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Mission and History

The Illinois History and Lincoln Collections is a unit of the Special Collections Division of the University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign. By collecting, preserving, and providing access to print and manuscript materials documenting the history of Illinois and its inhabitants, including the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln, the IHLC serves to support research and learning in the areas of Illinois history and Lincoln studies.


For many years, the collections were located in two separate units, the Illinois Historical Survey and the Lincoln Room, each with a history of its own.

The University created the Survey in 1909, and for three decades it functioned as the editorial office of the Illinois State Historical Library in Springfield.  It mainly collected materials of use in the preparation of the Centennial History of Illinois, a multi-volume study, and the Illinois Historical Collections, a documentary series.  These publications, written or edited by University faculty, essentially created the field of Illinois history.  (This accomplishment is commemorated by the bronze plaque that stands at the north entrance to the Library.)

After 1939, when the state historical agency was consolidated in Springfield, the Survey became fully a unit of the Graduate College.  As such, it continued to expand its holdings in the field of Illinois history and to define the study of the state’s past.

In 1966, the unit was moved from Lincoln Hall, where it was affiliated with the Department of History, to the Library, where, by serving an increasing number of users from many departments, it grew into a distinctly interdisciplinary “departmental library.”

In 1980, the Survey became an administrative part of the Library under terms of an Agreement with the Graduate College whereby the Library promised the independence and integrity of the Survey.

In 1951, the collection which formed the nucleus of the Lincoln Room was donated to the University by Harlan Hoyt Horner and Henrietta Calhoun Horner, both graduates and both Lincoln scholars.  The Horners also established an endowment to enlarge the holdings of the Lincoln Room and to maintain it as a separate, distinct part of the Library.

The collections of the Lincoln Room and the Survey, being so closely related, were combined in 2001.  The librarian and curator of the Survey, who advocated this combination, became also the librarian and curator of the Lincoln Room. For many topics, the combination of the two units significantly enhanced the research value of the separate holdings.

The reading room of the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, once in Library 346, was moved in 2006 to Library 422, and moved back to the third floor in 2009. As of July 2017, the IHLC reading room is located in Library 324.