Rare and Unique Treasures: Discovering the Lilly Library

If you’ve ever walked around Showalter Fountain, you’ve probably noticed the IU Auditorium and the Fine Arts Building, but have you noticed the building across from Fine Arts? Next to the Auditorium? Maybe this will help:

Look familiar? Perhaps you’ve sat on the steps and enjoyed the nice weather. Someday, you should venture through the front doors, into the world of rare books and manuscripts at the Lilly Library!

John Ford's Oscar for How Green was My Valley, 1941

As the principal rare books, manuscripts, and special collections repository at Indiana University Bloomington, the Lilly Library holds about 400,000 books, more than 100,000 pieces of sheet music, and more than 7.5 million manuscripts. Its collecting strengths are American and British literature and history, book arts, fine printing and binding, Latin Americana, cookbooks, miniature books, film and television, and translations, but the Lilly also houses some unique collections of comic books and mechanical puzzles. Some of the “treasures” of the Lilly’s collections are the Gutenberg New Testament (the first book printed using moveable type in Europe), the John Ford papers (including 2 Best Director Oscars for the Grapes of Wrath and How Green was My Valley), a first printing of the Declaration of Independence, a Shakespeare First Folio, papers of Sylvia Plath, Orson Welles, and Upton Sinclair, the Audubon’s Birds of Americadouble elephant folio (the largest books in the collection), Ian Fleming’s James Bond manuscripts, and the papers of Indiana native Kurt Vonnegut.

Groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Lilly Library, 1958

How did such treasures end up in the middle of Indiana, you ask? Well, Indiana University had a rare books department since the 1940s, which included much of the materials about Lincoln that currently are displayed in the Lincoln Room. However, in the 1950s, J.K. Lilly, an important book collector and businessman from Indianapolis, donated his beautiful collection of more than 20,000 books and 17,000 manuscripts to IU, thus necessitating the construction of a separate building to house the items. The Lilly Library opened in 1960.

Gutenberg New Testament, 1454

That’s great, right? So, how do you get a chance to see these amazing items? In the case of the Gutenberg Bible, Audubon’s Birds of America, and the Slocum mechanical puzzles, they are on permanent display in the public areas of the Lilly, so you can just walk in the front doors and catch a glimpse of these materials. For other items not on permanent or exhibit display, the Lilly has an open access use policy. While the library is a closed stacks, non-circulating collection (meaning that you cannot browse the stacks or check out any of the materials), anyone with a photo ID (any photo ID) is welcome to come to the library, register to use the collection, and enter the Reading Room, where you can request to see items from the collection. The friendly and knowledgable staff of librarians at the Lilly are happy to help you find materials (whether for research or personal interest) in IUCAT, the online finding aids, and the card catalogs (yes, the Lilly still has card catalogs – that alone is worth a visit!)

Charles Dickens

The Lilly Library also has rotating exhibitionsof materials, aimed at encouraging intellectual curiosity and engagement. Until May 5, the Main Gallery features the exhibit “Conducted by Charles Dickens: An Exhibition to Commemorate the Bicentennial of His Birth.” In addition to puzzles, the Slocum Puzzle Room is also hosting an exhibit about the Portugese-Speaking Diaspora.

 Another exhibit currently at the Lilly Library features the 2012 selection for One Book One Bloomington, Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel Room. Told by five-year-old Jack, the story reveals his life with his Ma in the single room where he was born. The exhibit is in two cases of the Foyer and one case in the Lincoln Room. A book discussion will be held at the Lilly Library on Tuesday, March 27. For more information, visit the Monroe County Public Library’s webpage: One Book One Bloomington.

So, those are the basics. I hope you’ve enjoyed this crash course on the Lilly Library. Don’t forget to visit the Lilly’s blog to check out all the latest news on upcoming events, exhibits, and general goings-on! The Lilly Library is an excellent resource in the center of campus where you can find primary sources to spice up your next research paper, or discover cultural and historical artifacts. With the breadth of the collection, you are bound to find something of interesting in this exceptional library. Go and explore!

As always, if you have any questions about the Lilly Library, go to the Ask A Librarian link.