Duke University Receives New $5 Million Grant for Lilly Library Renovation

Duke University has received $5 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. for the renovation and expansion of Lilly Library on the university’s East Campus, capping off years of planning and fundraising to bring the university’s first library into the 21st century.

The grant from the Indianapolis-based private foundation is its second gift, following a lead gift of $5 million in 2018, and comes just as the renovation project is scheduled to begin. Lilly Library will close to the public after final exams on May 4, and construction is expected to last two years.

When complete, Lilly will reflect a blend of original historic charm and modern features—with a footprint that will be nearly 75 percent larger. Highlights include expanded study spaces, more technology-equipped project rooms, a writing studio, a 75-seat assembly space for public programs, a film screening room, and a café. In addition, the renovation will address urgent facility needs, including improved accessibility and environmental controls.

“We are grateful for Lilly Endowment’s continued generosity in support of this project,” said Duke President Vincent E. Price. “This gift will help enhance the Duke experience for our undergraduate students, strengthen services for faculty and graduate students, and enliven East Campus for generations to come.”

Situated at the heart of the university’s East Campus designed by Julian Abele and the Horace Trumbauer architectural firm, Lilly Library is Duke’s first library. When James B. Duke’s 1924 Indenture of Trust transformed Trinity College into Duke University, the original Trinity College library was torn down and replaced by the red brick and marble building now known as Lilly. The new library opened to students in 1927, before West Campus construction was completed.

Lilly Library is named for philanthropist Ruth Lilly, a great-grandchild of pharmaceutical magnate Col. Eli Lilly, whose son and grandsons established Lilly Endowment as a charitable foundation in 1937.

In 1991, Ruth Lilly made a gift to “renovate and computerize” the library where her two nieces spent time as they attended the Woman’s College at Duke. That gift renamed the building and provided its only significant update since it was built almost a century ago.

Since then, Lilly has served as the primary library for first-year Duke undergraduate students, as well as students and faculty in academic departments based on East Campus. It is also home to Duke’s extensive art, art history, philosophy, and film collections.

Although integral to East Campus, the building lacks most of the features of a modern-day research library. The aging building was designed to serve an early 20th-century population of 650 students. Today, approximately 1,700 first-year students live and study on East Campus, and the library plays a key role in orienting them to college-level study and research.

“This is a truly remarkable gift,” said Joseph A. Salem Jr., the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs at Duke. “The role that Lilly Library plays in the lives of our students is especially important, and this transformation will have a profound, long-term impact. We are so grateful for Lilly Endowment’s generosity, which will enable us to create the kind of library East Campus deserves, designed with the students and scholars of today in mind.”

Members of the extended Lilly family have a long association with Duke. In 2018, Lilly Endowment’s first $5 million gift toward the renovation project was matched by a combined $5 million from William and Irene Lilly McCutchen, the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation, and Peter and Virginia Lilly Nicholas. Today, a new generation of Lilly family members include recent Duke graduates and current students, and current Duke parent Rebecca Lilly serves on the university’s Library Advisory Board.

“It is inspiring to witness the generosity of both Lilly Endowment and the multiple generations of Lilly family members. Their impact on Duke is exponential,” said Dave Kennedy, vice president of alumni engagement and development. “I am thrilled to see how our beloved and soon-to-be renovated first library will transform the Duke community—all thanks to such committed donor support.”

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private foundation created in 1937 by J. K. Lilly and his sons, Eli and J.K. Jr., through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. While those gifts remain the financial bedrock of the Endowment, the Endowment is a separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with its founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion. The Endowment funds programs throughout the United States, especially in the field of religion, and maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana.

TAGS: Gift Announcement