Archives and Special Collections Facility Approved by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

East Pavilion – Aerial from Southeast View from Northeast

Today, the Board of Trustees at the University of Illinois approved the first phase of the University Library’s building project.

Phase One of the building project will transform the current Undergraduate Library building into a facility that will house the University Archives, the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, and The Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Between campus support, fundraising, and internal allocations, the entirety of the $50M in funding has been secured for construction. The first phase is expected to be completed in 2024.  Read more…

University Library Receives IMLS National Leadership Grant to Preserve Email

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has awarded a $248,326 National Leadership – Libraries Grant to the Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The project’s goal is simple: to make it easier for archives, businesses, journalists, and individuals from all walks of life to preserve email.

The two-year “Email Archiving in PDF: From Initial Specification to Community of Practice” project will establish a Liaison Working Group in collaboration with the non-profit PDF Association ( The group will create a detailed technical specification for a PDF technology-based approach to the long-term preservation of email (EA-PDF). The project will also develop open-source software demonstrating the ability to create EA-PDF files. Developing this specification within the PDF Association facilitates exposure to and input from industry partners who may wish to support EA-PDF in their products.

The IMLS investment in this Illinois-led project will drive a potent initiative to help government agencies, libraries, archives, museums, and businesses preserve and provide access to email archives. Email documents how businesses, organizations, and citizens interact and make decisions. As the New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo has noted, “[Email] preserves time, location and state of mind, the what-when-where-and-who of every story we might want to dig up.”* News stories routinely cite email as a source of information, but there are few easily-used tools that preserve the entirety of a message or allow for its contents to be judged authentic.

“Email is the modern equivalent to the handwritten letters and typescript memos that fill archives and special collections libraries around the world. This project will make it easier for archives worldwide to preserve email,” said Associate Dean for Digital Strategies and Professor in the University Library Chris Prom, who will direct the project. “That’s important not only in its own right, but because email gives citizens and scholars the ability to fully plumb the depths of this wonderful, confusing thing we call history—our understanding and interpretation of past events.” 

PDF is a preferred target format for emails in part because many archives already use the PDF format to preserve other forms of written communication.  The EA-PDF specification will complement and extend existing approaches to email archiving and help to preserve these emails by building on existing universally-accepted technology. By providing an entirely vendor-neutral platform for preserving email that meets archival requirements and utilizes accepted technology, the project is well-positioned to find rapid adoption throughout the library, academic, and preservationist communities. 

The proposed work will leverage PDF as an accepted archival document technology with its reliable rendering and appearance, while also utilizing existing PDF features for preserving email’s native structures for other uses. Given the project’s early and continuous exposure to industry, as well as the interest already demonstrated, it is reasonable to anticipate broad engagement in the development of the specification, setting the table for widespread adoption,” said Duff Johnson, CEO of the PDF Association. “The PDF Association is delighted to continue its partnership with the University Library and engage in this further collaboration to realize a fully interoperable EA-PDF specification.” 

The EA-PDF project runs through August 2023 and extends Illinois’ record of leadership in this area, seen through prior grant projects. The project is also supporting an EA-PDF Community Fellow, Eden Irwin. She is a graduate student in the University of Illinois School of information, and the IMLS support and grant are providing her with the opportunity to complement and extend her formal education with practical experience in the digital preservation community.

The EA-PDF project will release the specifications and software in 2022 and 2023. As with many Library projects, the University will make these materials available under creative commons on open source licenses, so that they are freely available for application, reuse, and extension.

More information about the project can be found at

Read the PDF Association’s own announcement.


*Manjoo, Farhad. “What We Lose When the World Moves On From Email.” The New York Times, July 12, 2017, sec. Technology.

Undergraduate Library Update

The Undergraduate Library will remain open through the end of the Spring 2022 semester. As announced in 2018, the building will be converted over the next few years into an Archives and Special Collections building. Services for undergraduate students will be integrated into the Main Library, Grainger Engineering Library Information Center, Funk ACES Library, and other units around campus by the start of classes in Fall 2022.  Transition planning is currently underway for popular services including the Writers Workshop and Media Commons.  The Library looks forward to welcoming students into these renovated spaces in the coming academic year. For the most up-to-date information, please visit the new UGL Updates web page at

Establishment of the Central Illinois Jewish Communities Archives/Mervis Archives at the University of Illinois

The Danville Jewish Community is proud to announce the establishment of the Central Illinois Jewish Communities Archives/Mervis Archives in the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana Library’s Illinois History and Lincoln Collections.

The newly established archives will preserve the contributions of once-thriving small Jewish communities across the center of Illinois outside of major urban centers. The materials include histories of businesses and their owners, which sustained the towns, contributions made by the Jewish residents, information about local rabbis and Jewish leaders, as well as many other historical documents.

“We are excited about the preservation of this history of small-town Jewish immigrant contributions and life during the 20th century,” said Sybil Mervis, a Jewish community leader from Danville, IL.

The initiative to create the archives came from Mrs. Mervis, a longtime leader in the Illinois Jewish communities of Danville and Bloomington, who collected many of the Danville Jewish Community’s documents over the years, after a conversation with Erez Cohen, the executive director of Hillel at the University of Illinois. The two reached out to the director of the University of Illinois’ Program in Jewish Culture & Society, Dr. Dara Goldman, who welcomed the idea and established the connection with the University Library. The archives will include the oral histories of members of the communities, who will be interviewed and whose life stories will be documented.

“Life stories are a vital source of information that cannot be otherwise revealed. They allow us to expand our knowledge in new ways and directions, and reach a more multilayered and accurate historic picture,” said Dr. Liat Alon, Israel Institute/Israel Studies Project Teaching Fellow, who teaches students how to conduct research with archival documents and to collect individual life stories.

“Illinois’ rich Jewish history in small towns tells an important chapter in American Jewish history. It is great to see that this history will be preserved in the academic center of the state of Illinois,” said Erez Cohen, Hillel’s Executive Director.

The records will be housed in the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections at the University of Illinois Library and open to all interested parties, including academics and other researchers, students, and the public. The Illinois History and Lincoln Collections welcomes other small congregations and/or individuals across central Illinois (for example, from Mattoon, Quincy and Decatur, etc.) to inquire, if interested, about the possibility of contributing their records to the archives as well.

“The establishment of these archives provides a critical contribution to future research and engagement with the stories and contributions of Jewish communities in central Illinois,” said Krista Gray, Archives Program Officer for the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections.  “We are grateful to have the opportunity to preserve and make these materials more broadly accessible at the University of Illinois Library.”

A University of Illinois graduate student assistant in Library Science has begun working on the arrangement and description of the records. The initial contributions to the archives are expected to become available to researchers by late spring 2022.

Scholarly Publishing Opportunities Expanding at Illinois

Last month, the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) made a series of announcements regarding its support of Open Access (OA) initiatives across its member libraries. Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use those articles fully in the digital environment. Put plainly, Open Access ensures that anyone, anywhere, can access and use information. By supporting these developments in OA, the BTAA aims to make information more accessible to the university community, to benefit scholars by eliminating paywalls to research, and to help researchers to publish their own work. Read more on Commons Knowledge, the blog from the Scholarly Commons.

University of Illinois Library Announces New Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility

Dwight Thomas Photo |

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Library has announced the appointment of Victor Jones, Jr. as its first Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility. Jones begins his new role on July 16, 2021.

“I’m thrilled to have Victor Jones joining the University Library as director of DEIA initiatives. His perspectives, experience, and energy were all key to his emerging as the top candidate in an exceptionally strong pool,” said John P. Wilkin, the Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian. “The Library is eager to advance Library and University efforts in support of BIPOC communities and with regard to accessibility. Victor’s leadership and, indeed, partnership will be especially important to our success.”

Jones has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with a concentration in African American Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a Master of Science in College Student Affairs from Eastern Illinois University, and a Master of Divinity from Christ Ministries School of Divinity. Since 2014, he has worked for the School of Information Sciences (iSchool at Illinois), first as a recruitment specialist and then as the Assistant Director of Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives. 

“Promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice rank very high on my list of personal and professional goals. One of the primary reasons I chose a career in higher education was to serve as a catalyst for lasting change,” said Jones. “In an age where information is comparable to currency, being in a position to provide leadership and advocacy at one of the largest research libraries in the country is a tremendous opportunity.”

University Library Announces Architectural/Engineering Firms

Artist's concept of the renovation.
Artist’s concept of the renovation.

The Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has announced that the design of its new archives and special collections building will be jointly led by Champaign-based RATIO Architects and Boston-based Shepley Bulfinch.

These firms will lead a team that will embark on transforming the current Undergraduate Library building into a facility that will house the University Archives, the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, and the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Their work will kick off the first phase of a multi-stage project that will culminate in the redevelopment of the 100-year old Main Library Building as a rich hub of research and learning for the University’s community of humanities and social sciences scholars.

The University Library issued a Request for Proposals for a design architect on October 22, 2020. A total of 25 proposals were received and evaluated. After narrowing the pool down to seven, a final round of presentations and evaluations led to a strong endorsement by members of the University Library and the project team of the submittal delivered by RATIO and Shepley Bulfinch.

The architectural and engineering teams were chosen for their collective expertise and experience with similar projects; their understanding of the project requirements and schedules; their proposed approach to working with project stakeholders; their approach to designing a space that will incorporate accessibility and universal design principles; and their experiences working with like materials. The evaluative team devoted particular attention to the expertise of preservation consultants engaged by the project teams and the experiences of team members in designing and renovating facilities intended to house special collections materials.

“Our extraordinary rare and archival collections have long deserved a home commensurate with their scope and quality,” said John P. Wilkin, the Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian. “The renovation of the Undergraduate Library enhances our ability to preserve the collections and will support an improved level of access for future generations of scholars.”

The primary firms have executed many designs and renovations for other libraries. In addition to numerous Urbana-campus projects, RATIO’s portfolio includes the Thomas S. & Harvey D. Wilmeth Active Learning Center at Purdue University; the Krannert Memorial Library at the University of Indianapolis; and the Roy O. West Library at DePaul University. Shepley Bulfinch’s previous work includes the Firestone Library at Princeton University, the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University; the Hesburgh Libraries at Notre Dame; the Alfred R. Goldstein Library at the Ringling College of Art and Design; and Harvard University’s Lamont Library. Other project team members contributed to the successful execution of projects at the National WWI Museum; the National September 11 Memorial; Library and Archives Canada’s Gatineau 2 Preservation Facility; and the Rhode Island State Archives.

“The evaluation team was particularly impressed by the comprehensive expertise of the successful bidders. With awards for the Firestone and Rubenstein library projects and a strong team versed not only in architectural preservation and adaptive reuse but the preservation of library materials, the RATIO/Shepley Bulfinch proposal rose to the top,” said Thomas Teper, Associate University Librarian for Collections and Technical Services and Project Director, Library Building Project.

Speaking on behalf of RATIO, Principal Architect Kevin Huse noted “This is an exciting and unique opportunity to be part of uniting these remarkable collections and pieces of history into a unified center that will preserve the collections for generations and enhance accessibility for everyone.”

The Undergraduate Library building was first built in 1969. Plans for a renovation, identifying the building as the ideal site to serve the Library’s archives and special collections, were introduced in 2009. The national economic situation delayed continued development. In early 2018, those plans were revisited. Since then, campus feedback has been sought actively through numerous discussions and town hall sessions, a campus-wide committee submitted recommendations, and a Special Collections Research Center Working Group was formed within the Library to directly engage in the planning process.

“It is no accident that the growth of Illinois into an internationally recognized and world-class university has coincided with the growth and development of one of the most important and most distinguished academic libraries in the country,” said Andreas Cangellaris, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. “This is a vital first step forward to ensure that our University Library continues to provide the vibrant heartbeat our university needs to continue to be one of the most influential universities in the world.”

To ensure the archives and special collections building reflects the University Library’s vision and aspirations while meeting the needs of the campus community, broad consultations have and will continue to be part of the design process. The building has a $46 million project budget with more than $40 million already secured. It is slated to be completed in 2024.

RATIO, founded in 1982, is a design firm that has “achieved international recognition on the strength of projects requiring complex consensus-building and contextual design in urban and campus environments” with five studios located in Champaign, IL; Chicago, IL; Raleigh, NC; Denver, CO; and Indianapolis, IN. More information is available at

Boston-based Shepley Bulfinch is a national architecture firm and a woman-owned business enterprise with offices in Hartford, CT; Houston, TX; and Phoenix, AZ. More information is available at

Doris Duke Native Oral History Revitalization Project Supported by Grant

At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Bethany Anderson (Natural and Applied Sciences Archivist, University Library), in collaboration with Christopher J. Prom (Associate Dean for Digital Strategies, University Library) and Jenny Davis (Associate Professor of American Indian Studies and Anthropology and Chancellor’s Fellow of Indigenous Research and Ethics, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences), have been awarded the Doris Duke Indian Oral History Program Archives: Revitalization and Community Building Grant by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

This two-year grant of $196,000 will support the Doris Duke Native Oral History Revitalization Project, in which the University of Illinois Archives will digitize and enhance access to its Doris Duke Indian Oral History Program Archives. Furthermore, this project hopes to build and strengthen respectful relationships between the project personnel, the university, the University Archives, and the Native Nations documented in the Doris Duke Oral History Program Archives. The University of Illinois is one of seven institutions participating in The Doris Duke Native Oral History Revitalization Project.  Read more…

Email Archives Building Capacity and Community

The University Library has announced the institutions recommended for direct funding through the Email Archives: Building Capacity and Community (EA:BCC) re-grant program. In its first round, the EA:BCC awarded grant funding to five institutions deeply involved in innovative email archiving activity: Harvard University; University of Albany, SUNY; Council of State Archivists, Inc.; Columbia University; and the University of Chicago Library.

Nearly $400,000 was distributed amongst the awardees to illustrate and build capacity for a wide range of archival institutions to process, preserve, and provide access to email using community-supported tools. In addition, the awardees represent the diverse nature of institutions contributing to the advancement of current email archiving practices. The combined effort and outcomes of these projects will make significant progress in the adoption, productivity, and efficacy of email archiving. 

The EA:BCC program is a four-year program that will build the capacity for archives, libraries, and museums to collect and better preserve email as part of the historical record in their research collections. We invite you to learn more by visiting our project website at Included below is a brief description of the five institutions’ programs recommended for funding. 

Integrating Preservation Functionality into ePADD, Harvard University ($100,000.00)

Harvard University will integrate long-term email preservation functionality into ePADD, an open source email archiving software program which already supports archival appraisal, processing, discovery, and delivery. Harvard and its project partners, the University of Manchester and Stanford University, will enhance ePADD’s functionality to provide a tool that more comprehensively and robustly supports the email archiving lifecycle. Supported features of the new product, known as ePADD+, will include local customization and extensibility to accommodate institutions that require alternative preservation packaging. In addition, local deployments at the three partner institutions will validate ePADD+’s broad applicability for diverse institutional needs and act as exemplars for similar deployment in other programmatic contexts across the email archiving community. 

Mailbag: A Stable Package for Email with Multiple Masters, University of Albany, SUNY ($63,890.00)

The M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections & Archives at the University of Albany, SUNY will create Mailbag, a functional specification based on the BagIt specification, in addition to, a software tool to create and manage Mailbags. One key feature of Mailbag is the ability to preserve multiple masters for email archives in a structured and actionable format. This will allow archivists to rapidly capture email and fix it in a stable package for later processing and access. Additionally, the project team will create a Python library and command line utility with a basic Graphic User Interface (GUI) for creating and managing Mailbags that will use web archiving technology to preserve external context and enable archivists to easily acquire email and store it in a stable manner.

CoSA PREPARE: Preparing Archives for Records in Email, Council of State Archivists, Inc. ($100,000.00)

CoSA will develop and deliver capacity-building activities for email preservation and access to state, territorial, and the District of Columbia archives. The program will focus on providing practical solutions for the collection, preservation, and accessibility of email generated by government officials and key legislators through the following activities: needs assessment; development of best practice documents; applications, tools, and protocols testing; and technical assistance and mentoring. These outcomes will foster ongoing learning, information exchange and collaboration to build the capacity for the preservation of governmental records. 

Creating Email Archives from PDFs: The Covid-19 Corpus, Columbia University ($98,630.04)

Columbia University will contribute email archiving solutions on both ends of the email stewardship cycle — acquisition and preservation, on one end, and research access, on the other. The focus will be on government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic that are being released through FOIA requests made available online by journalists. Consequently, researchers are facing a number of challenges accessing these records and cannot easily determine the scope of arrangement of the collections, or find descriptions of the contents of the main components. To combat these challenges Columbia will build an open-source tool and associated library that takes email embedded in PDFs as input and generates an MBOX file as output, thereby making these records compatible with existing email archiving solutions. In addition, the project team will process a large corpus of FOIAed records on Covid-19 to enhance its value to researchers and to develop it into a new collection as part of the Freedom of Information Archive (FOIArchive), an aggregated database of government records. 

Attachment Converter: Preserving the Context of Electronic Correspondence, University of Chicago Library ($40230.00)

The University of Chicago Library will build the Attachment Converter, software that will take command-line conversion tools and use them to batch-convert attachments in an email collection into recommended formats for digital preservation. The software will efficiently preserve and contextualize email attachments, which are often significant documents in a large range of proprietary and obsolete formats. This effort will increase the capacity of The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago Library to collect correspondence in all forms and contribute to its mission of documenting University activities and supporting teaching and learning on campus.  The project team plans to collaborate with colleagues from other institutions to ensure that the Attachment Converter will accommodate a broad range of documents and archival workflows. The Attachment Converter will be made freely available to the archival community.


Associate Dean for Digital Strategies
University Library
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
1408 W. Gregory Drive, #246G | M/C 522
Urbana, IL 61820
+1 (217 )244-2052 |


Email Archives Community Fellow
Office of Digital Strategies

Main/Undergraduate Library Integration Project Draft Plans Posted

The University Library has posted drafts of working group reports detailing plans for integrating core student services offered in the Undergraduate Library into other campus libraries over the coming year. The drafts provide initial recommendations informed by discussions and analysis of long-term usage data and recent student surveys that have taken place over the past several months. The Main/Undergraduate Library Integration Project will result in new and refined combinations of student-focused services, which address both time-honored and emerging needs for supporting academic and student life success.

Students, faculty, and staff are invited to an open forum to discuss the project’s progress and make recommendations to team members. The forum will be hosted Thursday, April 8th, from 10:30am-Noon. To register for the event, please visit:

Final recommendations will be presented to the University Library’s Executive Committee in May 2021. Implementation of the team’s recommendations will begin in Summer 2021, with the Undergraduate Library formally closing in Spring 2022 to allow for the construction of the archives and special collections building. Library personnel will continue to assess services and make adjustments as the archives and special collections building project is completed. The Library welcomes feedback from students, faculty, and staff on priorities for undergraduate library services, and significant areas the team should focus on in designing spaces that encourage community building among undergraduate students while connecting them to academic and student life needs.

To provide feedback, please fill out our survey here: