History Illinois State Library

Illinois State Library, Gwendolyn Brooks BuildingThe Illinois State Library was established more than 150 years ago to serve as the official library for state government. Conceived in 1839 when the young Secretary of State, Stephen A. Douglas, reserved space next to his new office for a small, fledgling library, the Illinois State Library has evolved into a 21st century organization characterized by new online information resources and access to the regional, national and global collections of multi-type libraries.

Overall, the purpose and administrative functions of the Illinois State Library have remained consistent with those outlined by the State Library Act, amended [15 ILCS 320/].

Gwendolyn Brooks Building

On June 6, 2003, the Illinois State Library building was officially rededicated and named in honor of the late poet, novelist and lecturer Gwendolyn Brooks. Born in Topeka, Kansas, Brooks moved to Chicago with her family at a very young age and resided in the city the rest of her life. She is regarded as one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, and was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize. In 1968, she was named Illinois Poet Laureate, succeeding Carl Sandburg, and served in that capacity until her death in 2000. Brooks also served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1985-86.

Design and Construction

The Illinois State Library, Gwendolyn Brooks building was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White to harmonize with the other buildings in Springfield's Capitol complex. Although $36 million dollars was appropriated for the location and actual construction of the building, the entire project was completed approximately $500,000 under budget. Construction took nearly five years to complete.

Illinois Authors on the Illinois State Library

The exterior features Indiana limestone set over a base of granite highlighted by a fourth-floor frieze etched with the names of 35 of Illinois' most distinguished authors. Each of these authors has made a mark in the history of literature as well as the history of Illinois.

Illinois Authors Room

On the south end of the State Library's first floor is the Illinois Authors Reading Room. Display cases in this room house an extensive collection of works by Illinois authors, many of which are first editions or signed copies.

Permanent Art Collection

Inside the Gwendolyn Brooks Building is a permanent collection of 33 works of visual art (painting, prints, drawing and photography) by contemporary Illinois artists. All of the pieces are part of a unifying concept—"Portrait of Illinois". The works were selected through a combination of limited invitations and open competitions. The competitions were held prior to the library's opening in 1990. More than 1,700 works of art were submitted and pared down to the 33 works permanently on display. View the permanent art collection at the State Library.

Important Dates and Events