Chicago History Fair Research Guide

What is the Newberry Library?

The Newberry is an independent research library focused on the humanities. The library does not circulate (check out) materials outside of the building, everything is viewed onsite in either the General Collections Reading Room or Special Collections Reading Room.

  • You must be 14 years old or in high school to do research at the Newberry. If you are under 14, you can email and we will do our best to help through email.
  • Reading Room Hours: Tuesdays-Saturdays 10-4. We stop retrieving materials one hour before we close at 3pm.
  • The Newberry is a research library, no materials may leave the building.
  • Collection materials are stored in a separate building and are not browsable in person. To see what we have visit the online catalog and modern manuscripts catalog.
  • You do not need to make an appointment (unless otherwise specified for certain collections), but it helps to send an email to at least a week ahead of your visit so we can suggest sources and make sure the Newberry is the best place for your topic
  • Everyone who visits the reading rooms in person to look at materials needs to have a reader’s card.
  • The Newberry might have more rules than your public or school library, for more information visit How a Non-Circulating Library Works.

How do I get a reader’s card?

  • To get a reader’s card, show a valid photo ID and proof of your current address in the Newberry’s Welcome Center

For more information on using the Newberry visit Use the Collection in Person

What does the Newberry have?

How do I get started?

The Newberry has a vast collection of Chicago history materials, both primary and secondary sources. Before beginning your research at the Newberry, you will need to have some background information on your topic (for example, names, dates, locations, etc). Below is a list of resources to get you started.

Electronic Resources

  • Encyclopedia of Chicago. This is a free electronic encyclopedia of all things Chicago history.
  • African American Communities This resource presents multiple aspects of the African American community through pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals, correspondence, official records, reports and in-depth oral histories.
  • Chicago History The magazine of the Chicago History Museum, publishes articles on various aspects of the history of Chicago: cultural, political, economic, social, architectural, and other topics. Chicago History has been published continuously since 1945, and in its current form since 1970.
  • Digital Collections for the Classroom. This is a free source that includes primary source images from the Newberry’s collections selected by educators, with essays and discussion questions for use in the humanities classroom.
  • Chicago Tribune Historical Archive (1849-1995). This is a subscription database available at several institutions including the Newberry and Chicago Public Library. To use the database at the Newberry you must be in the building. If you have a CPL card, you can use this database from anywhere.
  • Chicago Defender Historical Archive (1909-1975). This is a subscription database, available at Newberry and Chicago Public Library. To use the database at the Newberry you must be in the building. If you have a CPL card, you can use this database from anywhere.
  • Chicago Biography and Industry File. An index to over 48 volumes, published between 1876 and 1937, containing industrial and biographical sketches. Some items are available for free electronically and some are only available to view in the library.
  • Explore Chicago Collections. Explore Chicago Collections lets researchers, teachers and students search many locations at once. This unified search lets you locate thousands of archival collections and digital images at member institutions all over the Chicago area.
  • Chicago Public Library’s Chicago History Page. This guide provides access to the Chicago History Blog, Chicago Timeline, Chicago Facts, and other helpful resources.

Print Resources:

  • Chicago: A Chronological & Documentary History: 1784-1970.  Furer, Howard B., ed. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1974. Newberry Library Call Number:  Chicago Browsing F 548.3 .F87 (2nd Floor)
  • Chicago: Its History and Its Builders. Currey, J. Seymour. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1912. Newberry Library Call Number: Chicago Browsing F 548.3 .C97 (2nd Floor)
  • Ethnic Chicago: A Multicultural Portrait. Holli, Melvin G. and Peter d’Alroy Jones, eds. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1995. Newberry Library Call Number: Chicago Browsing F 548.9 A1  E85 1995 (2nd Floor)
  • Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary. Schultz, Rima Lunin and Adele Hast, eds. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. Newberry Library Call Number: Local History Ref HQ 1549 .C47 W66 2001 (2nd Floor)
  • All of the works listed above are available on the open shelf in the General Reading Room on the second floor of the Newberry. You don’t need to place requests to view these materials. They are also available at the Chicago Public Library, be sure to check their catalog for availability.

How do I ask for help?

  • You can email or click on the Ask a Librarian link on our website
  • We have reference librarians available in person during reading room hours, just ask at the reading room desks.
  • It helps us to know what work you have already done on your topic: what other libraries you have already visited, what resources you have already found, and what you are hoping to find next.

What else should I know?

When you view an item in the library, there usually isn’t any context for that item provided and it is up to you to figure out what it says and how it can help with your research. Before you visit the Newberry, make sure you know:

  • The difference between a primary and secondary source. This may help: Skills Lesson: Types of Sources.
  • The various types of formats you may be looking at, such as manuscripts, maps, or ephemera.
  • Is the item handwritten and can you read handwriting?
  • Is the item in another language and can you read that language?
  • Look over the online catalog records carefully as they may help to provide some context for the items.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. It can take longer than you think to speak with a librarian, place requests, and read through the materials. Sometimes you may have to look through sources that are not helpful, as well as those that are helpful. That is the research process.
  • Arrive before 3pm. We stop retrieving materials one hour before we close, even if you placed your requests before 3pm.