The Chicago Public Library Turns 140

Happy 140th Birthday to the Chicago Public Library! Chicago is a great library city and the development of three of its most prominent and complementary libraries is intertwined.

On January 1st, 1873, the Chicago Public Library opened its doors at the southeast corner of LaSalle and Adams streets for the first time. The library was created following the great Chicago Fire when A.H. Burgess of London proposed an “English Book Donation” as a “mark of sympathy now, and a keepsake and a token of true brotherly kindness” toward Chicago. The Board of the Chicago Public Library elected Dr. William Frederick Poole as its first librarian. Poole went on to also become the first Librarian of the Newberry Library..

The Newberry’s establishment in 1887 came about because of a provision in the will of Chicago businessman Walter L. Newberry (1804-1868), for the foundation of a “free, public” library on the north side of the Chicago River.

Businessman John Crerar (1827–1889) also left a portion of his estate as an endowment for a free public library in the south division of the city.

In 1897, an agreement between the Chicago Public Library, the new John Crerar Library and the Newberry divided library specialization to allow each library to focus on building collections with a specific purpose. The Newberry grew as a research library, open to the public, with a focus on the humanities. The John Crerar Library developed as a public research library for the sciences. And the city’s great circulating library, the Chicago Public Library, continues to “welcome and support all people in their enjoyment of reading and pursuit of lifelong learning.”

Note that of the three, only the Chicago Public Library is part of the city’s library system. All of these institutions are, however, open to the public. Be sure to visit their websites for admission information, restrictions and procedures.

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