Situated between the historic Morrow Plots and the Main Library Building, the Undergraduate Library welcomed generations of budding scholars to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, providing them with a gateway to further their scholarly pursuits.
The Undergraduate Library was dedicated in 1969 and was designed to help relieve significant pressures on library services brought on by the rapid growth of undergraduate education as products of the post-war Baby Boom reached college age. It followed a construction trend witnessed at many other research universities, including UNC-Chapel Hill, the University of Washington, and Yale University. In all cases, undergraduate educational needs spurred development of separate undergraduate libraries, and now, over half a century later, all of these facilities are being significantly rethought and reconfigured.
Preliminary site sketches were presented to the Board of Trustees as early as 1963. The final design was executed by the firm of Designed by Richardson, Severns, Scheeler & Associates, Inc. and ground was broken in 1966.
Over the years, the Undergraduate Library witnessed significant service and program changes. Once the home for hundreds-of-thousands of books and journals, the space is devoted largely to service programs and study space. Concurrent with a diminished need for collections storage in the Undergraduate Library, academic libraries witnessed a shift in undergraduate education centered on a decline in services intended to separately meet the needs of graduate and undergraduate students and a significant growth in the value and centrality of services that build upon primary sources – the very materials held in our archives and special collections units.
With a central courtyard dedicated to University President Edmund Janes James – the visionary behind the “the Grand Library on the Prairie” – the Undergraduate Library building was identified in 2009 as an ideal site to serve our archives and special collections. At that point, a conceptual design proposed repurposing the footprint of the Undergraduate Library to achieve a long-standing goal – the creation of a single facility to house the majority of service programs associated with these units.
The construction techniques utilized in constructing the Undergraduate Library present unique local opportunities to provide a secure, climate-controlled environment to protect our most scarce resources. With a design notable for its ability to control temperature and humidity fluctuation, the facility is poised to serve as a house for University Library’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, and University Archives.
More on the history of the Undergraduate Library can be found here: https://www.library.illinois.edu/ugl/history/. More on the stages of the building project that have led us to this point can be found here: https://www.library.illinois.edu/library-building-project/.