While the Lilly Library will celebrate its 57th birthday this October, planning for the exceptional library began over 60 years ago. Herman B Wells was dedicated to developing a great library that would house rare books and manuscripts at Indiana University and provide access to these materials. Wells states in his speech at the library’s dedication, “We rejoice in this day for many reasons. Not the least of these is the fact that many of the rare books and manuscripts housed in this new building have for years been stored in the University’s central Archives, unavailable for use. At long last they may now be used!” Access and use of special collections was important to Wells, and the Lilly Library is still known today for its open access policy.
Josiah Kirby Lilly was also very excited about the prospect of his own impressive collection being housed in a library with his namesake on the Indiana University campus.
David Randall was appointed as the first librarian for the Lilly Library well before its opening in 1960. Prior to his appointment, Randall worked in the antiquarian book trade, where he met Mr. Lilly. Randall was an important figure not only in the planning of the library, but in the custodianship of collections. He knew the materials well, and he knew what to collect; moreover, he had established connections to book dealers. Below is a letter discussing the acquisition of the Mendel Collection, one of the Lilly’s many notable collections.
Mr. Lilly even notes in a letter to Randall “you are as good a purchasing agent as you formerly were a salesmen – far excellence!” in regards to a new acquisition (possibly the Mendel Collection) he secured.
The dedication of the Lilly Library was October 3, 1960. Many people were in attendance, and speeches were delivered by Herman B Wells and Frederick B. Adams, Jr., Director of the Morgan Library. Wells stated, “It is, therefore, a source of satisfaction for this entire Midwestern region, as it is for the nation, that here in the heartland of America has been established another one of our great national depositories of the written treasures of our culture -which we trust will take its place in due course alongside the most famed such centers of our Atlantic and Pacific coasts.” Wells’ foresight was right, as the Lilly Library has undoubtedly taken its place alongside the renowned special collections libraries.
“Mr. Lilly, I am happy to present to you this key to the Library so that you may now unlock its doors–and so that you may be able at any time to enter the Lilly Library and be with its books!” – Herman B Wells