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History of the Classics Library Collections

History of the Classics Library

The teaching of Latin and Greek at the University of Illinois began in 1867; thus, classical books were among the first materials in the University Library. The Classics Seminar, originally used to designate such collections outside the Main Library, was one of the first two established. Its organization as a separate collection dates from 1908, when the former faculty room or “Tower Room” on the third floor of the old library building, now Altgeld Hall, was outfitted with shelves to accommodate the “classical seminar of 2,500 volumes.”

Professor W. A. Oldfather, who came to the University in 1909, deserves credit for his careful selection of the materials for the collection. In 1910, assisted by Professor Arthur Stanley Pease, Oldfather removed classic books from the University Library stacks to augment the newly established “Classical Library,” as it was then called. The private Library of about 5,600 items of Professor Wilhelm Dittenberger of Halle University was purchased in 1907. In 1908, Mr. H. W. Denio was employed to catalog these items and, during the process, devised the special classification system of the Latin and Greek authors that was first applied to the Dittenberger collection.

The growing classics library moved to Lincoln Hall in 1911 and 1912. The collection was again greatly enlarged in 1913 and 1914 by the acquisition of the private Library of classical philology of Professor Johannes Vahlen of Vienna and Berlin, which numbered some 10,000 items, including his “Handapparat,” about 15,000 mostly unbound dissertations, reprints of articles and program publications.

Due to the enthusiasm of President James in accumulating research materials in the Library during his 16 years in office between 1904 and 1920, and his special interest in the classics collections, the classical Library grew rapidly at this time, not only by the addition of the Vahlen library but by the acquisition or filling out of numerous sets and other standard works of reference. After 17 years in Lincoln Hall, the Library moved to the present Library in 1928 and 1929, as did the other “Seminar” libraries.