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About our Collections

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the largest repositories of rare books and manuscripts in the United States.

The Rare Book & Manuscript Library welcomes scholars from around the world to use or inquire about the collections at the University of Illinois. The Book Collections contain nearly 600,000 volumes and represent the entire range of printed material in the West, extending from more than 1,200 incunables (books printed before 1501) to twenty–first century fine press publications. The holdings include a number of distinctive named collections as well as distinctive subject strengths. The Manuscript Collections range in size from a single object to several hundred cubic feet in extent. Broad and deep, varied and diverse, the collections document a wide array of subjects, lives, formats, and time periods from Sumerian clay tablets to contemporary Hollywood film scripts, from renaissance letters to the H.G. Wells papers, and from illuminated manuscripts to Spanish Civil War memorabilia.

Over the decades a number of strong specializations have emerged due to the efforts of scholars and librarians. The Shakespeare and Milton collections were founded as the result of the labors of Professors T. W. Baldwin and Harris F. Fletcher, respectively. The investigations of Marvin Herrick in sixteenth-century Italian drama, Henri Stegemeier in emblem books, and A. V. Carozzi in the history of geology also fostered rich concentrations. Curators and faculty have continued to broaden and deepen these and many other areas of our collections. Among the literary archives housed at Illinois are the papers of H.G. Wells, Carl Sandburg, W.S. Merwin, and Gwendolyn Brooks, letters of Marcel Proust, and archival collections associated with such figures as Anthony Trollope, William Cobbett, Rhoda Broughton, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Ruskin, William Allingham, and Lewis Carroll. Publishers’ archives include the institutional records of Richard Bentley & Sons, Grant Richards, and G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Grand acquisitions, such as the Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection of Italian imprints and manuscripts, the Hollander History of Economics collection, the Sir John Richardson collection of Arctic exploration, and many others have resulted in rare book and manuscript collections that represent virtually every discipline on campus.

Collection Strengths

Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts
Early Printing
English Literature & History
History of Science and Technology
History of Economics
Drama & Theater History
History of Pedagogy
Italian Cultural History
French fin de siècle
Spanish Golden Age
Scottish & Irish Cultural History
American Wit & Humor
American Civil War
Religious Studies
Radical Literature & Political Activism
Architecture and Landscape Architecture
Travel Literature
Notable Literary Collections

Rare books are best found via our custom advanced search tool or via the University Library’s online catalog.

Finding aids for manuscript collections can be searched via Archon.

Reference questions may be submitted through our online form, Ask a Curator.