Many years ago when I was a tiny little undergraduate student, I spent a semester in Chicago as part of the ACM (Associated Colleges of the Midwest) Newberry Library Seminar in the Humanities. It’s a fantastic program that lets undergrads do graduate-level research in the humanities; it also introduced me to one of the most lovely, wonderful libraries in the Midwest: the Newberry. I’m hoping to make a little return visit when I’m in Chicago for ALA this summer. Here are the top 10 reasons why you too should run, not walk, to the Newberry:
- It is such a lovely old building. Opened in 1893, it’s as beautiful as ever (if you can’t tell, I’m a strong proponent of gorgeous library buildings – it’s important to strike a tone of beauty, wonder, and magnitude).
- As many of the librarians will tell you, one of the things that’s different about the Newberry is that, unlike most libraries that are started with a pile of books, the Newberry was started with a pile of money ($2.2 million from the will of Chicago businessman Walter L. Newberry, 1804-68). Thus, the library was allowed to evolve around certain specialties, giving its collections unmatched depth in many areas.
- The main male character in the novel The Time Traveler’s Wife works at the Newberry Library! I was actually unaware of the connection, as I hadn’t read the novel back in 2009, but realized something was up when our guided tour on the first day included many references to the novel.
- Everyone at the Newberry is very kind and supportive, including librarians, administrators, scholars, and everyday patrons. Never have I felt a stronger sense of scholarly library community than I did at the Newberry. Everywhere you turned there was someone with an article or book recommendation, an invitation to lunch to talk about your research, or a tip for what to do or where to go next.
- The Newberry have numerous specialized centers, including a very extensive genealogy area. The Newberry is definitely a genealogy hub in the Midwest, with patrons coming in daily to do Chicago, Illinois, and Midwest genealogy research. If generational history is your thing, it’s the place to be!
- There are floors of quiet, peaceful work areas for you to spend hours and hours delving into the collections.
- Even though the policies can get a little strict on the Special Collections floor (absolutely no liquids – even water – and no pens), you can access one-of-a-kind items that are hundreds of years old. How often do you get opportunities like that?!
- While I was stationed more in the Special Collections room, Genealogy department, and Digital Initiatives office, there are many other amazing centers at the Newberry, including the Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography. Some of my peers got to work with amazing, unique, incredibly old maps like this one:
- The Newberry puts on a number of fantastic exhibitions every year, as well as maintaining numerous digital exhibitions online on all manner of subjects from the Aztec empire to the American West. Check them out!
- And last, but certainly not least, the library is situated right in front of Washington Square Park. When the weather is nice, the park makes for the perfect lunchtime spot (seeing as how food is not permitted in the library). This was my view many an autumn afternoon:
To visit the Newberry Library:
60 West Walton Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Reading Room Hours: 9-5, Tuesday-Friday; Saturday, 9-1; Closed Sunday-Monday