The University Library system was established as part of the Illinois Industrial University's charter, and when the school opened for business in 1868, it had 1,039 volumes. Originally the Library was housed in Old Main University Hall, but later moved to Altgeld Hall, and finally to its present location, where it has recently celebrated its 10 millionth volume.
The Main Library, styled in the Colonial Revival / Gregorian form, was largely built in three sections, with the first section finished in 1923, the second in 1925, and the third finished in 1927. Due to construction constraints, the book stacks themselves were actually mounted before the walls were put into place, so the stacks had to be braced like "a miniature office building so as to transmit all the wind pressure from the west wall through the bookstacks to the ground". The main entrance featured twin study rooms for reserved books, seating 250 and housing 5,000 books.
The reading room on the second floor features fumed oak and is 300 feet long, with shelf space for 16,000 volumes and seating for 516 students. Each of the 27 windows on this floor contains a stained-glass copy of an old printer's mark, fabricated by J. Scott Williams. The twin staircases leading to the reading room feature "The Four Hemispheres: Polar, Celestial, Eastern, Western", a mural by Barry Faulkner. The east foyer of the Library is dedicated in honor of Charles and Millicent Marshall and holds the Presidential Portraits, a series of 6 oil paintings depicting the first six presidents of the University. They are John Milton Gregory, Selime Hobart Peabody, David Kinley, Thomas J. Burrill, Andrew Sloan Draper, and Edmund Janes James.
The Main Library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000