View on a young male student teaching a mature man in the library

Neighborhood News: Washington Square’s Newberry Library

View on a young male student teaching a mature man in the library

Quick quiz: What Chicago institution has “27.5 miles of shelving in the library stacks. And it’s still growing!” 

If you answered ‘The Newberry,’ 60 W. Walton, you’d be right!

Inquiring minds want to know. We want to help.”

The Newberry Website 

In the beginning…

The Newberry Library established in 1887 as the result of a bequest by Walter Loomis Newberry, an early Chicago resident and business leader involved in banking, shipping, real estate, and other commercial ventures, according to Wikipedia sources. Newberry died at sea in 1868, while on a trip to France. He included in his will a provision of funds for the creation of a “free public library” should his daughters die without heirs. They did, and so, following the death of Newberry’s widow, Julia Butler Newberry, in 1885, it was up to Newberry estate trustees William H. Bradley and Eliphalet W. Blatchford to bring the library to fruition.

To complement the Chicago Public Library, which had been established in 1872, the trustees decided to found a non-circulating reference library that would be free and open to the public.

A research library…and so much more!

The Newberry also offers a variety of exhibitions, meet-the-author lectures, continuing education classes, concerts, teacher programs, and other public programming related to its collections. Exhibitions have featured Daniel Burnham’s famous Plan of Chicago of 1909, artifacts of World War I, and a crowd-sourced aggregation of materials related to love, from heart-shaped Renaissance maps to early twentieth-century American sheet music.

In 2024, they’ll offer many more, including ‘A Night at Mister Kelly’s’ from March 21–July 20, where you can relive a night on the town in the mid-twentieth century. Mister Kelly’s was one of the hotspots of Chicago nightlife in the 1950s through the mid-1970s.

A Literary Paradise 

With more than 600 years of human history in Newberry’s reading rooms, exhibition galleries, classrooms, and event spaces, it is generally known that the Newberry Library ranks among the best research institutes in the world, but what is less well-known is that it relentlessly supports Chicago’s incredible literary heritage.

As the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame notes, “The Newberry figures in the lives of many Chicago writers, as well as their fictional creations. It is here that Henry DeTamble meets his future wife Clare Anne Abshire in Audrey Niffenegger’s bestselling novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. Clare, in her first-person narrative, says, “The library is cool and smells like carpet cleaner, although all I can see is marble.”

Finding your roots…

The Newberry is one of the leading centers for genealogy in the country. They provide access to a range of records, databases, and primary and secondary sources that will give you new leads to follow in search of your family history. On January 6, they’ll offer a class, ‘Genealogy 101: An Introduction to Genealogical Research’ at the Newberry from 9:30am–10:30am.

On vacation…back soon!

The Newberry will be closed December 23-25 and December 30-January 1 for the holidays. The reading rooms will also be closed December 26; however, the bookshop and exhibitions will be open. Never too late for last-minute holiday gifts! For more information, click here.

Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago