Renovation progress update

As of January 2021, the Lilly Library remains closed for renovation. Work is well underway to prepare the Lilly Library for its next decades of service. Main galleries and classrooms are expected to re-open in summer or early fall 2021, with Reading Room availability to follow by the end of the year. 

Renovating to reimagine one of the world's great libraries.

The Lilly Library celebrated its 60th anniversary in October 2020 while undergoing a first time, transformative renovation to reimagine its footprint for today’s modern scholars.

For six decades the Lilly Library has been a promise – once an item is in its care, the Library and its staff make certain it remains safely conserved and ready for examination by scholars for as many decades and, indeed, centuries, as possible.

The Lilly Library closed its doors in December 2019

Consider the small, 21-member Lilly Library staff, plus an additional two dozen IU Libraries colleagues, undertaking the task to supervise the transportation of 8.5 million manuscripts and 482,000 rare books into secure, yet temporary locations. As an extra challenge, the staff decided to fiercely honor the Lilly Library's commitment to accessibility and dedicated themselves to finding places and processes which would ensure a majority of the collection remained available to researchers and students during the building closure. 

While still providing services to hundreds of Reading Room users, university classes, and national researchers, Lilly Library staff spent much of the fall months of 2019 planning a once-in-a-lifetime move of the entire contents of the Lilly Library building. As a result of this extraordinary work, 80 percent of the collection remains accessible to librarians during the renovation. It is nothing short of astonishing that all of this occurred in a 9-month window while staff maintained a full suite of services and supported the publishing of multiple, collection-focused books.

Renovation continues on schedule

In July 2020, major upgrades began to the 52,516 square-foot facility’s mechanical systems, including HVAC, fire protection, and security systems engineered to both protect and prolong the life of the Library’s irreplaceable materials. At the same time, the transformative interior work was underway.  A reimagining of space usage, including installation of a new elevator for access to all public floors, will take full advantage of efficiencies gained from replacing outdated systems. Additionally, the reshaping of the floorplan allows for much-needed new classroom and lecture space with state-of-the-art learning technologies, increasing total teaching capacity in the building by over 300 percent.  

The Lilly Library main galleries and classrooms are expected to re-open in summer or early fall 2021, with Reading Room availability to follow by the end of the year. 

Libraries executive staff and IU architects/interior designers confer over textiles in the Lilly Library, summer 2020
Leaders of the renovation project gather in the Lincoln Room

In the background, the Reading Room under renovation can be glimpsed, while in the adjacent Lincoln Room finishing options are discussed by leadership from IU Libraries, Lilly Library, and IU Capital Planning and Facilities. 

Empty Lilly main gallery undergoing construction summer 2020
Progress in the Main Gallery

A new door in the Main Gallery will allow direct access into the Ball Room, a smaller space for consultation accessed only through the Lincoln Room in the past.  

Lilly Library new classroom space under construction, summer 2020
Ground Floor lecture hall

A space never before available at the Lilly Library, the new lecture hall and hospitality center will allow for hosting of classes, lectures, and conferences.  

IU Libraries executives and IU architects and interior designers confer over textiles in the main gallery of the Lilly Library, summer 2020.
Work continues in Fall 2020

Large scaffolding and industrial fans have temporarily replaced the rare books and literary artifacts traditionally found in the Main Gallery of the Lilly Library.

Lilly Library new elevator shaft under construction, summer 2020
Elevator access increases space available for public access

For the first time, a public elevator will allow upper and lower floor areas of the Lilly Library to be used by all students, researchers, and guests. Adding the necessary infrastructure in a 60-year old building has required adjustments on every level. 

Lilly staff prepare materials cases as part of the renovation move preparation.

Lilly Library staff hand-build cases for transporting delicate collection materials out of the physical building in preparation for the renovation closure.


Lilly Library move-out January 2020

Staff transport carefully packaged Lilly materials from the Lilly Library Reading Room to dedicated storage at the climate-controlled Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility as part of the pre-renovation materials relocation.

By the Numbers: Careful curators secure library materials during renovation.

When the Lilly Library opened on October 3, 1960, it held 100,000 books and nearly 1 million manuscripts. Since then, the collection has grown exponentially. In addition to the rare books and manuscripts that needed to be carefully packed and then relocated by professional moving teams, Lilly Library staff also supervised transportation of 38 busts/statuettes, paintings, thousands of puzzles, the world's largest collection of miniature books, four cabinets of shipyard building plans, four Oscars, a Gutenberg Bible and its case, and one desk from Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield, Illinois law office. 


230 Paintings

482,000 Rare Books

12 cabinets Puzzles and Miniature books

8,500,000 Manuscripts

38 busts/statuettes

150,000 Pieces of Sheet Music

Lilly Building construction in 1959. Empty room with construction materials piled high. Faded black and white image.
Throughout the Years: Lilly Library Reading Room

The Reading Room under construction, 1959. Image courtesy IU Archives, P0027336.

People reading books in a 1960s library, black and white phot.
Throughout the Years: Lilly Library Reading Room

The Reading Room in use shortly after opening, August 1960. Image courtesy IU Archives, P0056012.

A seafoam green large library reading room pictured in a photo from the early 2000s.
Throughout the Years: Lilly Library Reading Room

The Reading Room as it appeared in September 2002. Courtesy IU Libraries.

Woman reading with a computer and a rare book next to her
Throughout the Years: Lilly Library Reading Room

IU English and Biology student Tiffany Xie studying Whitman's Leaves of Grass in the Reading Room, summer 2019. Courtesy IU Libraries.

Busts and books packed to be moved out of the Lilly Library.
Throughout the Years: Lilly Library Reading Room

Sculptural artworks and rare books are packed and emptied out of the Reading Room in preparation for the room's renovation, January 2020. Courtesy IU Libraries.

Two men looking at construction progress in the Lilly Library.
Throughout the Years: Lilly Library Reading Room

President Michael A. McRobbie (left) and Thomas Morrison, Vice President, Capital Planning and Facilities (right) inspect Reading Room construction progress during a personal tour of the Lilly Library in September 2020. Courtesy Chad Meyer, IU Studios.

Thousands of hours each year are spent in the Lilly Library Reading Room by scholars, students, and intellectually curious visitors exploring the millions of literary artifacts held in what is one of the world's great rare books libraries.


A Reading Room worthy of the Lilly Library collections

The renovation will offer its visitors a new visual centerpiece for this world-class rare books library. In January 2020, Indiana University celebrated a new Lilly Endowment Inc. gift to fund the commission of an inspirational and iconic cycle of murals for the Reading Room.  Indiana University has long been guardian and conservator of the venerable Thomas Hart Benton Indiana Murals situated in three buildings on the Bloomington campus. The new cycle of murals will be in close proximity to these treasures. The vision for the murals will be a reflection of the Library's rich resources in world literature, history, the sciences, and the arts, and honor the legacy of J. K. Lilly, Jr. whose remarkable private library of books and manuscripts formed the nucleus of the Lilly Library collections.

The cycle of murals in the Lilly Library Reading Room will invoke a sense of wonder as visitors encounter an inspiring depiction of the breadth and diversity of the Lilly Library's extensive collections, as well as an acknowledgment of the collectors whose passionate pursuits helped to form the connected libraries that scholars investigate today.

  • On January 23, 2020, the Lilly Library Reading Room Mural Project Committee issued a Request for Expressions of Interest for the design, creation, and installation of a cycle of murals in the Lilly Library Reading Room.
  • Indiana University was honored to receive multiple expressions of interest submitted by highly qualified artists from Indiana and around the globe. After thoughtful consideration of many factors, including context, the reading room environment, and the Lilly Library collections, seven artists were selected as finalists.
  • Ralph Gilbert, an Atlanta, Georgia artist and muralist, was selected by the review committee, and in May 2020 Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie confirmed the commissioning. 


Middle aged standing in front of Lilly Library main entrance.
Renowned muralist Ralph Gilbert photographed in front of the Lilly Library main entrance during an on-site visit, summer 2020.

Ralph Gilbert is an American muralist and painter born in California. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles (now the California Institute of the Arts) and received the Master of Fine Arts from the University of California in Santa Barbara. Ralph received the Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Fund Fellowship in mural painting at the National Academy of Design in New York City in 2005. He joined the faculty of the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State University in 1986 and is now Professor of Drawing, Painting, and Printmaking.