Chicago Public Library Building Chicago Cultural Center (1997)
Life Span: 1893-Present
Location: 78 E. Washington St.
Architect: Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge
On October 15, 1887, Frederick H. Hild was elected the second Librarian of the Chicago Public Library and securing a permanent home was his primary drive. Ten years later, the Central Library was opened. Designed by the Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in the same academic classical style as their building for the Art Institute, it was located on Michigan Avenue between Washington Street and Randolph Street on land donated by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War Veterans group led by John A. Logan, a Civil War General and U.S. Senator from Illinois. In return for the land the Library was to maintain a Civil War collection and exhibit in a G.A.R. room until the last northern Civil War veteran died. The library would remain on this site for the next 96 years. It is now the Chicago Cultural Center.
Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1886
The House, it is hoped, will not concur in the bill passed by the Senate Monday at Gen. Logan’s instance giving Dearborn Park to the city to be used and occupied by the Public Library, the Soldiers’ Home, and the Academy of Design. Chicago doesn’t want the land for such joint purposes. Nothing could be more incongruous than the grouping of the three institutions.
There is not room in Dearborn Park for more than one of them. The library is a public institution, supported by general taxation, which might with propriety occupy such a site; but the Academy of Design is a private school. A soldiers’ home—a house for the retirement of disabled and superannuated veterans—is no more in accord with either of the others than they are with each other. And in the heart of a great city, on a plot of ground bordering upon a wilderness of railroad tracks, is not to be found the most appropriate place for such an establishment. The scheme appears to be, first to get the bill through and acquire the land, and then to construct the Soldiers’ Home and the Academy of Design, both of which as yet exist mainly on paper. The whole thing looks like a piece of log-rolling.
The city would be glad to get Dearborn Park for the Public Library, and a bill for that purpose, if introduced, might to pass.
The Inter Ocean, September 11, 1897
Chicago’s pride, the new public library, is finished. The last book shelf is in place. The whole building from the great dome-shaped top to the delivery-room to the Doric portico on Randolph street, has been swept and garnished. The splendid structure awaits now now the coming of its treasures, and the footsteps of an enchanted public.
The public library from the first has been the cleanest, the best, the most remunerative investment the city of Chicago ever made. Its history from the humble beginning of twenty-fice years ago has been a record of unprecedented success. The completion of the splendid new home marks the second great step toward the building of one of the great libraries of all time. The structure has a capacity of 2,000,000 volumes, with shelf room prepared for 300,000. Two million volumes! The largest library in existence today? The largest collection of books ever made, is the Biblitheque Nationale of Paris, which has but 2,000,000 volumes.
The library building, as it stands complete, is a fine example of the classic in architecture. The decorations have been carried out along the same simple and majestic lines. The best examples of delicate Greek coloring, the marvelously beautiful designs of the Italian renaissance, have all been used as models. But they have not been weakly imitated. Every design, either in architectural construction of interior ornamentation, has been especially prepared and studied in its relation not only to the beauties but in the uses of a public edifice.
The library is situated in Dearborn park, with the main entrance on Washington street, and an entrance to the G. A. R. rooms on Randolph street. The material used in construction is gray Bedford stone, smooth finish.
There are three principal lines notable in the composition, the severely plain base of the ground floor, the great Roman arches of the second division, and the upper portion, which is an Ionic colonnade crowned by rich entablature and a perforated balustrade. The four corners of the building are marked by the pavilion-like treatment of the first pair of arches on each front, forming terminations for the long facade on Michigan avenue. Running along the top of the massive structure is a renaissance frieze of wreaths and dolphins’ heads. When one is near the building, it appears that the under sides of cornices and projections are the most richly decorated portions. This is as it should be, because the narrowness of the two streets on which it fronts will always prevent other than a near view. But on the Michigan avenue side the grand sweep of the long facade and the simple grandeur of ornamentation are apparent.
The main entrance on Washington street leads directly to the delivery room and the circulating departments of the library. These, with the grand staircase and the offices of the administration, form a separate suite almost. The scheme of decoration in this series forms a consistent whole. Entrance is affected through a great arch in the center of the facade. The soffit of the arch is made beautifully by finely carved caissons. The lower portion is filled with a portico of richly wrought bronze. A massive grille of bronze above the door is flowing acanthus and grape-vine motifs gives hint of the generous entrance hall within.
Upon entering a flood of lights upon the pristine whiteness of staircases and walls. It warms the hidden depths of the glowing favril glass1 until it emits a thousand gleams of iridescent light. The eye is dazzled by the long lines of snowy Italian marble, the scintillating borders of emerald mosaic, the soft greens and yellows and translucent grays which gleam here and there from semi-precious stones.
For a time the marble supply of the world was exhausted in the construction of this sumptuous entrance. The rarest stone used in the construction of buildings is the blue-veined statuary marble from the quarries of Italy. Before the public library was half completed the work was delayed because this semi-precious material could not be quarried rapidly enough to meet the demand.
The entrance hall is fifty-two feet long buy forty-five feet wide. The display of bronze in this hall is exquisite, both in finish and in delicate tracery of design.
Directly in front of thje grand staircase is an inlaid tablet bearing the city seal, a bronze in low relief. On the right of the main entrance is a large tablet bearing the inscription.
On the left side a similar tablet is inscribed:
Under the arms of the staircase are two beautiful bronze grilles with the Aldine bookmark in the center.
Over the wide staircase are two beautiful bridges, or marble arches. The under part of the first arch is inlaid with alternating square and oblong panels of glass mosaic. The square contain a lovely flambeau design, a book mark, and the oblong spaces the names of the great authors, Livy, Horace, Virgil, Cicero, Plato, Homer. On the second arch are the names of our great Americans, Irving, Hawthorne, Bryant, Whittier, Emerson, Longfellow. The entire decoration of this portion of the library is glass mosaic. For beauty and durability this material has no rival. Instances are on record where the glass has outlasted the stone and marble with which it was combined. United with the glass in this instances are center disks, diamonds and squares of onyx and mother of pearl. The effect of the whole, banding the marble columns, inlaying the soffits of the vast arches, studding the dome-shaped roof of the delivery-room, is indescribably brilliant. The color notes are white and soft green. But mingled with this are gleams of old gold, ruby red, and peacock blue. Indeed, in many a small disk of the favril glass all the colors of the rainbow sparkle. They re-enforce and harmonize unobtrusively with the tone of the whole.
In this country glass mosaic has been little used. This is the first example of this artistic work yet executed here on a large scale. Indeed, nothing like it has been undertaken since the ninth century, when the Church of Monreli (cathedral of Monreale) in Italy was built.
Chicago Public Library
The Grand Stairway
SEEN FROM THE STAIRCASE
The broad flight of steps leads from the two monolithic newels to a landing some dozen steps up. The white marble wall is here broken by six round orchid byzantine windows, with bronze grilles of Moorish design. They not only serve to break the flat wall, but are exquisitely decorative in themselves. The railings of the staircases are formed of oblong marble panels. They are inlaid with a renaissance design of favril glass with centers of royal green marble, surrounded by circlets of mother of pearl. In no two borders are the devices alike, and the eye is everywhere delighted by infinite variety of design.
On the main landing one seen through triple arches the delivery-room and dome. This is the show place of the library, the chef d’ouvre of architects and artists. Like the entrance hall and staircase, its color tones are white and green. The first impression of it is of a room in an old Venetian palace. Favril glass, semi-prcious stones, mother of pearl, and pure gold are used in splendid profusion. The delivery-room extends clear across the building. With reference to the decoration, it is divided into three parts by the rotunda. Four great elliptical spans run from the corners, north and south, east and west. Similar ellipses inclose the the three entrance arches, and the entrances to the stock-rooms beyond. Pendentives in mosaic, from the squares below, merge into the circle of the dome. The under sides of the white marble arches are inlaid with panels of emerald mosaic. Each panel contains the name of an author in letters of gold. Between each two oblong panels is a square one bearing a device of flambeaux. The dome is constructed of caisson-like panels of iron, glazed with favril glass, leaded in Greek designs of yellowish green. It was desired to have here as much light as possible, and for that reason lighter shades of glass are used at the bottom, gradually becoming richer and darker at the top. Through the entire glass runs a fish-scale pattern. In the very top of the dome is the bookmark of the public library. About it are ranged the twelve signs of the zodiac. The glass mosaic of the core on which the dome rests had a background of white. From this sparkle designs in green, gold, peacock blue, and ruby red. These devices are the famous bookmarks of the old printers. Some of them are French, some German, others English. There are about a dozen in all, as shown in the illustrations.
The Printer’s Marks that are depicted in the Delivery-Room’s Mosaics.
Identification from “Printers’ Marks, A Chapter in the History of Typography” by W. Roberts, 1893
The east and west divisions of the delivery-room have above the marble a frieze of glass mosaic inclosing great slabs of green serpentine marble. These slabs are inlaid with inscriptions taken from various languages. On the east side, beginning with Persian on the right hand, they may be translated as follows:
In the west division, commencing with German, they read thus in translation:
Around the base of the dome, above a garlanded frieze, is inscribed in gold:
DECORATIONS OF CEILINGS AND WALLS
The ceilings of the east and west divisions are executed in stucco, metal colors of green and gold. In the center of each square into which the ceiling is divided is a rosette. From the intersecting beams depend censer-shaped chandeliers of opalescent glass. The design is antique, and the rim of the cup is ornamented by antique masks. It may be noted here that all the fixtures of the building were especially designed with reference to the positions which they occupy. Before the final selections were made dummies following closely the outlines of the fixtures were placed in position that the effect might be studied and criticized.
The counter and desk in the delivery-room are beautiful specimens of the wood-worker’s art. They are in white mahogany. The graining in the front of the counter is remarkably beautiful =and matched so perfectly as to form a single pattern throughout the entire length. The bronze screen about the center of the desk is a delicate piece of work, tooled, chased, and buffed as the finest plate would have been.
The lobby of the delivery room through which one looks from the landing into the delivery-room proper, is a great space 52×26 feet. The ceiling is divided into caissons and the high relief pattern in the stucco touched with metal colors. A broad frieze of emerald green mosaic carries panels inscribed with the names of authors alternating with appropriate quotation. In the middle of the southern band of the frieze an oblong tablet bears the inscription:
To the left of this:
On the right side is written:
On the east end:
On the west side:
There are eight alternating tablets, each inscribed with the names of four four authors, grouped as follows:
- 1. Coleridge, Hood, Moore, De Quincey.
2. Wordsworth, Pope, Byron, Shelley.
3. Macaulay, Gibbon, Carlyle, Hume.
4. Poe, Lowell, Stowe, Holmes.
5. Bancroft, Motley, Prescott, Parkman.
6. Scott, Burns, Tennyson, Gray.
7. Thackeray, Eliot, Bulwer, Dickens.
8. Swift, Johnson, Sheridan, Lamb.
September 11, 1897
READING AND REFERENCE ROOMS
After the grand staircase and the delivery-room the most splendidly decorated portions of the library are the reading and reference rooms and the Grand Army memorial hall. Each deserves a separate chapter.
The reading and reference rooms are on the top floor. They can be reached directly from the Randolph street entrance, or by a short corridor which connects withe the Washington street side. The reading-room occupies the entire northern front on the top floor. Perhaps in its magnificent coloring and the general scheme of decoration it resembles most closely the assembly hall in the Ducal palace of the Four Hundred at Venice. At all events, a designer spent three months in Venice studying the involved and difficult color scheme of that hall in preparation for the work of this. The room is of immense proportions, 140 by 55, with a ceiling of 33 feet high. The style is pure Italian renaissance of the period of Sansovino. The whole apartment is a blaze of rich colors, intense red, and the high metal colors, yellow, green, and blue. There are no supporting columns for the vast roof, which is carried by heavy steel trusses. The plain wall
surfaces are of stucco, finished in deep red, while the wainscoting contrasts in the rich green of verd antique marble. The pilasters are in Austrian gold and green shading into iridescent blues and bronze. They are elaborately embellished in a renaissance design, consisting of a wreath and garlands caught up by the book mark of the Chicago public library. This consists of a circular disk divided into three parts by a Y device marking fantastically the divisions of the city into three parts by the river. The three portions of the disk are marked by the letters C. P. L. The decoration of coffers is in high relief, each resembling a brilliant peacock’s eye. The floor is a tessellated carpet of sienna and royal green marble. In the center is a large disk of Numidian marble.
The furniture is in very dark American oak, sumptuous and massive. On a rack in the center of the room will be kept the periodicals most in use. On a series of racks at the west end of the room will be kept copies of the newspapers.
The reading-room has two entrances, one opening into the hallway, the other into the reference-room. They are double, and midway from from each other and the ends of the chamber. Above each door is a large, plain clock dial set in triangular slabs of verd antique. Underneath the clock on the right side is the quotation in gold letters:
- We are as liable to be corrupted by books as by companions.—Fielding.
Over the left side:
- The world is founded upon thoughts and ideas, not on cotton or iron.—Emerson.
The reading room is splendidly lighted by windows on all sides. The room will seat 340 readers. At the periodical racks are accommodations for seventy-five more, making in all 415.
The reference room is south of the reading room, running 139 feet along the Michigan avenue side. The color, form, and proportions of the reference room at once suggest the Greek motives upon which it is constructed. The soft, low tones of color are in decided contrast to the splendors of the adjoining reading room. The walls are light yellow, the color of Pantelic marble, and the wainscoting harmonizes in sienna marble. Sufficiently high notes are furnished in the pilastered spaces between the windows, the points of the relief in stucco being touched with metal colors. The tops of the pilasters support an entablature from which spring girders for the coffered ceiling. At each end of the room is a clock dial set in a tablet of vienna marble. The face of the dial is supported by half draped figures of boys, personifying Day and Night. On the right stands Day, erect, joyous, holding aloft with one hand a torch. On the left drowsy Night with bent head holds a staff on which a bat is perched.
The furniture of this apartment is in light American oak. There are twenty-two tables which will accommodate in all 176 students. Along one side are arranged shelves where dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the more ordinary books of reference can be controlled at will. At one end of the room is the attendant’s counter. By means of an electric book lift volumes can be raised almost instantly from the stack rooms below. The view from the reference room is the finest in the building. The windows look out on Lake Michigan, affording a grand and ever changing panorama of sky and water. The clouds shift, white-sailed yachts are afloat, loaded barges come and go. Within, in the great room, recalling the loveliness of ancient Greece, all is beauty and quiet and repose.
BOOKS OF THE G. A. R.
The portions of the building which undoubtedly will receive attention after the reading and reference rooms, are those set apart for the Grand Army. They comprise a magnificent suite of a dozen rooms on the second floor, northeast corner of the building. The whole series is absolutely independent of the rest of the building. The splendid features are the memorial hall and the assembly-room. There may be more magnificent memorial halls, such as the Prince Albert in London, but they are not to be found in this country, and they do not commemorate the achievements of the rank and file, the volunteer soldier, as well as his commissioned officer. The walls of the memorial hall are of verd antique marble, dark green, veined with white and lighter green. The coffered ceiling, executed in stucco, is 30 feet above. The caissons are hexagonal in shape, with minor panels of various forms between. In the center of each coffer is a shield. From the ornamental boss in the center depend chains supporting the bronze chandeliers. On the north and eats are high windows fourteen feet wide. On the opposite sides of the room are large flag cases of bronze and plate glass. The verd antique marble of the piers is enriched by moldings of satin, gold cold. The tympanum of each arch is decorated with a great shell-like center in old gold. In these niches are pedestals of verd antique marble, on which it is proposed to place busts of military heroes. As a whole, the color scheme of the memorial hall is probably the most stately and consistent in the entire edifice. Starting from the green and, bronze of the piers, the arches and tympani repeat in various shades the tones of the marble and the metal. The spandrels are of a rich red and the beams and ceiling are worked out in lighter tones of green, buff, brown, and bronze. The panels of the soffits and arches contain each the badge of one of the army corps, while the center spandrel of the west end of the hall is significantly decorated by a large reproduction of the familiar badge of the Veterans’ association.
ASSEMBLY HALL AND RANDOLPH STREET ENTRANCE
Adjoining the Memorial hall on the left is the assembly hall, a room of splendid proportions. It is much simpler in treatment as befits its uses. The plan, stuccoed walls are a deep, rich red. The ceiling is paneled in lighter tones of buff, yellow, and brown. This room will be used asa meeting place for the Grand Army posts, and will be furnished in oak, corresponding to the massive doors. A raised dais extends around two sides of the room for the seats of the officers of the various posts and the Loyal legion.
The great doors of American quarter oak are remarkable for the beauty of the graining. Upon panels over each are recorded in letters of gold, upon a metal green background, the name of the principal engagements of the civil war from Fort Sumter to Appomattox. The lobby or entrance hall to the G. A. R. rooms is of great dignity and size. It is full of military feeling, and yet does not depart from the classic simplicity in keeping with the style of the entire building. There is something of the grimness and also the splendor of war in the severe marble walls and the bronze representations of ancient armors and accouterments of the warrior. There is a stateliness too in the great arches which grow dim in the lofty roof. These arches form the principal decorative treatment of the lobby, and are supported by piers of pink Knoxville marble. The walls also are of the same marble. In the tympanum of each arch is a high relief, in bronze, representing antique trophies of war, Roman helmets, shields, gauntlets, swords. The domelike roof is of stained glass, after models of the Italian renaissance. The other apartments for the use of the G. A. R. are two large rooms for archives, two cloakrooms, two ante-rooms, and two committee-rooms. These are all beautifully finished in Knoxville marble, mahogany, and oak.
The Randolph street entrance, which leads to the Grand Army rooms and the reading and reference rooms, rivals the entrance on the south in richness and beauty. The exit is marked by the simple green lines of the Doric portico of the northern facade. Three doors lead to the vestibule. The outer doors are exquisite specimens of woodwork. They are so massive that they swing as slowly as iron, and yet they are carved with the most delicate workmanship. They are of East Indian mahogany, beautifully tinted, and as smooth as satin. Each side of these double doors is paneled and carved with lions’ heads bosses. Each door weighs 450 pounds. The transoms above have bronze grilles in geometric patterns. The inner doors are of green leather thickly studded with bronze nail heads. The lobby is forty feet square, and is resplendent with the colors of beautifully veined marbles. It communicates with the ground-floor reading-rooms and rooms for patent records and newspapers, besides being the general entrance for the whole northern portion of the building. The walls are of green veined Vermont marble, with heavily molded architraves of the same material around doors and windows. The ceiling is divided into Greek designs richly gilded. The large hall adjoining is 52×45 feet. Each wall is subdivided into three panels of white veined Italian marble, with a narrow border of pink Knoxville marble. The pilasters between each series are of one slab of richly veined Tennessee marble. The Roman Doric capitals are carved with the egg and dart motive. The exquisite veinings of the marbles in these apartments give a splendidly decorative effect. On one wall, for example, nature by some caprice has mottled the stone until it resembles onyx, running in all shades from buff to deep yellow. On the opposite side of the hall the veining runs in even sweeps, and the pieces of marble are so matched as to leave an unbroken pattern.
The staircase hall and the staircase itself are of pink Knoxville marble. This staircase is imposing in appearance, and the effect of space for utilitarian reasons is greater than in the staircase on the south. It occupies a semi-circular space thirty-six feet in diameter. On the level of the second landing are the G. A. R. rooms, and on the third floor there is a lobby 40×30 feet. This lobby is one of the most delicately colored bits of work in the entire building. The walls are in pink marble and the coffered ceiling is worked out in rosettes of delicate shell tint.
THE GENERAL PLAN
The general plan of the library by floors and stories is as follows:
Station department, receiving and unpacking rooms, with entrance of Garland place, bindery, cloak, and toilet rooms (in the center opening on court), three large stackrooms for public documents, rooms for patent records, bound newspapers, with reading-rooms, adjoining each. These rooms are most conveniently reached by the Randolph street entrance.
Entresol Floor—A half-story on the south end of the building.
This comprises cataloguing and janitors’ rooms. The stacking room floor and the Grand Army rooms are on the same level, but not connected. These are four large rooms, and the stacks are built three stories high in the center of the building.
The third story comprises the great reading-room, reference and public card catalogue rooms, periodical stackroom, and public study. In the northeast corner are two large rooms reserved for any contingencies which may arise. What is termed the mezzanine floor is in the top story, south end. This contains directors’ and committee rooms, reading-room for the art department, and the top of the periodical stack.
The scheme of finish adopted for the minor rooms of the library is in keeping with the air of substantial elegance which characterizes the entire building. Nearly all are wainscoted high with pink Knoxville marble, with marble jambs and architraves. The stuccoed ceilings are elaborately decorated in classic designs, and the colors run in light buff, deep red, and peacock blue. The furniture is in light American oak, plain and substantial, and carefully designed for their especial uses.
The directors’ rooms and committee rooms have walls of deep red with woodwork and furniture of very dark oak. The rooms of the librarian and secretary communicate directly with the delivery room, and may be reached from the lobby. Each consists of a suite of three rooms. The private offices are finished with a high wainscoting of East India mahogany, with verd antique marble base. The desks, chairs, and furniture of dark oak are probably the handsomest yet, purchased for offices in Chicago. Librarian Hild’s office has a beautiful mantel and grate finished in verd antique marble. There are handsome cabinets and cases for a small private library. The floor is richly carpeted.
While the new library is a gratifying success on architectural and decorative lines, use has nowhere been sacrificed to beauty. In speaking of the matter Azel F. Hatch, president of the library board, remarked:
- Owing to certain requirements with regard to the especial needs of a library building, and to the location of a library building, and to the location of rooms for the Grand Army, we were obliged to carefully plan the interior of the building before we could consider plans for the exterior. The library board, in consultation with its own architects and engineers, arranged the entire interior plans before advertising with the architects of the whole. We determined not to sacrifice utility and the convenience of the public for showy, decorative effects. It is my opinion that we have the most commodious and convenient library building in the world.
ARRANGEMENT OF STACKROOMS
The arrangement of the main stackrooms of the library is a triumph of skill. Books in any department of the library can be secured with the minimum expenditure of time and strength. The distance which an attendant must walk in delivering any book to a patron averages about half what it does in any other library. The average amount of time which will be consumed in obtaining any book over the delivery counter will be about three minutes, as against seven at the Boston library and five at the Congressional. The main stackrooms are situated in the center of the building, along the Michigan avenue front. They are arranged in three stories, the middle being on the level of the delivery-room floor. On the story of stacks directly back of the counter in the delivery-room and about twelve or fifteen steps distant will be kept 75 per cent of the books called for for home reading. The stacks are constructed of sheet steel, with glass floors between the stories. The shelves for folio volumes, bound newspapers, and such large books are mounted on rollers and can be drawn out at a light touch, saving the covers of the volume and the strength of the attendants.
Stackrooms for patent records and bound newspapers are on the ground floor, connecting with the reading-rooms of these departments. The book lifts are all operated by electricity. The station department is situated on the ground floor, and is furnished with every convenience for dispatching books to the fifty substations in the city. Telephones and pneumatic tubes connect this department with the delivery-room. A patron of the library returning a book to the general library when it was taken out at a substation can return it either in the delivery-room or the station department, as is most convenient. Another important department, the bindery, is accommodated with plenty of space. About fifty books a day are turned over to this hospital for sick volumes. They receive skillful treatment, often recovering, to save extra expenditure to the taxpayers for a long time. Another apartment which will prove a great comfort to many patrons of the library is a study-room for special investigators. Any one doing serious literary work can go into this quiet room, write, and consult works undisturbed by the coming and going of the general readers. Books can here be reserved for several days at a time.
The building is furnished with a telephone system of its own, and every department is thus connected with every other department. There are twenty-four of these stations, and three public stations. The elevator service is perfect, both for the convenience of the public and the employes. The building has been erected at a total cost of $3,000,000. This includes everything. No imitation materials have been used in any part of the building. All is of substantial marble, iron, oak, and bronze. The mechanical equipment is very complete. The building has special heating, lighting, and ventilating appliances of its own. There is a private telephone exchange; the dozens of electric clocks throughout the building are controlled by the master clock over the switchboard in the engine-room. The average cost of the structure per cubic foot of space inclosed has been 48 cents.
The architects for the building have been the firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. They have erected a number of libraries in other places and their work is well known over the entire country. Their sympathies lean toward the Romanesque and semi-Byzantine styles, and, perhaps, their most admired public buildings have been along those lines. They have also built a good deal in the Elizabethan or late Tudor style. Among their best known buildings are the Art Institute of Chicago, Constant and Perkins halls at Harvard university, Leland Stanford, Jr., university at Palo Alto, Cal., Warder library, Springfield, Ohio.
The success of the library enterprise has depended largely upon the individual and united efforts of the members of the library board, and on Frederick Hild, the librarian. The amount of time and labor expended has been very great. No stone has been left unturned in the public interest and the board has given to the work even more careful consideration than usually goes to private affairs.
The members of the board at the present time are Azel F. Hatch, president; Robert S. McCormick, vice president; Severt T. Gunderson, James W. Hedenberg, John M. Van Osdel, John R. Hamilton, Frederick H. Herbold, Jacob Franks, Otto W. Lewke, William H. Wickersham, secretary; Frederick H. Hild, librarian. To Dr. Emil G. Hirsch, until recently a member of the board, and to the late Bernard Moos, many thanks are due for their untiring efforts toward the perfection of the Chicago Public Library. Nicholas Weydert, who has represented the library board throughout the construction of the building, has performed efficient and valuable work. The entire system of heating, lighting, and ventilating has been under his supervision. The plans for the convenience of the interior are mainly his. He was employed by the board in making drawings before the architects’ bids were made, and has thus been engaged on the work of the new library longer than any other of the architects, artists, and engineers.
The Chicago Public Library will be formally opened on Oct. 9. The public are invited to inspect the building Sept. 13, 14, 15, and 16. After that date it will be closed till Oct. 9 to permit the removal and arrangement of the books.
In speaking of the resources and future plans of the library Librarian Hild said:
- One of the new features of the library, and one of first importance, is the card catalogue which the public will find near the reading and reference rooms in the new buildings. If there has been a serious complaint about then library it is that our card catalogue has not been open to the public. We were obliged, having only the one, and that on thin cards, to restrict its use to attendants. The real key to the library is that author and subject catalogue. For the last four years we have been having a public author and subject catalogue made. It has been a great work and the author and title part is now ready. Any investigator coming to the library can find his books by the author catalogue, provided he is acquainted with the writers on that subject. If he is not familiar with authors he can take the title and subject catalogue and find all the works we have on the topic.
How much is the total cost?
- About 50,000 when it is complete. Catalogues of this sort are of recent use comparatively. The British museum, for example, has only an author catalogue, so that a general reader is completely at a loss and the great treasures of the museum are wholly inaccessible to him.
The cards are arranged on metal rods in trays. There are 508 of them, with 1,000 cards to the tray. These trays if placed in line would reach 250 yards. The color scheme of the catalogue is as follows:
- Author and Title cards, white
Biographical cards, blue
Bibliographical cards, buff
Subject cards, salmon
Genealogical cards, white with a red line on the upper edge
The force of employes of the library, Mr. Hild says, will be increased from 120 to 150, the extra number being mainly in the engineering department and the substations. There are thirty-one substations at present and the number will be increased to fifty. More than half the circulation of the library is through these stations. Books are delivered to them twice a day.
There are six branch reading rooms distributed in the various parts of the city as follows:
- No. 134 Thirteenth street
No. 3841 State street
No. 21 Blue Island avenue
No. 510 West Madison street
No. 381 Clybourn avenue
No. 1204 Milwaukee avenue
These are fitted up with a small library of about 1,000 volumes, standard works of fiction and books of reference predominating. The newspapers and a dozen of the best magazines are kept on file.
The library now has 225,000 volumes. Probably 25,000 will be added immediately after the moving from the city hall. The library has been so cramped for space that purchases have been light for some time. An appropriation of $35,000 for the purchase of books has been made.
The great specialty of the Chicago Public Library, in which it has no rival in the United States, is periodical literature., This one department alone is of priceless value to students. After that it is particularly strong in Americana, the drama, architecture and art, government documents and state papers, costumes, and folklore, and the representative works of foreign literature.
There is a large collection of books for the blind and a special reading-room for these has been set apart in the new building.
The Chicago Public Library has a larger circulation than any other public library in the United States and the second largest in the world. The last annual report shows a total circulation of 1,771,404 volumes. From 4,000 to 5,000 wear out annually. Fifteen Chicago newspapers are kept on file. The library will have an annual income of $240,000. It is expected the net increase in books from now on will be 20,000 volumes annually.
Scenes of the Interior and Decorations in Chicago’s New Public Library
September 12, 1897
April 30, 1892
Andrew Rebori’s proposed 64 story addition to the Chicago Public Library in 1938.
WWII and the rationing of resources killed the project.
The Harold Washington Library Center opened on October 7, 1991; just two days prior of the 120th anniversary of the Chicago Fire.
Chicago Public Library
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
1 Favrile glass is a type of iridescent art glass developed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. He patented this process in 1894 and first produced the glass for manufacture in 1896 in Queens, New York. It differs from most iridescent glasses because the color is ingrained in the glass itself, as well as having distinctive coloring. Tiffany won the grand prize at the 1900 Paris Exposition for his Favrile glass.