University of Chicago: Regenstein & Mansueto Libraries

The University of Chicago (not to be confused with the University of Illinois in Chicago) was ranked the 6th best National University in the United States in 2019.  Founded in 1890, this prestigious university is known for graduating Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners, as well as employing famous faculty who have made important contributions to their fields.  Additionally, Barack Obama taught at the University’s law school from 1992-2004, before he became U.S. President.

The University of Chicago has several libraries, such as a law library, math library, and archaeology library.  I believe that the current science library, the John Crerar Library, was the University’s first library. Additionally, although I have not visited it, I was told that the William Rainey Harper Memorial Library has an amazing reading room reminiscent of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books.

Currently, the main library at the University of Chicago is the Joseph Regenstein Library, which has five floors and two basement levels.  The photo on the main page of my blog was taken from this amazing library’s stacks.  I had never seen so many books in my life.  Just walking through the library gave me an exhilarated feeling, and reminded me of how much knowledge there is in the world, but how little of it a human mind can actually obtain and retain.

In 2011, the University completed an addition to the Regenstein Library, called the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.  Because the University of Chicago is one of the largest research libraries in the United States, they do not weed (get rid of) their books to make room for more, meaning that they have accumulated several million books.  With limited real estate in Chicago, the University needed to find more space for them.  That is why the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library was built.  However, the majority of it is underground.

Below are photos of the outside and inside of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library. The area located above the ground houses a bright reading room, as well as conservation and digitization labs. The glass has three layers, which blocks out 99% of the sun’s ultra-violet light.

When I visited the conservation lab, a conservator was working on a 50-pound music book from Spain dating to the 1600s.

Since I visited the Mansueto Library with a librarian group, we were given the opportunity to visit the lower levels of the building, which are not open to the public. The two underground levels house a total of approximately 3.5 million books and journals that have historically not been used or checked out often. They are stored in high-ceiling rooms reminiscent of a hardware store such as Menards, with towering rows of bins filled with books in each “aisle.” If someone wants an item housed in this area, all he or she needs to do is request it from the library’s catalog. Within five minutes, a robot retrieves the correct bin containing the book, and brings it up to the librarian upstairs. This is called an Automated Storage and Retrieval System. Only a handful of libraries in the world have this system. The room housing the books is climate-controlled and, thus, also stores the University’s rare books and special collections. If a fire should ever occur down there, the air is supposed to suck out of the room, theoretically putting out the fire. This prevents the need for a sprinkler system that could ruin the books, but also means that humans would need to leave the premises immediately.

The University of Chicago’s library system is the 9th largest academic library in North America, and the 19th largest library in the United States (The Library of Congress is #1, and two other Chicago libraries rank higher: Chicago Public Library is #5 and University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign is #6.).

Since I visited the library with a librarian group, I am not sure how easy it is for visitors to enter the library.  I believe that university students at other schools do not have much trouble if they show their student I.D., however, the Library’s website is vague about non-student visitors.  You should probably check with them ahead of time if you plan to visit.

Although the Regenstein Library’s architecture looks bleak (building in the foreground), it contains a treasure trove of books. It is located on the University of Chicago’s original football field, which was the site of the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction on December 2, 1942. This monument commemorates the event.

Sources and Further Reading

“About the University of Chicago Library.” The University of Chicago Library. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/about/thelibrary/ (accessed January 11 2019).

“History.” The University of Chicago. https://www.uchicago.edu/about/history/ (accessed January 11 2019).

“The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.” The University of Chicago Library. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/mansueto/ (accessed January 11 2019).

“The Largest Libraries in the U.S.” Infoplease. https://www.infoplease.com/arts-entertainment/literature-and-books/largest-libraries-us (accessed January 11 2019).

“Libraries and Museums.” The University of Chicago. https://collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/libraries-and-museums (accessed January 11 2019).

“National University Rankings.” U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities (accessed January 11 2019).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s