Lilly Library set for renovation after $10.9M grant from Lilly Endowment

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The Lilly Library at Indiana University—home to more than 450,000 rare books, 8.5 million manuscripts and 150,000 sheets of music—is set to receive a major upgrade, thanks to a $10.9 million grant from the Lilly Endowment.

The grant, announced Monday, will help fund an 18-month renovation that’s expected to begin by the end of the year.

The 52,516-square-foot library has not had a significant interior renovation since it opened in 1960, but is seeing much more use. Library director Joel Silver said courses taught on site have increased more than 225 percent since 1992.

Improvements will include upgrades to the facility’s mechanical systems and lighting, technological equipment, fire-protection and security systems, ADA access and space configuration.

The library will close during the project but collections will remain available to some researchers.

“These improvements will enable maximum preservation and an enhanced and more modern presentation of the library's literary and cultural treasures, which require special handling and can only be accessed in secure on-site areas,” IU said in a statement. “They will also allow students, scholars, researchers, educators and other visitors to more effectively access and experience the library's one-of-a-kind materials, which are frequently and increasingly incorporated by IU faculty into their teaching, research and creative activities.”

The Lilly Library was established to house the extensive private library of the late Josiah K. Lilly Jr., former president and board chairman of Eli Lilly and Co. and one of Lilly Endowment's founders. The collection he donated included more than 20,000 rare books and 17,000 manuscripts.

Among the library’s most famous materials are the Gutenberg New Testament, the first printed edition of “The Canterbury Tales,” and the personal archives of cultural icons such as Orson Welles, Sylvia Plath and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Rare items from J.K. Lilly Jr.'s collection include John James Audubon's “Birds of America,” Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the first printing of the Bill of Rights, a first edition of Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice,” the original manuscript of J.M. Barrie's “Peter Pan,” and the first printed collection of William Shakespeare's plays.

"Indiana University's Lilly Library is a state, national and international treasure, and a testament to the vision and generosity of J.K. Lilly Jr.," IU President Michael A. McRobbie said in written comments. "It has always been universally acclaimed for its unique, world-class collections. Its vibrant and stunning materials continue to astonish all those who use them.”

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