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“Indiana University’s Lilly Library is a state, national and international treasure and a testament to the vision and generosity of J.K. Lilly Jr. It has always been universally acclaimed for its unique, world-class collections. Its vibrant and stunning materials continue to astonish all those who use them.” – IU President Michael A. McRobbie
J.K. Lilly Jr. was a visionary, a keen businessman with a generous spirit and one of Lilly Endowment’s three founders. He developed and nurtured many interests throughout his life, building extensive collections of coins, stamps, books and manuscripts, nautical models and military miniatures, among others. Between 1954 and 1957, Mr. Lilly donated to Indiana University (IU) his collection of 20,000 some rare books and nearly 17,000 manuscripts, which has been considered one of the finest private collections in the world.
IU President Herman B Wells recognized the collection’s profound significance and the need for a freestanding library not only to house and maintain the materials but also to establish the university’s position as caretaker and curator of these valuable works. The Lilly Library opened in 1960.
At the opening dedication on October 3, Frederick B. Adams, Jr. – American bibliophile and the director of the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City – said the following:
“Mr. Lilly’s books cover so many fields that it is difficult to believe that any one man’s enthusiasm could encompass them all. It is equally astounding that he was able to acquire so many books of such scarcity and quality in the short space of 30 years. Money alone isn’t the answer; diligence, courage, and imagination were also essential. The famous books in English and American literature, the books most influential in American life, the great works in the history of science and ideas – all these are among the 20,000 Lilly books in this building.”
Upon opening, the Lilly Library featured nearly 100,000 rare books and one million some manuscripts. Rare items from J.K. Lilly Jr.’s collection included John James Audubon’s “Birds of America”; Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the first printing of the Bill of Rights; a first edition of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”; the original manuscript of J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan”; and the William Shakespeare “First Folio” of 1623 – the first printed collection of Shakespeare’s plays.
Today, the Lilly Library contains more than 450,000 rare books, 8.5 million manuscripts and 150,000 sheets of music. Located in the heart of IU Bloomington’s Fine Arts Plaza, the library’s unmatched collections are used to enrich students’ coursework, host international visitors and meet the needs of scholars, educators and researchers. As a result of such a valuable and well-utilized space, the library has been challenged in many ways by its own success. Growth in collection size and student enrollment, along with continuously increasing demands on its resources, have resulted in a level of activity that the building can no longer sustain.
On April 1, 2019, IU announced the awarding of a $10.9 million grant from Lilly Endowment to support a renovation of the library to occur next year during the university’s bicentennial. The grant will support major upgrades to technology, safety, access and preservation. These improvements will enhance and provide a more modern presentation of the library’s literary and cultural treasures, which require special handling and can only be accessed in secure on-site areas. They will also allow visitors to more effectively access and experience the library’s one-of-a-kind materials, which are frequently and increasingly incorporated by IU faculty into their teaching, research and creative activities.
Highlights from J.K. Lilly Jr.’s collection are viewable here in a companion catalogue to the 1993 exhibition curated by Lilly Library Director Joel Silver.
This grant will be used to reorganize and upgrade the entire interior of all seven levels of the Lilly Library. The renovations will expand reading space, provide new presentation facilities, replace all original mechanical systems and interior lighting, remediate asbestos and add an elevator. Upgrades also will include a new ground level entrance on the building’s south side.