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Using the Lilly Library

A guide for students in ENG-L504 to using the archival collections of the Lilly Library

Who to Contact

To schedule a research consultation with me in my role as Class Librarian, please email me at Here are some questions I can help you with:

  • Help finding a collection in the Lilly Library that you would be interested in working with. I will always push you to do some searching on your own first, but I am happy to consult and/or help you search for specific areas of interest or specific authors, time periods, or genres.
  • Where and how we got Lilly collections (provenance information).
  • Questions about how a collection was processed (I will likely refer you here to one of our Archivists or Cataloguers) or help understanding a catalog record or finding aid.

For general reference questions, please email our reference email, Please email reference:

  • To schedule appointments in the Reading Room.
  • For help with the Online Request System or requesting collections.
  • To place digitization orders.

How to be Nice to Library Workers

Your success is archival research will be greatly aided if you establish kind and respectful working relationships with librarians, archivists, and library workers. Here are a couple of pointers to keep in mind:

  • You will likely interact with a wide range of library workers, from undergraduate student employees to tenured faculty. Assume that all of us, regardless of rank or position (which you often will not know) deserve respect and kindness. Although librarianship is in some regards a service profession, we are not your servants.
  • Almost all libraries and archives have fewer staff than they need, and most of the work we do is invisible to you but no less important for being invisible. Much of our jobs consist of trying to do as much as possible for as many people as possible with the very limited resources (of time and money) we have. If you are frustrated by the limits of what we can provide, please understand that we are doing the best we can to provide great service while also protecting our collections and our own time. I teach courses on Rare Book Librarianship and I love talking about the profession. So if you ever want to know why something is the way it is, just ask!
  • One of the first things we learn on the job is that (to quote my first boss) "there is no such thing as a research emergency." While we understand that your deadlines are important to you, we are dealing with hundreds of inquiries on any given day. No one jumps the queue, even if we like you. Plan accordingly.
  • Libraries and archives are (by and large) free services. There is no "customer" who is "always right" and we don't operate like businesses (nor, we think, would you want us to). Come to us with the attitude that you are approaching a colleague, not talking to wait staff (though please also be nice to wait staff!).
  • Finding aids are not meant to list out or describe in detail every item in a collection--that work belongs to you, the researcher. Our goal in creating finding aids is to provide enough information to help you narrow down your search so that you might, for example, only need to look at 5 boxes of material instead of 50.
  • Librarians and archivists have vast stores of expertise in many areas. Many of us are experts in the history of the book, on provenance, on archival practices and standards, and in other related areas. However, we are not experts on the contents of all of our (millions of) collections. We don't have time (alas) to read the books or manuscripts in our collections. There will be times in your research career when you might be lucky and encounter a librarian or archivist who has deep subject knowledge in an area related to your project (we all have our own unique areas of professional research, writing, and publication) but do not count on it. People often contact us and ask to speak to "your Orson Welles expert" or "your Upton Sinclair expert." No such person exists. In some cases, we may have some familiarity with a collection because we have used it in teaching classes or used the material in an exhibition. But expertise on the people and subjects to be found in our collections will ultimately be created by you, the researcher, not us, the librarians.