Everyone knows that the Lilly Library is home to countless wonders. From Shakespeare to Spider Man, our wide-ranging collections bring together materials from around the world and throughout the history of the written and printed word. Perhaps you’ve stopped by to see one of our exhibitions: medieval manuscripts, puzzles, vegetarianism, and books printed in India are just a few of the topics we’ve covered recently. Perhaps you’ve done research in the Reading Room for a class or a personal project. Maybe you’ve stopped in for a Friday tour or been to a class session or one of our special First Thursday presentations. Maybe you couldn’t resist asking us if you could take a selfie with our Academy Awards.
We love all of our guests, from the casual visitor to our superfans. To celebrate IU Day, we put together some facts about the Lilly Library that may surprise you. There are no greater fans of the Lilly than the librarians who work here, and we enjoyed digging through our own archives to come up with these treats. If you have memories of the Lilly Library that you would like to share, please post them on our Facebook page, tweet us, or comment on Instagram: @IULillyLibrary.
- The exterior of the Lilly Library was once covered with ivy.
If you’ve been on campus for a few decades, you probably remember that the Lilly Library was once a bit more “Ivy League” than it is now. Although our collections still rival the Ivies, our building has been pruned. We’re not sure when the ivy was finally nixed, but we suspect the potential damage to the building played a role in giving the Lilly its current look, focusing on the beautiful Indiana limestone.
- One of the library’s vaults was once a bomb shelter.
The vault on the first floor was once a designated Civil Defense shelter, in the event of an air raid. It’s certainly a frightening thought, but we can think of worse places to be trapped than among some of the most beautiful and interesting books ever printed. Tinned beans would taste great eaten over the Gutenberg Bible.
- There is a set of doors in the Main Gallery that don’t go anywhere.
If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably been in our Main Gallery at some point. Did you ever notice the mysterious set of doors with darkened windows? Did you ever wonder where they lead? As much as we would like to say they lead to a magical and hidden room, they lead… nowhere at all. The doors were added to the gallery to provide symmetry and balance to the room.
- The Lilly Library has three working fireplaces.
The Lilly Library’s Ellison Room, Ball Room, and Lilly Room all contain a fireplace. Many visitors have commented upon them, but few realize that these fireplaces do work. Although no current staff members have seen them blazing, there is photographic evidence that they have been used. It may seem odd to have fire so prominently featured in what is essentially a House of Paper, but the library’s designers were creating rooms which were splendid enough to house the collections they contained. In more recent years, the chimneys have been blocked to prevent the campus’s flying squirrels from finding their way into the building. Who knew that squirrels were such fans of great literature?
- Smoking was once permitted in the library’s Lounge.
As with the fireplaces, it is difficult to believe that cigarette smoke would be allowed anywhere near rare books and manuscripts. Smoking has always been prohibited in most of the library, but the Lounge (now the Slocum Room) was an exception; staff could smoke during breaks.
- There have been some famous visitors to the Lilly Library.
The Lilly Library has been host to several dignitaries, celebrities, and other notable visitors. One of the most interesting visits was from three of the original “Munchkins” from the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz. Clarence Swensen, Myrna Swensen, and Donna Steward-Hardway (the youngest Munchkin to appear in the film) visited in conjunction with the library’s 2000 exhibition of our Oz-related collections. Although the exhibition opening event, which drew over 500 guests, was certainly memorable, we have been unable to locate any photographs of the Munchkins’ visit!
4. J.K. Lilly, Jr. only visited the Lilly Library twice.
Of course the Lilly Library would not be possible without the generous donation of over 20,000 books and 18,000 manuscripts by J.K. Lilly, Jr. Mr. Lilly’s generosity was combined with the vision of Indiana University President Herman B Wells, who realized the need for a building to preserve the collection and make it available to students, faculty, and the community. Mr. Lilly later believed that the gift of the books was “the most satisfactory thing he ever did.” However, he only visited the site of the library twice, once upon the groundbreaking and once for the dedication. In many ways, this was Mr. Lilly’s final gift: he trusted the recipients of his marvelous collection to care for it and to nurture it into something much bigger. From 20,000 books and 18,000 manuscripts, we have grown to over 450,000 books and over 8.5 million pieces of manuscripts. And we hope that we have made Mr. Lilly proud.
3. A Lilly Library book was once exhibited in the Tower of London.
In 1971, a book from the Lilly Library made the long journey to the Tower of London’s Raleigh Room. The book, Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World (1614), was written while Raleigh was a prisoner in the Tower. The loan came about as the result of Lilly Librarian David Randall’s visit to the Tower. He noted that the furnishings were authentic, save for the thirteenth edition of World History on display, published more than fifty years after Raleigh’s death. A special case with a plaque identifying the book’s provenance was added to the room, and the book stayed in the Tower for several years. After its trip around the world, it is back in our collections and can be requested to view in our Reading Room: https://iucat.iu.edu/catalog/10097537
- There was once a car on exhibit inside the Lilly Library.
There are many strange objects in the library’s collections; we have Edgar Allen Poe’s hair, Tennyson’s pipes, and a life mask of Abraham Lincoln. But one thing we don’t have in our collection is an automobile. There was, however, a car exhibited inside the Lilly Library’s Lincoln Room in 1978. The car, a 1930 Austin Bantam, was loaned by Bloomington resident Norman Deckard for an exhibition titled “From the Donkey to the Jet: Man’s Experience with Travel from the Fifth Century B.C. to the Present.” A ramp was placed over the steps so that the car could be driven in through the front door.
- The Lilly Library has always been open to everyone.
With so many curious and fascinating items in our collections, there is no one person who has seen everything that we have. Visitors and researchers, as well as our own librarians, make exciting discoveries in our collections every week. The library is an organic, living entity combined from the collecting passions of the past and the forward-thinking caretakers, donors, and university administrators of the present. Visitors often ask us to reveal the “secrets” of the library, hoping perhaps for some dusty tome that has remained hidden from view. We have tried to reveal some lesser-known facts about the library in this blog post, but our greatest secret… is that we have no secrets! Our collections are available for anyone to research and enjoy. Stop by and see our exhibitions or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment to use our Reading Room.
If you enjoyed learning a bit more about the Lilly Library, make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @IULillyLibrary. We’ll be posting #VintageLilly photos all day to celebrate IU Day and the Lilly Library!
Thank you to all Lilly staff members who helped with our IU Day “Vintage Lilly” Project: Joel Silver, Erika Dowell, Jim Canary, Isabel Planton, Maureen Maryanski, Sarah Mitchell, and Seth James. Special thanks to Zach Downey and Jody Mitchell for photography and digital editing. Thank you to Kristin Leaman and Julia Kilgore of IU Archives for making a valiant research effort to find better photographic evidence of the car. If any of our readers have photographs of Lilly history they would like to share, please contact us at email@example.com
–Rebecca Baumann, Lilly Library Head of Public Services