A Place to Interpret Illinois History

In addition to the virtual world, the real-world atrium and walkways of the State Library building also became popular sites for in-house and traveling exhibits. The reference and circulation departments collaborate on monthly displays of books and materials on various topics, located on the second-floor walkway between the two departments. The displays offered an interesting sampling of the materials owned by the library. In addition, larger-scale traveling exhibits were frequently set up in the library.

The exhibits proved popular with library personnel and patrons alike. One example was a 1999 display celebrating the 150th anniversary of a patent filed by Abraham Lincoln. On loan from the Smithsonian National Museum of History, the exhibit demonstrated Lincoln’s proposal for watercraft, to which floatation devices would be attached to reduce draft in shallow waters. Lincoln is the only U.S. President to ever file a patent. In another instance the following year, a nationally touring 12-panel exhibit in the atrium provided a glimpse of the architectural talents of George Washington. Another exhibit, also celebrating the legacy of the first President, appeared at the library in 2002. That same year, a display of antique Illinois inventions included more information on the Lincoln patent. In the fall of 2006, the library was one of only 40 in the nation to host a traveling panel exhibition on the life of Alexander Hamilton.987

The state of Illinois has a long and rich military history, dating from the state’s involvement in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War, in which Illinois supplied, and lost, a disproportionately high number of men. Thousands of Illinois men and women also served in the World Wars and the wars in Korea and Vietnam. In late 2006, the State Library was part of the Illinois Veterans’ History Project, sponsored by Secretary White (himself a U.S. Army veteran) to preserve the history of Illinois veterans. Illinois Patriot Information Forms were provided to Illinois public libraries, where veterans, family members, or others could pick up a form, complete it, and mail it to the Illinois State Archives. There, a permanent repository of Illinois service names and information was created. Participants received a Certificate of Appreciation from Secretary White. The project followed passage of a federal law that authorized the Library of Congress to collect the histories of the involvement of American veterans and civilians in wars from World War I to the present.988

A view of the State Library’s interior from the fifth-floor walkway, which highlights the vaulted ceiling, cathedral-style widows and marble floor.

A view of the State Library’s interior from the fifth-floor walkway, which highlights the vaulted ceiling, cathedral-style widows and marble floor.

The Veterans’ History Project is just one way the State Library has contributed to the military record of Illinois. In the first years of the 21st century, members of the Circulation and Reference Departments assisted in research for new historical markers outlining the 1778 march of Col. George Rogers Clark’s army. Clark’s forces captured Kaskaskia, which secured the Illinois Territory for the American cause. In December 2006, Captain Joseph Bowman’s Company Illinois Regiment, the Revolutionary War Re-enactment Unit for the state of Illinois, presented reference librarians Raymond Collins and Francie LaCamera and Circulation Services’ Helen Knecht with commemorative plaques for their assistance.989

Many State Library collections help document Illinois history, especially in the Map Department. The library referred to its map collection in 1996 as “the State Library’s best kept secret,” a testament to the size and strength of the collection, which includes geographical books and journals, gazetteers and atlases, reference works and carto-bibliographies. Maps of nearly every kind are found in the collection, monitored for many years by map librarian Arlyn Booth. “The map collection at the library is really something special,” remarked Jean Wilkins, “and Arlyn is one of the finest map librarians in the nation, if not the world.”990

Among the many unusual holdings is the earliestknown, privately produced map of the city of Springfield, which may date to 1825. Printed on a linen sheet, the map was acquired with much fanfare in late 2001. In the summer of 2008, the collection was reported to exceed 185,000 items, making it the second-largest state library map collection in the nation as well as the fifth-largest government library map collection.991