Founded in 1851 in Evanston, Illinois (a Chicago suburb), Northwestern University ranks among the top universities in the United States. In the tradition of all great universities, Northwestern has an amazing library system of over six million electronic and print resources. The main library building, University Library, was built in 1970, although it is connected to the original 1933 library, the Charles Deering Memorial Library. In addition to the main library complex, Northwestern also has a few other libraries (e.g. a law library, a theological library, etc.) located at its main Evanston campus and its other campuses. Since I have only visited the University Library/Deering Library, this post will only be about that.
The University Library is a huge five-story building. There are computers and public spaces on the first two floors, and even a café. Additionally, the second floor has a nice study space area that overlooks both a campus pond and Lake Michigan. However, finding your way into that space, as well as most other areas in the library, can be difficult. The Library is somewhat like a maze. Once you enter the library stacks, where the books are, the situation does not improve much. Most of the books are in circular rooms, making it hard to tell where the entrances and exits are. Each circular room is dedicated to a different subject. For instance, one room is solely dedicated to history, so all of the books’ spines are labeled in the 900s range of the Dewey Decimal classification system, whereas another room is solely dedicated to literature, etc. To make matters more confusing, I noticed that the newer books are being categorized in the Library of Congress classification system, while the older books are still in the Dewey Decimal system. The fifth floor of the library houses two specialized collections: the Transportation Library and the Melville J. Herskovitz Library of African Studies.
The University Library connects to the Deering Library from the third floor, and I think from the main floor as well (but I cannot remember if this 100% true). This beautiful building houses the Music collection (in scary windowless rooms), the Art collection, and the McCormick Library of Special Collections and University Archives. I tried to visit the Special Collections the last time I was at the Deering Library, but unfortunately, the old building was plagued with water damage, so the collections were temporarily moved elsewhere. However, I did see the Special Collections reading room. The Special Collections apparently houses the Leopold and Loeb Collections (see my post about Rosehill Cemetery to learn more about them), the Manzanar Relocation Camp Collection (a Japanese internment camp in the U.S. during WWII), a Spanish Civil War collection, and many other collections. Although I was not able to see any items from the Special Collections, a friendly librarian did give my friends and I a tour of the University Archives. That collection is solely dedicated to the history of Northwestern University.
One time, a coworker and I needed to learn more about mold control and conservation efforts for books at our library, so we contacted Northwestern University’s conservation lab. The staff there were amazing. They invited us to their lab, which is in the lower level of the University Library, and gave us a tour. They then gave us pointers on how to best take care of our old books. The goal of conservation is to increase a book’s lifespan for as long as possible. While we were at the lab, we witnessed someone slowly removing tape from a book using heat, because adhesive residue from tape can eventually cause damage to paper. We also saw someone removing photos from an old scrapbook for the same reason. Damaged books from both the circulating collections as well as the special collections are ultimately sent to the conservation lab for repairs. As I watched a staff member try to restore an old book, I realized that a conservationist needs to have both patience and artistic skills in order to succeed.
Because it is an interest of mine, I would like to note that the University Library is one of two sites in the state of Illinois that provides people with access to the 52,000 video testimonies about the Holocaust conducted by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation from 1994-1999. The other Illinois site is Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Illinois, although the library at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie does provide visitors with access to the 2,000 testimonies conducted in the United States’ Midwest. Included in the full database that is accessible at Northwestern are the testimonies of people from other genocides as well, such as the Armenian Genocide, the Nanjing Massacre in China, and the Rwandan Genocide.
Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, the University Library is not functioning as it normally would. However, during normal times, visitors can receive guest passes at the front entrance.
Sources and Further Reading
“Carmel Catholic High School.” USC Shoah Foundation. https://sfi.usc.edu/archive_sites/carmel-catholic-high-school (accessed January 9, 2021).
“Collection Highlights.” Northwestern University. https://www.library.northwestern.edu/libraries-collections/mccormick-library/collection-highlights/index.html (accessed January 9, 2021).
“Conservation.” Northwestern University. https://www.library.northwestern.edu/about/administration/preservation-conservation/conservation.html (accessed January 9, 2021).
“Leopold and Loeb Collection.” Northwestern University. https://findingaids.library.northwestern.edu/repositories/7/resources/6 (accessed January 9, 2021).
“Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies.” Northwestern University. https://www.library.northwestern.edu/libraries-collections/herskovits-library/ (accessed January 9, 2021).
“Northwestern Libraries.” Northwestern University. https://www.northwestern.edu/research-nu/northwestern-libraries.html (accessed January 9, 2021).
“Northwestern University.” U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/northwestern-university-1739 (accessed January 9, 2021).
“Spanish Civil War Collection.” Northwestern University. https://findingaids.library.northwestern.edu/repositories/7/resources/654 (accessed January 9, 2021).
“Transportation Library.” Northwestern University. https://www.library.northwestern.edu/libraries-collections/transportation/ (accessed January 9, 2021).
“USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Collection.” Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. https://www.ilholocaustmuseum.org/pages/learn/the-brill-family-resource-center/usc-shoah-foundation-visual-history-collection/ (accessed January 9, 2021).
“Visual History Archive from the Shoah Foundation Institute: Home.” Northwestern University. https://libguides.northwestern.edu/VHA (accessed January 9, 2021).