Planning for what would become the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum (A.L.P.L.M.) complex began with a 1990 feasibility study. This was followed by a comprehensive plan that determined the scope of construction, possible sites, and timeline for completion.
The U.S. Government, State of Illinois, and City of Springfield pledged a combined $30,000,000. In December of 1998, the architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum and the exhibit design firm BRC Imagination Arts received commissions.
The decision that the library and museum should be separate buildings was made early on. BRC President Bob Rogers wanted to “combine scholarship and showmanship to connect the public to Abraham Lincoln’s life and times.”
According to the A.L.P.L.M., “With his creative team, Rogers designed the museum with interactive exhibits, theaters, a children’s area, and a ‘Holavision’ presentation using ghosts that interact with live actors. A panel of the world’s top Lincoln historians and teachers worked closely with the exhibit designers to ensure that the stories told in the museum would be accurate. In an unusual move, the museum was designed from the inside out to ensure that exhibits telling the Lincoln story took center stage.”
Construction began with groundbreaking ceremonies on February 12, 2001. The first of the two buildings the contractors started on was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library (A.L.P.L.) in May of 2001, followed by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum (A.L.P.M.) a year later. Included in the new complex was the rehabilitation of Union Station, the 100-year-old former passenger-train station directly west of the A.L.P.M., as a tourism gateway.
The name changed from the Illinois State Historical Library to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library when the new building opened in 2004. It is home to rich collections of books, archival documents, and artifacts related to President Lincoln and the state of Illinois.
Today, the A.L.P.L. is home not only to the eponymous Lincoln Collection of books and archival materials, but also books, maps, and thousands of boxes of personal and professional papers and other records related to the state’s political, business, and cultural leaders. The Manuscript Collection consists of approximately 12,000,000 diaries, letters, and business reports.
The Printed Materials Collection consists of approximately 172,000 books and pamphlets, 3,000 maps, and 1,200 periodical series. The Newspapers on Microfilm Collection consists of approximately 5,000 newspaper titles on 100,000 reels. These books and archival materials are shelved on eight miles of subterranean stacks.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library (A.L.P.L.) is jointly administered with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum (A.L.P.M.), which is located across the street. Items from the A.L.P.L.’s Lincoln Collection are exhibited at the A.L.P.M. on a rotating basis.
Historians on the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library staff play a hand in the development of exhibits and public programs at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. The A.L.P.L. is also home to print, visual, and audio records that document the construction, dedication, and operation of both facilities.
The A.L.P.L. has exhibits of its own, in addition to those at the A.L.P.M. These highlight not only the Lincoln Collection, but also materials on all aspects of state history, including early settlement of the state, the Civil War, slavery and abolition, church and community histories, and the history of coalmining in the state.
The Steve Neal Reading Room is located on the first floor of the A.L.P.L. This is the main reading room for the Printed Materials Collection. The Reference Desk is located here.
Although the vast majority of books are shelved in subterranean climate-controlled closed stacks, there are selected materials from the Printed Materials Collection and basic Lincoln reference books readily accessible on shelves in the Reading Room. In addition to the Lincoln reference books, one will also find in the Reading Room county histories, biographical dictionaries, volumes of cemetery inscriptions, and indexes to records of marriage, wills, naturalization, and other research and reference materials. There are general reference materials on the Civil War, the American War of Independence, the Illinois Daughters of the American Revolution, and genealogy, as well as selected histories of other states.
Researchers may search the A.LP.L.'s online catalog to identify titles they wish to examine and request them from the Reference Desk staff. As the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is a special library, specifically a research library, it is not a public library and its collections are non-circulating. The A.L.P.L. does not lend out books (or any other items) or issue library cards.
There are public computers in the Reading Room where researchers may access materials for genealogical or historical research. Flash drives may not be used in A.L.P.L. computers, nor is word processing available.
Researchers must sign in at the Reference Desk and present a valid driver's license (or state I.D. card) or student I.D. to gain permission to use a computer. The following six databases are available in the Reading Room: Ancestry Library Edition, Heritage Quest, HarpWeek, Sanborn Maps, Historical Chicago Tribune, America: History and Life.
The A.L.P.L.'s Main Reading Room was named in honor of the late Steve Neal, the ject in the public's eye. Neal authored ten books on U.S. history, including his 2004 book Happy Days Are Here Again, about the 1932 Democratic Convention. He died in 2004 at the age of fifty-four and was survived by his wife, two daughters, and two brothers in Oregon.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation (A.L.P.L.F.) offices are located at the Visitor Center/Union Station across the street from the A.L.P.L.M. at 500 East Madison Street, Suite 200, Springfield, IL 62701. It also has offices here at 22 W. Washington Street, Suite 1500, Office 15093, Chicago, IL 60602. The A.L.P.LF. raises money to publish documentary materials on Lincoln, as well as conferences, exhibits, and online services “designed to promote historical literary.”
Please note that much of this text previously appeared in an older version of this article, “From Illinois Historical Library to Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library,” which I posted on October 5, 2012. To reflect new research, I have substantially revised that article and reorganized it as “From Illinois State Historical Library to Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library,” Parts I-III.