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The Bentley Historical Library is an invaluable research resource for the history of Michigan and the University of Michigan. The library contains two main collections, the Michigan Historical Collections and the University of Michigan Archives, which were gathered by UM professor Lewis Vander Velde starting in 1935. The Bentley Historical Library was built in 1973 to house the archives, which have grown exponentially over the years. The library was named after Arvella and Alvin Bentley, a political family that donated $600,000 towards its construction. The library has gone through many expansions in recent years in order to accommodate its growing collection, which now consists of over 45,000 linear feet of archives as well as maps, books, and photographs.


  • Bentley Historical Library
  • Lewis Vander Velde, UM professor and the first collector of the archives that would become the Bentley Historical Library
  • Alvin Bentley, Congressman and UM Regent
  • Arvella Bentley, who donated $600,000 to build the library
  • Inside storage at the library
  • The state of the art conservation lab at the library
  • Student researchers at the library
  • The library's reading room
  • An archivist holds up original copies of university archives

In 1935, University of Michigan professor Lewis Vander Velde was awarded a research grant to collect archives related to the history of the state of Michigan. These archives would become known as the Michigan Historical Collections (MHC). Later, Vander Velde was also appointed caretaker for the university’s archives. The archives and staff offices were located for a time in the Rackham Building on the UM campus, but the collections grew exponentially. In 1973, a new home was completed that offered not only space for collections, but well-lit reading rooms, a courtyard, and programming rooms. The new building was made possible thanks to a $600,000 gift from Arvella Bentley, as a tribute to her husband Alvin M. Bentley. Alvin Bentley was a congressman who was involved in vast number of organizations and held a variety of other titles, including UM Regent, Historical Society of Michigan President, historian, and philanthropist. In 1993, the building was renamed Bentley Historical Library in honor of the Bentley family. The library went through several expansions over the years, always quickly outgrowing its storage space. By 2000, the library contained 30,000 linear feet of material, split between three facilities. An addition was completed in 2004 which allowed for more shelf space, as well as administrative offices and a state of the art conservation lab. 1, 2

The collections of the Bentley Historical Library are unique, varied, and immensely significant to the study of Michigan’s history as a state. Bentley holds the gubernatorial records from the last six governors of Michigan (beginning with Gov. G. Mennen Williams’ first term in 1949). The Earl and Florence De La Vergne Collection includes rare maps of the Great Lakes region and antique books about early Michigan history. The library has also played a major role in microfilming large collections of Michigan newspapers as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The University of Michigan archives date back to the university’s founding in the early 1800s. It includes early sketches of campus, fight song sheet music, athletic score cards, building dedication booklets, class memorabilia, and papers of key faculty members over the years.2, 3

Today, the Bentley Historical Library contains more than 45,000 linear feet of archives as well as 10,000 maps, 80,000 printed volumes, and 1.5 million photographs.3 The library is recognized as one of the most valuable resources of historical records for the state of Michigan and the University of Michigan and welcomes “researchers regardless of academic or professional affiliation.”4


1. Michigan Historical Collections/Bentley Historical Library Staff. "An Enduring Gift: The Bentley Historical Library, Keeper of Michigan's History." Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1983. 2. Bentley Historical Library Staff. "The Bentley Historical Library: Its History and Purpose." Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2004. 3. "Collection Highlights." Bentley Historical Library Official Website. Accessed September 2, 2016. http://bentley.umich.edu/collection-highlights/ 4. "About Us." Bentley Historical Library Official Website. Accessed September 2, 2016. http://bentley.umich.edu/about/