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Explore the Library's Treasures

The University Library is renowned for its special collections. In addition to supporting research in many scholarly fields, our libraries and archival collections mount displays and host special events to spotlight their treasures; be sure to check the Library’s Event Calendar and visit the websites below for the dates and times of upcoming displays and events. Our expert librarians and archivists love introducing students and researchers to the richness of these primary sources. While each of our libraries contain treasures, we would like to highlight some of the larger collections here. 

Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Ours is one of the largest repositories for rare books and manuscripts in the United States. The collections are strong in the broad areas of literature, history, art, theology, philosophy, technology, and the natural sciences. Particular strengths lie in early printing (nearly 1,200 incunabula), English literature, works by Shakespeare and Milton, important editions of the Bible, and the history of science. The Library is renowned for its collection of renaissance imprints and for its extensive collection of English books from before 1800. Modern literary archival material include the papers of H.G. Wells, Carl Sandburg, W.S. Merwin, and Gwendolyn Brooks, as well as letters of Marcel Proust and various archival collections associated with such figures as Anthony Trollope, John Ruskin, and Lewis Carroll, among others. View the Rare Book & Manuscript Library's current exhibit, and find other events, at

University Archives
The University Archives is the official repository for the administrative records and related documents of the University of Illinois. It is responsible for helping the university sustain itself and its identity as well as enabling users to learn what the university has done in the public's name.

The University Archives also holds hundreds of collections of personal archives of faculty and alumni, records of student organizations, and much more. Of particular note is the Archives' holdings on the international Olympics movement, foreign affairs journalism, arts administration, and cybernetics. All of these contain truly unique materials that literally cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

The University Archives also maintains the archives of several major national associations relating to legal education, librarianship, advertising, and agricultural communications.

The University Archives includes several special program areas:

  • Student Life and Culture Archives
    The endowed Student Life and Culture Archival Program collects, preserves, and makes available materials documenting student life and culture in the United States and at Illinois. Its collections provide a fascinating backward look at the role of fraternities and sororities and other student-run organizations, events, and publications. Its national holdings on fraternity and sorority life and history are one of if not the best in the country.
  • Sousa Archives and Center for American Music
    The Sousa Archives and Center for American Music acquires and preserves archival records and historical artifacts in multiple media formats (including vintage musical instruments) that document America’s local and national music history and its diverse cultures. The principle archival collections of the Center are the papers of John Philip Sousa, Herbert L. Clarke, Paul E. Bierley, former directors of the band at the University of Illinois, and U of I alums and Sousa Band members Richard E. Kent and John Jacob Mountz. In addition, the Center is responsible for unique collections of 20th-century electronic and avant-garde music including those of Harry Partch and Salvatore Martirano, and select ethno-musicological research papers from the faculty and staff of the School of Music and the Robert E. Brown Center for World Music.
  • American Library Association Archives
    The American Library Association Archives is the official repository for the American Library Association, collecting and preserving materials that document the history of the association and of librarianship. The Archives holds physical and digital records, photographs, and audiovisual materials on ALA’s social and political activism, library services and technology, conferences, the Library War Service, and more. Access to materials is provided in support of research, scholarship, and educational outreach.

Illinois History and Lincoln Collections
The Illinois History and Lincoln Collections preserves and provides access to both print and manuscript materials documenting the history of Illinois from the colonial era and earlier to the present day as well as Abraham Lincoln's life and legacy. Approximately 35,000 printed volumes and 1,000 manuscript collections as well as numerous maps, photographs, broadsides, ephemera, and other materials provide rich resources for researchers in many fields. Manuscript collections include records of organizations and individuals as well as diaries, letters, and other personal papers, while published volumes include local histories, directories, atlases, contemporary works, and scholarship for a wide range of subjects and time periods within the history of Illinois and Lincoln studies. Learn more about current exhibits and other news and events at

Map Library
The Map Library is the Library’s primary location for cartographic materials including maps, atlases, and Illinois aerial photography flown between 1939 and 2005. The collection includes more than 630,000 maps and photographs. Map and atlas coverage includes worldwide materials produced during the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Additionally, the Map Library holds a robust collection of works on cartographic techniques, the history of cartography, and geographic information science (GIS). It is also a place to explore informational graphics in the contexts of point of view as well as time and place of production. The Map Library is actively engaged in scanning and making maps and atlases available through the Digital Library; projects include the Sanborn fire insurance maps for Illinois towns (an ongoing project as additional sets are released into the public domain), map and atlases from the First World War era, and indexes to Illinois aerial photography.

Using the Special Collections
Hours for each collection are posted on their websites, which also feature links to a wealth of digitized materials. If you want to visit the collections in person, it’s a good idea to contact the staff ahead of time, so they can discuss your research needs and pull any needed materials from the vaults.