As part of National Library Week 2019, Milner Library is profiling engaging opportunities available to the Illinois State University community.

Have you ever found yourself at Milner on floor six and thought, “I wonder what’s behind that door?” Don’t just wonder. Wander into Special Collections and find a world you didn’t even know was available.

“I’ve been told that Special Collections is the best secret on campus, but I don’t want it to be!” exclaims Maureen Brunsdale, head of Special Collections. “While our door isn’t always propped open – because we have to try to control the climate and maintain the security for the materials we oversee – we want people to know they are always welcome into this tantalizing place.”

What makes Special Collections so special?

Special Collections is a group of items – such as rare books, manuscripts, first editions, signed editions, and other items – that are unique, irreplaceable, or rare. A special collection can also be a group of items focused on a single topic such as children’s literature or Abraham Lincoln.

Milner Library’s Special Collections is home to four distinct collections:

  • The Lincoln Collection of Harold K. Sage
  • Children’s Literature and Historical Textbook Collection
  • Rare and Fine Collection
  • Circus and Allied Arts Collection

Special Collections houses over 42,000 books and millions of other items including photos, costumes, performer contracts, business ledgers, art, posters, and more. Brunsdale and her staff, Mark Schmitt, Steve Gossard, and Rainie Themer, work vigorously each day, hosting 30-40 classes per semester and reaching over 1,000 students each year.

“We’ve been reaching out to engage faculty on campus to let them know that we are ready to connect them to tremendous resources here,” Brunsdale explained.

Maureen Brunsdale invites everyone to explore Special Collections at Milner Library.

“When a student sees their professor get excited about a primary source that they didn’t know we had, then we’re well on our way to getting the student hooked. It’s those connections and that excitement that brings us joy.  My job is to draw people in, find their hook, and light the fire of curiosity.”

It is all about making a connection

Brunsdale and Schmitt were thrilled to share their own story of a recent experience they had at work. Brunsdale is currently writing a book on Art Concello, world famous trapeze artist turned circus executive, who got his start in Bloomington, IL. The Circus and Allied Arts Collection in Milner Library’s Special Collections is among the largest circus collection in the world yet only a few of Art Concello’s personal papers can be found here.  “He seemed to have liked living in the shadows while the performers he managed sought the spotlight,” Brunsdale said.

While doing research Brunsdale came upon some information about one of Concello’s friends, Chuck Holloway. After digging deeper, Brunsdale ended up locating one of Chuck’s daughters, Susie, who lives in Oregon. And after building up the courage, Brunsdale called Susie.

The result, Brunsdale says, simply magical!

Brunsdale was able to talk with Susie about her father and his close relationship with Concello. “I heard stories and learned things I would have never otherwise known.”  She learned, for example, that Concello cared deeply for the mentor who helped to drag him off the streets and teach him a vocation when he was a boy practicing his well-honed craft of truancy.  Concello and his long-time friend, Harold “Tuffy” Genders, kept in contact with the Holloways through the years, visiting him and his family whenever the circus came to their town.  Holloway loved the circus.  As a youth, he sometimes spent summers trouping as a clown, as an adult he helped produce Bloomington’s YMCA Circus, and even named his oldest daughter after Concello’s wife, Antoinette.  His passion also led him to write two children’s books and those books – along with photos, programs and other circus ephemera retained by Holloway – have returned home to the community where so many circus men and women grew up.  “It really is like welcoming an old friend home, when we accept materials like this.  Holloway’s roots in this community were deep.”

Find your story

Visit our website for more information about Special Collections or email Brunsdale and her staff at Milner Library is ready for this secret to get out.

Weekly hours are:

  • Monday: 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
  • Tuesday: 9 a.m.-noon, 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.  and 5 p.m.-8 p.m.
  • Wednesday: 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
  • Thursday: 9 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
  • Friday: 9 a.m.-noon