English literature, near eastern history, and freedom of expression.
Hugh C. Atkinson arrived as university librarian in 1976. Facing a filing backlog of nearly a million catalog cards, Atkinson steered the Library into the world of automation. In 1978, the Library became the first major research library in the country to have an online catalog. Atkinson also fulfilled his vision of a statewide, computer-linked library network. The network now included more than 2,400 libraries of all types, from public and grade-school to corporate and university, and was the most extensive in the country.
In 1992, the Library began to create networked databases, including multimedia databases, that would become accessible both locally and internationally via the Internet. By 1994 more than a million users weekly were logging on to the Library's online catalog. The Grainger Engineering Library Information Center opened in March 1994. The facility was designed to accommodate the latest in both library and user technologies and includes facilities for digital scanning, multimedia database creation, and on-site testing of new library-related software. In October 2001, the Isaac Funk Family Library was dedicated. This state of the art facility brings together the ACES College Alumni Center and the college Library in a beautiful 52,000 square foot building.
Today, with holdings of more than ten million volumes, the Library has strengths in many areas, ranging from hard sciences to the humanities. The fields most often cited by faculty and visiting scholars are: reference and bibliography; agriculture; chemistry; engineering; biology; mathematics; commerce and business administration; history; philosophy; music; art; architecture; education; library and information science; maps; English and American literature as well as the literatures of most languages; and law.
When you visit the collections at UIUC -- whether in person or "virtually" through the Web -- you will come in contact with a host of knowledgeable and scholarly librarians and staff whose extensive expertise in their various fields is evident in their service and in the collections they build and maintain. It is a singular honor for me to be affiliated with these talented colleagues, and to work with these superlative collections.
I hope that your experiences with the University of Illinois Library and its collections are equally stimulating and satisfying. If you have any comments to share, suggestions to make, or requests, please let me know.
Karen Schmidt, Ph.D.
Associate University Librarian for Collections and Professor of Library Administration, 1997-2007