Harold Washington Library Center

Celebrate the keepers of knowledge by visiting these Chicago libraries

Published on April 18, 2022

April 16 was National Librarian Day, where we recognized the important role that librarians play in our society. In their honor, we’re taking a look at some of the great libraries that Chicago has to offer.

Chicago’s public library system started in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, when 8,000 books of British literature were donated. Within two years, the collection had ballooned to 120,000 and the city sought a permanent home. A site on Michigan Ave. between Randolph and Washington Streets was chosen. In 1897, after five years of construction, the library opened. The building was celebrated for its neoclassical design, marble staircases and the gorgeous stained-glass domes found in Preston Bradley Hall and the Grand Army of the Republic Rotunda on the second floor. It served as the downtown branch of the Chicago Public Library system until 1991, when the Harold Washington Library Center opened. The original building now serves as the Chicago Cultural Center, where it hosts art exhibitions, workshops and discussions.

Harold Washington Library Center (400 S. State St.)

At first glance, the red brick and granite exterior, large windows, and ornate pediments suggests that it could have been built in the early 20th century.  Instead, the majestic Harold Washington Library Center was completed in the final decade of the 20th Century. In addition to more than 1.2 million volumes, the library includes a children’s library, the only free music practice rooms in the city, and a Maker Lab with workshops on topics ranging from quilting to 3D modelling. The library’s celebrated Winter Garden offers a peaceful place to study and read in a room flooded with natural light. A collection housed on the 9th floor is dedicated to the life of the building’s namesake, Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of Chicago. Washington died in office in 1987, a few months after announcing the design competition for the building that now bears his name.

Newberry Library (60 W. Walton St.)

Newberry Library
Newberry Library

Located in the Gold Coast, the independent Newberry Library was founded in 1887 as part of the bequest of Chicago businessman and philanthropist Walter Loomis Newberry. Its core collections focus on the humanities, including genealogy, the performing arts, religion, maps, and Chicago history. The library also regularly hosts lectures, seminars and other events.

The Newberry Library also has two tours they have developed on eATLAS.  One is in Spanish.  You can check them out here:



Stony Island Arts Bank
Photo found in: theastergates.com

Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.)

Artist and professor Theaster Gates purchased the historic Stony Island Trust and Savings Bank Building in 2015 and converted it into a combination library, art gallery and community center. Located steps away from Jackson Park, its purpose is to provide a space for people to research and better understand the history of the South Side. The library’s collections include the vinyl collection of house music pioneer Frankie Knuckles, the archives of the Johnson Publishing Company (Ebony and Jet magazines) and 4,000 objects that depict negative stereotypes of Black people for the purposes of cultural examination.

Ryerson and Burnham Libraries (111 S. Michigan Ave.)

As part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Research Center, the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries allow people the opportunity to explore the museum’s vast collection of media related to art and architecture. Although the collection spans all eras, the libraries specialize in 19th century paintings, prints, drawings, decorative arts, and architecture from the 18th through 20th centuries. Those wishing to access their catalog can make an appointment to visit the Franke Reading Room, which is located just south of the Art Institute’s Grand Staircase. Additionally, much of the libraries’ catalog has been digitized and placed online.

Poetry Foundation Library (61 W. Superior St.)

The Poetry Foundation Library serves as the only library in the Midwest devoted exclusively to poetry. It opened in 2011 as a place to house the working collection of Poetry magazine, which published early works by such luminaries as T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound and Gwendolyn Brooks. Although the library contains works from all eras, it specializes in modern and contemporary poetry. The 30,000 volumes in its collection do not circulate, but patrons can access them through the reading room. Private booths are also available for their audio and video recordings. The library’s online archive contains 10,000 poems, and every issue of Poetry since its launch in 1912 can be read on their app. 

Pritzker Military Museum & Library (104 S. Michigan Ave.)

Founded in 2003, the non-profit Pritzker Military Museum & Library aims to promote the importance of the U.S. military by focusing on the stories of those who have served. The library features more than 70,000 books on the entire history of all branches of the military, and the museum offers exhibits that display its collection of artifacts, documents, and photographs. Circulation is available only to members, with membership starting at $25/year. The Pritzker Military Museum and Library also produces two television programs that air on Chicago public television and a podcast that documents and preserves the oral histories of citizen-soldiers.

We’re fortunate to have such notable, varied, and independent libraries throughout the community.  Take advantage and explore all they have to offer, including their special events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Adventure starts when you say it does.

All eATLAS Adventures are designed and built by experienced eATLAS Whoa!Guides. They're always on. Always entertaining. And always ready to go.

Check out our Adventures!