James Sterling Ayars was a successful writer for young people, an editor of scientific and religious publications, and an activist for civil liberties and human rights. Ayars also served as a technical editor at the Illinois Natural History Survey from 1937 until his retirement in 1965. In addition, Ayars authored and co-authored eleven books which include: Basketball Comes to Lonesome Point (1952), Caboose on the Loose (1956), John James Audubon (1966), and We Hold These Truths (1977). His book, The Illinois River (1968), received the Clara Ingram Judson Award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1969. Ayars was married to Rebecca Caudill, a noted author of children's books. He and his wife were members of the Religious Society of Friends and the Champaign-Urbana Peace Council. Ayars was also active in the American Civil Liberties Union and in the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Vietnam.
Series I of the Ayars collection relates to the writing and publishing of The Illinois River, including correspondence, notes, early drafts, and card files. The card files include an index based on alphabetical headings, a card file based on subject note cards, and a card file based on brief descriptions of sources. The collection also contains pictures and photographs of Illinois River scenes, including snapshots taken by Ayars during research boat trips.
Series II represents a substantial supplement to Series I. Reflecting Ayars's multifaceted career, it includes notes, drafts, and typescripts of unpublished and published stories, articles, and poems. It contains copies of his published writings and periodicals; notes, audio tapes, and transcripts of speeches and radio talks; and correspondence pertaining to his literary career. Ayars's role in the community can be seen in papers and correspondence relating to Trinity Methodist Church (and its long-time pastor, Paul Burt), the Religious Society of Friends, C-U Consumers Cooperative, the C-U Peace Council, ACLU, and the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Vietnam.
The collection also contains photocopies and typed transcriptions of twenty-two letters written by William H. Ayars during 1863-64. (The originals were returned to Becky Jeans Ayars Baker in 1988.) Will Ayars was a corporal in Co. B, 127th N.Y. Vol. Inf. from 1862 until 1864, when he became a lieutenant in the 31st U. S. Colored Infantry. He was killed at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864.
James Ayars donated Series I to the Library in 1970, and Series II in 1985-1986. His daughter, Becky Ayars Baker, donated additional material in 1988 that was incorporated into Series II.