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CHICAGO'S WONDERFUL CENTRAL LIBRARY

WELCOME TO URBANICITY
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At the el, in the loop-- a place to read 

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The Chicago Public Library is known as the Harold Washington Library Center. Lead architect of the city-block size neo-classical building is Thomas H. Beeby (Hammond, Beeby and Babka), who won the design competition in June 1988. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it’s the largest public library in the world.

It has everything you’d expect and more. The lower levels house large auditoriums and venues for lectures and performing arts, a video theater, and meeting rooms.

On the 9th floor, which has exhibit halls to showcase special collections, there is the Winter Garden, which rises 100 feet through the 10th floor to a skylight, and is dressed by large planters of olive trees.

The original library was burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Soon after the devastation, sympathizers began to box up books to send to Chicago. Among the contributors: The Queen of England, The Duke of Argyle, The British Museum, and the University of Cambridge.

Donations came from private libraries and societies throughout the U.S. Authors, publishers, and booksellers were invited to help furnish the new collection.

Here is a letter from Benjamin Disraeli, the British prime minister:

Hugheden Manor, November 10, 1871.

Dear Mr. Hughes,

Our friends at Chicago, so far as English authors are concerned, have a free library which no conflagration can destroy. I fear they may smile when they receive our offerings in this fashion, but mine, if you wish it, shall be made.

Faithfully yours, B. Disraeli

 

and from Thomas Carlyle, November 12, 1871:

"if this project is to take fire and go on, it continues certain that my poor contribution of a copy of my books shall not be any means be wanting. Believe me always yours, with many regards,

T. Carlyle

The library society scrambled to find a proper replacement site. With expediency and safety at a premium, they decided on a large metal water tank. It was quickly outfitted with a floor, reading tables, shelved books, chairs, lamps, and carpets. The old spiral staircase served as the entry– and the place was well used. (There was a huge 50th anniversary celebration of this in 1923.)

By 1882 the city had a grand new library building, branch reading rooms and 50 delivery stations. It invented the "book-mobile" to service surrounding communities, and by 1938 it had 54 permanent branches.

The library board’s report in 1910 read:

"A modern community can protect itself and progress only through the intelligence of its citizens, and that intelligence requires the resource of books, books of easy access, and well chosen."

      

The new library, opened in 1991, has dozens of quotes in fine calligraphic inscriptions that decorate its walls. Here are a few:

"Knowledge is of two kinds: we know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it." - Samuel Johnson

"A library implies an act of faith which generation still in darkness hid sign in their night in witness of the dawn."- Victor Hugo

" Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors." - John F. Kennedy

" He who enters a library is in the best society this world affords." - Andrew Carnegie

 

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