Lilly Library (Photo: Kimberly Button)
Lilly Library (Photo: Kimberly Button)

Explore Your Passions at a Special-Collection Library

Imagine being able to wander through a museum and freely touch the historical pieces.

Imagine being able to wander through a museum with no glass barriers, freely touching the historical pieces. Special-collection libraries let you do just that with unprecedented access to not only books and papers, but also rare memorabilia, audio recordings and more. Here are some of our favorites: 

Lilly Library (Bloomington, Indiana). You’ll be surprised by the wealth and breadth of this Indiana University library’s collections—and by the ease with which you can peruse the seminal pieces of world history and pop culture. Flip through Ian Fleming’s original manuscripts of James Bond thrillers, with handwritten edits in the margins. Unfold a letter written by Edgar Allan Poe or inventor Nikola Tesla. Hold an original “Wanted” poster for the assassin John Wilkes Booth. Pose for a picture with the Oscar won by John Ford. There is something for every interest with more than seven million manuscripts, 400,000 books and 130,000 pieces of sheet music.

Sonoma County Wine Library (Healdsburg, California). It’s no surprise that the Sonoma County library system houses one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of wine information. More than 1,000 rare books, dating from as early as 1514, are part of the public collection, along with over 5,000 modern-day books, periodicals, maps, vintage advertising and labels. The library oversees the online International Wine Research Database, the most comprehensive bibliography of wine literature anywhere.

The Heathman Hotel (Portland, Oregon). This luxury boutique hotel is home to one of the world’s largest collections of autographed books—and you can check them out during your stay. The library spans three decades and features more than 2,700 signed volumes from authors who have spent time at the historic 150-room property, including David Sedaris, Stephen King and President Jimmy Carter. At evening socials, staff experts pair local wine selections with book recommendations.

Bruce Springsteen Special Collection (West Long Branch, New Jersey). Created by fans who have donated long-lost memorabilia, this collection at Monmouth University is a trip down memory lane for Springsteen fans. You can explore more than 20,000 materials from 48 countries, including tour books, vinyl recordings, songbooks and posters. 

The Genealogy Center (Fort Wayne, Indiana). The public library system here offers one of the world’s largest publicly accessible research collections on family histories. The Genealogy Center has more than 350,000 printed volumes and over 513,000 pieces of microfilm and microfiche. Staff genealogists can help you discover your ancestors through North American military and census records, immigration lists and collections focusing on the British Isles and Germany.