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Grant Brings Lilly Library Transformation Closer

The Duke Endowment’s $10 million grant will support library’s first significant renovation since East Campus was built

Lilly Library at night
Lilly LIbrary, which was built in 1927, will receive its first significant renovation.

For first-year students living on Duke University’s East Campus, Lilly Library may be their first foray into academic research. The library and its staff help them understand how to make their way through the resources available to them and prepare them for the rest of their time at Duke. But, as a vital piece of Duke for almost a century, it’s beginning to show its age.

In support of the proposed renovation and expansion of Lilly Library, Duke has received $10 million, President Vincent E. Price announced Friday.

The grant from The Duke Endowment, a private foundation based in Charlotte, N.C., will support the first significant renovation of the library since it was built.

“This much-needed renovation, which is currently in the design phase, will allow us to improve the student experience at Duke for generations, while preserving the charm and character that so many Blue Devils have always loved about Lilly Library,” Price said. “We are so grateful for this generous award.”

Construction on the project was originally slated to begin in summer 2020 but was delayed by the spread of COVID-19. Library staff had already begun relocating materials, services and personnel when the pandemic forced Duke to close campus and move classes online in spring 2020.

Now that in-person classes have resumed, the need to renovate the aging structure remains as pressing as before.

“Lilly Library has been remarkably well-preserved since the Great Depression, and that’s part of the problem” said Deborah Jakubs, the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs. “Lilly lacks most of the elements of a modern research library. Many of the library services and spaces today’s students need to succeed are available in Perkins, Bostock and Rubenstein Libraries on West Campus, but not on East.”

Lilly Library opened in 1927 as Duke University’s first library on East Campus while West Campus was being constructed. For more than four decades it served as the Woman’s College Library, but, when the Woman’s College merged with Trinity College of Arts & Sciences in 1972, the library was renamed the East Campus Library.

In 1993, a partial renovation upgraded computing facilities and increased the book stacks capacity, and the building was renamed Lilly Library in recognition of a gift from Ruth Lilly, the philanthropist and great-grandchild of pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly. Since then, Lilly has served as the primary library for first-year students at Duke and as their gateway to the full range of library collections and services.

The proposed renovation and expansion will increase the building’s footprint. It will have significantly more seating and offer more collaborative study spaces, an assembly space for events, a makerspace, a writing studio where students can work with tutors on their assignments, an outdoor terrace, and a warmly furnished Booklover’s Room — a modern take on a much-loved part of the historical Woman’s College Library.

The planned renovation will also update facility needs — including the heating and cooling systems, lighting, technology infrastructure, and furnishings — to meet today’s standards of safety, accessibility, usability and service.

Proposed updates will also extend to the elegant Thomas, Few, and Carpenter reading rooms. The charm and character of these iconic spaces will be preserved, but their finishes, furnishings, lighting, and technology infrastructure will be enhanced.

The Duke Endowment award brings the total funds raised to date to $25 million. This includes a prior $10 million combined gift from Ruth Lilly’s nieces and their families – Virginia “Ginny” Lilly Nicholas and Peter Nicholas and Irene “Renie” Lilly McCutchen and William McCutchen – as well as the Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation based in Indianapolis. Additional fundraising is required before the project can be approved for construction.

“Through his early philanthropy, we know our founder believed that libraries held a vital role in enriching campus life and helping students flourish,” said Minor Shaw, Chair of The Duke Endowment’s Board of Trustees. “Supporting this project continues an important aspect of James B. Duke’s legacy and we are proud to be part of Lilly Library’s transformation.”

For more information about the Lilly Library expansion and renovation, visit

Based in Charlotte and established in 1924 by industrialist and philanthropist James B. Duke, The Duke Endowment is a private foundation that strengthens communities in North Carolina and South Carolina by nurturing children, promoting health, educating minds, and enriching spirits. Since its founding, it has distributed more than $4 billion in grants. The Endowment shares a name with Duke University and Duke Energy, but all are separate organizations.