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Mission Statement

In keeping with the University of Illinois’ public education mission, Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) staff stewards the largest public university collection of rare books and manuscripts in the United States as part of the public trust. Rare books and manuscripts, as a tangible part of the human record, are for everyone, engaging us with our shared histories. We preserve these cultural heritage materials to make them accessible to all who wish to connect with them, now and in the future.

About the RBML

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the largest publicly accessible special collections repositories in the United States. The collections—nearly 500,000 volumes and just over two linear miles of manuscript material—encompass the broad areas of literature, history, art, theology, philosophy, technology, and the natural sciences. Established in 1936, the RBML is renowned for its outstanding collections of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, early printed books, English literature, American wit and humor, theater history, free speech movements, Italian history, the history of economics, the history of science and technology, mathematics, geology, and natural history. The literary papers of such notable figures as Marcel Proust, Carl Sandburg, H.G. Wells, William Maxwell, Gwendolyn Brooks, Shana Alexander, and W.S. Merwin are also housed in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

In keeping with the University of Illinois’ public education mission, RBML staff stewards the largest publicly available University collection of rare books and manuscripts in the United States as part of the public trust. We believe that rare books and manuscripts are for everyone, and we take our mission to preserve and share these treasures held in public trust very seriously.

Students and faculty, our community both on and off campus, and scholars and visitors from around the world join us daily to access deep, varied collections of historical books and manuscripts. Thousands of Illinois students visit us annually through hundreds of class and group visits; we also regularly host local K-12 school groups.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library is deeply committed to making our shared cultural heritage publicly available to all who wish to interact with it.

In addition to making our collections available to the general public for use in our reading room upon request, we have a robust public outreach program, including exhibitions, conferences, workshops, open houses, and lectures.


We collaborate directly with faculty members across campus to provide customized class sessions and assignments that incorporate hands-on work with primary resources directly into their curricula. Whether working with medieval manuscripts, artists’ books that play with typography, early scientific works, historic sheet music, or recipe cards in Gwendolyn Brooks’s hand, students, faculty, and visitors of all ages interact daily with historical materials directly relevant to their areas of study. Class and group visits can be scheduled through our website: https://www.library.illinois.edu/rbx/research-instruction/schedule-a-class.


Scholars from around the world find their way to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library each year to work with our magnificent collections.  Since 2006, the Velde Visiting Scholar program has annually provided financial support to researchers unaffiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who have compelling research projects that would benefit from use of our collections.  We work with local faculty and graduate students to develop research topics and regularly communicate with scholars at a distance, answering hundreds of specialized bibliographic and reference queries through our Ask-a-Curator service annually.

Public events

Materials from and inspired by our collections are celebrated in numerous regular and special exhibitions, presentations, lectures, open houses, and workshops for the community from Camp Cursive to exhibition opening lectures and receptions, to our annual holiday party and open house, we welcome newcomers and regular attendees alike to join us in exploring our shared histories and interests through RBML collections.

Download the RBML Brochure

View the Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s Introduction Video