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last updated: 8/27/2013

History of the Fine Arts Library

IU-Bloomington's first Fine Arts Library was established in the late 1930s as part of the Departmental office on the second floor, east wing of the University Library which was then located in Franklin Hall.
The book collection of about 250 volumes included some folio collections of prints and engravings.  A collection of approximately 600 slides was uncatalogued and looked upon as laboratory and teaching material, not as part of the library. 


There were no facilities for use of books by students in the departmental office. Use of the library was very slight and provisions for making it usable were inadequate. When a student wished to borrow a book they were accompanied to the Main Library loan desk where the book was discharged from the department record and charged to the student.

The expenditure for books in fine arts had averaged less than $200 per year during the preceding eleven years. The library subscribed to barely over 25% of the 123 serials indexed in the Art Index.

In 1941, two important events occurred. Henry Radford Hope became chairman of the Fine Arts Department in the Fall and the Fine Arts Center was created by remodeling Mitchell Hall Annex. Hope was given a free hand and a special appropriation to develop a library. Faculty members wanted a library close to their art studios and their collection of lantern slides. Hope purchased as many basic art volumes as he could from eastern art book centers.  



These purchases were augmented by art books from the University Library. The Fine Arts Library was opened to anyone wishing to use it. Things were still not ideal, however, as rather than a professional librarian specializing in fine arts, the collection was overseen by the departmental secretary. 

At the close of the 1942-1943 academic year the library had 2360 volumes and was described in the 1942-1943 Annual Report of the Director of Libraries as a remarkably compact working library with an unusually fine collection of slides.


By 1956, the Department of Fine Arts had grown to sixteen full-time faculty with offices in 4 separate buildings. Frustrated by the fragmentation of the program and the absence of a secure place to exhibit artwork, Hope lobbied for a centralized location for the entire fine arts program. Hope wrote out the following justification for more space in this excerpted August 1956 memorandum:


"[The] Fine Arts Department has grown from a faculty of 2 people in 1940 to 16 full time and 17 part time today. The department has 17,000 square feet in 4 temporary buildings and 3300 square feet in the basement of a 54-year-old permanent building.

The oldest portion of this is a temporary front building built for classrooms in 1885 and constant use since, and now housing the Art Library. Many of the volumes here are expensive--many are irreplaceable and all are in constant danger.  Many great art collections or other displays are available on loan if adequate facilities can be available. Indiana University is passed up by these because there is no adequate place to handle them.

This proposed building would house the Department of Fine Arts, the Fine Arts Library and the University Museum. It would permit the razing of 4 temporary buildings."

The plans for a new Fine Arts complex predated Hope's memorandum by 16 years. At their first interview, Wells eagerly showed Hope a watercolor rendition of the Fine Arts complex that he envisioned. Despite his call for new facilities, Hope wrote at the time that:


"The move into the new Fine Arts building was begun with trepidations, fearing that the information, the friendship, the ambitions and the pride might remain at Mitchell Hall--no doubt, some of it did."


The result was movement to a new building in 1962. Wells had shown Hope a watercolor rendition of the design for this building in 1938.  The Fine Arts Library moved into its current quarters inside the IU Art Museum designed by I.M. Pei in August, 1981.

The library is exemplary of Pei's airy, angular architectural style as one can see in this view of the staircase to the second level of the library.  Major advantages of the new facility included space for at least 90,000 volumes (almost twice that of the former library).   There was also expanded access to the library's collection of materials.

According to a August 30, 1981 article in the Indiana Daily Student , "only 3000 rare book items will be locked up, as opposed to the 9000 volumes that were locked up in the old library."   Another improvement was an expanded reading room seating approximately 200, when the old library only had space for about 70.

The reading room had and has padded chairs, lounging chairs, and stools by the reference collection. A second reading room overlooks the Art Museum's atrium and 3 permanent galleries. In the 1994/1995 academic year, the Library surpassed the 90,000 volume milestone, reaching 94,849 volumes in the 1996/1997 year. The reference staff typically handled 386 reference questions on a weekly basis. The Library seats about 240 individuals and had 61,549 individuals pass through its facilities.

Today's Fine Arts Library has come a long way since its collection of 250 books in 1940! It is now comprised of over 130,000 volumes and 323 periodicals, including collections of circulating slides and plates, and a non-circulating collection of over 1000 artists' books.   

This page created by James Gilson, MLS 1998, with the cooperation of Lou Malcomb, B.J. Irvine, Head Librarian of the Fine Arts Library and Erika Dowell of the Fine Arts Library.


Information on the Fine Arts Library in Franklin Hall taken from Mildred Hawksworth Lowell's dissertation, Indiana University Libraries, 1829-1942 , (1957).


Information on the latter years of the Fine Arts Library taken from Indiana University Archives and the Fine Arts Library's files.


Pictures of Mitchell Hall, Mitchell Hall Annex, and the Fine Arts building courtesy of Photographic Services.


Pictures of Henry Radford Hope, IU Art Museum and the interior of the Fine Arts Library from Indiana University Art Museum, 1941-1982.

If you find a dead link anywhere on this website, please email the Fine Arts Library, or notify a staff member at the Fine Arts Library. Thanks!

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last updated: 8/27/2013