The Newberry Library is an independent research library concentrating in the humanities with an active educational and cultural presence in Chicago. Free and open to the public, it houses an extensive non-circulating collection of rare books, maps, music, manuscripts, and other printed material. The Newberry offers exhibits based on its outstanding collections, musical and theatrical performances, lectures and discussions with today's leading humanists, seminars, and teacher programs. Anyone who is at least 16 years old and who is conducting research on a topic covered by the collections may become a reader.
The Newberry Library, open to the public without charge, is an independent research library dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, especially in the humanities. The Newberry acquires and preserves a broad array of special collections research materials relating to the civilizations of Europe and the Americas. It promotes and provides for their effective use, fostering research, teaching, publication, and life-long learning, as well as civic engagement. In service to its diverse community, the Newberry encourages intellectual pursuit in an atmosphere of free inquiry and sustains the highest standards of collection preservation, bibliographic access, and reader services.
History of the Newberry Library
"We must encourage every thing that tends to enlighten and polish the human mind.... We purpose to lay the foundation of a library which we hope to see go on increasing until it becomes the pride and boast of our city." - Walter L. Newberry, 1841
The Library was founded as a public library by a bequest of Walter Loomis Newberry, a businessman and prominent citizen, who had been an active book collector, founder of the Young Men's Library Association, and president of the Chicago Historical Society before his death in 1868. When he drew up his will, Mr. Newberry created a codicil should his daughters die without issue. Since Chicago had no public library at the time, he determined that in such an instance a public library should be established in the northern section of the city.
The Library's holdings span the history and culture of western Europe from the Middle Ages to the mid-twentieth century and the Americas from the time of first contact between Europeans and Native Americans. Its strengths include: European discovery, exploration, and settlement of the Americas; the American West; local history, family history, and genealogy; literature and history of the Midwest, especially the Chicago Renaissance; Native American history and literature; the Renaissance; the French Revolution; Portuguese and Brazilian history; British literature and history; the history of cartography; the history and theory of music; the history of printing; and early philology and linguistics. The collections number 1,500,000 printed titles, five million manuscript pages, and 500,000 historic maps. For more information, see the Collections and Catalog section of this Web site.
The Newberry Library is open to all readers who are at least sixteen years of age or older, or who are at least juniors in high school, free of charge. To obtain a reader card, you must present valid photo ID, proof of current home address, and a research topic that is supported by the Newberry's collections. Reader cards are issued on the third floor of the Library during reading room hours.
The Newberry Library serves approximately 6,200 readers each year, each of whom use the Library an average of four times a year. The staff responds annually to more than 22,000 reference questions and pages 70,000 items (the Library has closed stacks for its non-circulating collection of books, maps, and manuscripts). Forty percent of the total readership is engaged in genealogical research, and the Library embraces the interest and enthusiasm of this group of adult researchers.
Reference staff are on duty in three reading rooms whenever the library is open to readers. Reference librarians work with all readers, offering orientation, in-depth bibliographical instruction, and specialized assistance as appropriate and as required. In addition to serving the research needs of individual readers in its reading rooms, the Newberry has initiated educational programs which provide direct service to students and teachers. The Newberry Library offers xerographic copying services through its reading rooms and its photoduplication laboratory supplies microfilm and photographic service to researchers, libraries, museums, and trade publishers.
The Newberry takes particular care in meeting the needs of its largest public, amateur genealogists. There is a reference post devoted solely to genealogical services staffed by librarians with extensive experience in the field. An agreement with the Family History Library in Salt Lake City has brought about a loan program which opens up the world's largest collection of microfilmed documents for genealogical research here. A staff-developed series of pathfinders in genealogy oriented to both beginning and advanced researchers has made the Library's resources much more easy to use; available as leaflets and on the Library's website, they are useful guides for other libraries and library users as well.
The Newberry is proud of its sponsorship of the Chicago Metro History Education Center, founded as the Chicago Metro History Fair in 1977 and housed here since its inception. Reader Services staff work with history teachers to plan group research visits and give research orientations. As a consequence of this and other programs, the Library is also sought out by other area high school teachers for orienting upper level students to research.
For more than two decades the Newberry Library has actively promoted the productive use of its research collections through systematic development of research and education programs. These include one of the largest library-based fellowship programs in the United States, four major research centers based on particular strengths in the collections, educational programs for students at the graduate, undergraduate, and secondary school levels, special research projects, and a lively program of lectures, conferences, colloquia, and seminars. The National Endowment for the Humanities has been a supportive partner in all of these efforts.
The Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography, founded in 1971, offers fellowships for the study of cartographic history, sponsors lectures, publishes books, and edits journals and newsletters. In 1992 they developed a guide book for teachers of the Columbian Encounter. Next summer the Center will host workshops for area high school teachers on using maps in teaching history.
The D'Arcy McNickle Center for the History of the American Indian, founded in 1973, promotes study, recovery, and understanding of the history of the American Indian. The Center has been a major shaping influence on modern scholarship in American Indian history. The Center offers summer institutes for teachers of Indian history and literature, sponsors conferences for scholar/teachers, and publishes a national newsletter of Indian studies. Recent publications include Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History (University of Oklahoma Press, 1987) which documents Indian settlements and trails in Illinois and the other states of that region.
The William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture, founded in 1973, promotes scholarship in social history, especially demography and community studies. Between 1972 and 1982 the Center sponsored summer institutes that trained some six hundred historians across the nation in quantitative techniques. One of the Center's current major projects, funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a massive Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. A second project, in partnership with the Chicago Historical Society, is the Encyclopedia of Chicago History, scheduled for publication in 2001; it is modeled on the popular Encyclopedia of the South.
The Newberry's Center for Renaissance Studies, founded in 1979, is the focus of a consortium of 35 universities in the U.S., Canada, and Scotland; it supports specialized graduate seminars and workshops enriching the curricular offerings of its members as well as supporting research needs of individual students and faculty. Illinois institutions participating in the Center are the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Illinois State University, Northern Illinois University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, DePaul University, and Loyola University.
The Newberry also participates in several consortia serving undergraduate education. In 1964, the Library was a creative partner in initiating an ongoing series of residential undergraduate seminars of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest and the Great Lakes Colleges Association. Faculty advisors work with Newberry librarians and research staff to develop courses accredited by the member colleges. Alumni of these ACM-GLCA seminars have gone on to join the academic, library, and museum professions as well as other fields.
In the fall of 1996, the Newberry Library formed a new consortium to offer undergraduate seminars on the ACM-GLCA model for students from Loyola, DePaul, and Roosevelt Universities, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
For all these graduate and undergraduate programs, the Reader Services Department of the Newberry works with faculty on syllabi, prepares collection guides and bibliographical materials, makes customized presentations of manuscripts, maps, and rare books, offers intensive group and individual bibliographic instruction, and supports reference service and, for residential class groups, interlibrary loan. Such services are also provided on a more informal basis to the many area instructors who seek out the Newberry as a place for their undergraduate and graduate students to work with primary source materials.
Public education has been part of the institution's mission from its very beginnings. Today the Newberry Library's Center for Public Programs, established with funding from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Foundation, presents exhibits, musical and dramatic performances, lectures, symposia, tours, and other programs in order to open the collections to the widest possible audience. Programs present and interpret manuscript and print culture to adults and families in an era increasingly dominated by electronic media. All programs are conceived of and designed as windows to the collections and the generations of scholarship and creative work that they represent.
The Newberry Consort, an early music ensemble-in-residence, presents four concerts each year with performances throughout the Chicago area. This group tours extensively in the United States and abroad and makes commercial recordings. Its programs are based on research in musical, historical, and literary works in the Newberry's collections.
Two exhibit galleries provide venues for a continuous schedule of temporary exhibitions interpreting research and collections in the humanities. Recent major exhibitions have included The Aztecs and the Making of Colonial Mexico and Lewis and Clark and the Indian Country.
Adult education seminars offered at nominal tuition are presented in fall, spring, and summer sessions. Participants pursue the kinds of questions that scholars ask of research collections and explore a variety of topics with experienced instructors in fields such as literature, philosophy, religion, history, genealogy, history of art, music, book arts, and creative writing.
Tours of the Library
Free tours of the Library are offered Thursdays at 3:00 pm and Saturdays at 10:30 am. Reservations for groups are required and may be scheduled through the Library's Office of Events. Call (312) 255–3595.