News & Events

A Home for Special Collections

Special Collections

The Library’s special collections—including maps, rare books, archives, and historical music instruments—distinguish Illinois from every other Library in the world and are used by people from all walks of life.

Whether it is a best-selling author digging through handwritten letters, a new student examining a rare book, an experienced professor diving into a music score, a curious steelworker exploring the fliers of her predecessors, or a high school band playing Civil War-era saxhorns—everyone is welcome to explore these many treasures.

Now situated in various venues, these collections are envisioned to move into a permanent site in the very heart of campus—a proposal that will preserve their condition, increase their accessibility to students and scholars, and expose the general public to their value.

“There is a pressing need for a dedicated home for the collections and those who use them,” says Dean John Wilkin.

His plan calls for many of these jewels to reside in one spot—the current quarters of the Undergraduate Library, whose services will then transfer into the Main Library building (see Undergraduates on the Move). The new location—which would provide climate control, as well as easy access via tunnel for researchers at the Main Library—would include:

  • The Rare Book & Manuscript Library, established in 1936, which holds more than 600,000 volumes and several kilometers of manuscript material. Renowned for its outstanding collections of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, this enterprise also holds the literary papers of notable figures such as Marcel Proust, Carl Sandburg, H.G. Wells, William Maxwell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Shana Alexander, and W.S. Merwin.
  • The University Archives, an international research destination, which preserves and makes accessible more than 12 kilometers of personal archives and University and system office records. It also includes the Student Life and Culture Archives, the only such facility in the nation, and the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, which stands as testament to the siren call of sound.
  • The Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, whose 34,000+ catalogued print volumes and 1,000+ manuscript and archival collections help tell the story of Illinois, as well as the life and legacy of its most famous resident.
  • The Map Library, housing more than 630,000 maps and air photographs from around the world and across the centuries. It also includes an impressive collection of world and national atlases.
  • Other rare book collections now held in a variety of campus libraries.

“Bringing these extraordinary resources together in a single location will enable us to provide superior spaces to serve our students and faculty, to support instruction, [and] to mount exhibits,” Wilkin says, as well as present a robust schedule of public events and workshops. In addition, security, climate control, conservation, and digital support efforts would be improved.

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