A Great Library for a Great University

Something for everyone: The University of Illinois Library holds more than 24 million items, from Shakespeare to Steven King. Our rare items even include personal letters of Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, and others.

library stairwell“The history of higher education is all about students,” explains Ellen Swain. She is the archivist for the University of Illinois Library’s Student Life and Culture Archival (SCLA) Program, which contains collections focusing on the complete student collegiate experience, including social events, athletics, and student organizations.

The SCLA collection was built on materials donated by Illinois alumnus Stewart Howe. Upon graduating from the University in 1928, Howe began an alumni service for fraternities and sororities across the country, which allowed him to compile the world’s largest collection of fraternity and sorority materials from over 300 American colleges.

rare book collection - illumination from 1500sToday, the SLCA Program has grown to include materials on student life, both inside and outside of Greek systems, from institutions across the nation.

“Many students don’t see that their records have a lot of value for the long term,” Swain says, but collection highlights such as the diaries of two 1930s-era Illinois students who later married are quite popular.

botany illustration“We had an alumnus who attended Illinois in the ‘30s and kept an expense book for every year in college,” Swain said. “He wrote down everything he spent money on, and this just fascinates students that come in.”

No matter your interests, everyone can find something fascinating in one of the world’s finest libraries. With more than 35 departmental libraries, the University Library is one of the largest academic libraries in the world.

library quad entranceThe collections are renowned for their depth and breadth, covering all academic disciplines. Fascinating special collections include materials about and by Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sandburg, William Shakespeare, and H.G. Wells.

The Library’s online catalog provides electronic access to millions of users worldwide each year. The Library also was one of the first academic libraries to offer a real-time online reference service, “Ask A Librarian.”

The Undergraduate Library anchors the academic experience for most Illinois students. This campus landmark, which opened in 1969, was built underground to avoid shading the Morrow Plots, the country’s oldest experimental agricultural fields. It is connected to the Main Library by an underground tunnel.