Chicago Public Libraries

The Chicago Public Library was founded in 1872, the year after the Great Chicago Fire, which destroyed most of the city.  After the conflagration, the people of England felt pity for Chicago, so they donated 8,000 books to the city.  Chicago, then, established a library, in order to store this generous donation.  Today, the Chicago Public Library is made up of 81 libraries, with the Harold Washington Library being the main branch.  Like other public services positions in the city of Chicago, the Chicago Public Library only hires Chicago residents as librarians.

Although most of the Chicago Public Library branches are tiny, they can all receive book requests from the main Harold Washington Library.  This nine-floor building was completed in 1991 and named after Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American mayor.  The Library includes a maker space with 3D printers, as well as thousands of books.  The top floor has a glass roof, and is primarily used for studying or special events such as weddings. 

Although the Chicago Public Library was founded in 1872, it did not find a permanent home until 1897.  Today, the former library is across the street from Millennium Park.  You can still see the words “Chicago Public Library” on it, but it is now known as the Chicago Cultural Center.  The Center offers free, guided tours of this beautiful building from Wednesdays through Saturdays at 1:15 PM.  This hour tour includes a detailed history of the Chicago Public Library, and is well worth your time.

The Chicago Cultural Center has the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome.

It also has some interesting quotes about books written by famous people.

However, many of the quotes seem out of context, such as this Hebrew quote of Isaiah 29:12:

Today, the Chicago Cultural Center hosts music concerts, movie screenings, weddings, and many other types of events.  Additionally, it has one of the few StoryCorps booths in the United States.  StoryCorps is a non-profit organization that allows average people to record their personal stories and add them to the archives of The American Folklife Center.  This latter group is a subdivision of the Library of Congress, and is focused on preserving the cultural history of the United States.

Sources and Further Reading

“About.” StoryCorps. (accessed October 5, 2019).

“Chicago Cultural Center – Architecture and History.” City of Chicago. (accessed October 5, 2019).

“CPL History.” Chicago Public Library. (accessed October 5, 2019).

“StoryCorps Collection (AFC 2004/001): Frequent Asked Questions.” The American Folklife Center. (accessed October 5, 2019).


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