Northwestern’s University and Deering Libraries

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.

Northwestern’s University Library is in the background.

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.

This is one of the archways at the front entrance to the Deering Memorial Library. I believe the designs include scenes from Aesop’s fables.

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.

This fireplace is in the Special Collections’ reading room. Read the two lines on the left together, and the two lines on the right together. Otherwise, it might sound like the library burns books!
This is the reading room of the Deering Memorial Library.

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.

This is the main entryway of the Deering Memorial Library, which includes a replica of the Guttenberg Press (I think to the right).

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.

I am assuming that this dictionary is still chained to the shelf as a tribute to the days before the internet, when a dictionary was still a valuable reference.

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. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Collection Highlights.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Conservation.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Leopold and Loeb Collection.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Northwestern Libraries.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Northwestern University.” U.S. News & World Report. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Spanish Civil War Collection.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Transportation Library.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Collection.” Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. (accessed January 9, 2021).

“Visual History Archive from the Shoah Foundation Institute: Home.” Northwestern University. (accessed January 9, 2021).

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Although the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was born in the state of Kentucky, Illinois is commonly called the “Land of Lincoln.”  In fact, even the Illinois license plate has this phrase on it, as well as a depiction of Lincoln’s head.  This is because Lincoln lived in Illinois longer than he did in any other state. 

In 2005, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum opened in Illinois’ state capital of Springfield.  Originally, it was the Illinois State Historical Library, which first began collecting materials regarding the history of Illinois in 1889.  Since this library had a large Abraham Lincoln collection, people and the state eventually raised enough funds to transform it into the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  However, despite its new name, it continues to collect non-Lincoln materials from Illinois history as well.

In 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt was the first U.S. President to donate his materials to the Federal Government specifically to create a presidential library.  Soon after that, it became mandatory for U.S. Presidents to do so.  Today, the U.S. National Archives runs the presidential libraries of Roosevelt, his predecessor Hoover, and every U.S. president after them.  A handful of earlier U.S. Presidents have their own presidential libraries, but these are all independently run by different groups, not the federal government.  The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is run by the state of Illinois.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum provides visitors with an interactive experience that makes the visit enjoyable to people who do not typically like museums.  For example, it includes a variety of lifelike dioramas from Lincoln’s life displayed throughout the Museum.  There is also a neat hologram movie that visitors can watch about Lincoln.  The Museum begins with Lincoln’s early years, continues through his careers as a clerk and lawyer, and eventually leads into his involvement with Illinois politics.  The second half of the Museum describes Lincoln’s presidential years, involvement in the U.S. Civil War, and eventual assassination.  Among the noteworthy items on display at the Museum are an original copy of the Gettysburg address, the quill pen Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, and the bloody gloves Lincoln wore at the time of his assassination.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library is a separate building across the street from the Museum.  As previously mentioned, it includes documents about Abraham Lincoln, but also has materials about the history of Illinois, including an oral history collection and useful resources for Illinois genealogists.  Additionally, the climate-controlled library building functions as the archives for the Museum, meaning that it also houses museum objects.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum recently joined the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI).  Since I used to work for another CARLI library member, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending two librarian events at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.  While there, I had a tour of their conservation lab, where they work on repairing documents, books, maps, etc.  The staff demonstrated how to wrap and carefully submerge stiff, rolled documents into water, in order to soften them up enough to eventually unroll them.  The staff also showed us the Museum’s archives, where we saw a few interesting items.  It fascinated me how they treated a jersey worn by a Chicago Blackhawks hockey player during a recent Stanley Cup win with the same amount of caution and precision as they did a handmade Civil War violin from 1863.

This encapsulation machine at the Abraham Lincoln Library’s conservation lab seals fragile documents between two strips of polyester film. The process only seals the edges of the polyester together, unlike lamination, which sticks the polyester onto the entire document. Since lamination uses heat, it causes more long-term damage and cannot be undone, whereas polyester can be removed from an encapsulated document.

If you have enough time in Springfield, you should also visit a few other Abraham Lincoln spots in the area.  The home that Lincoln lived in prior to his presidency is not far from the Museum.  It is owned by the National Park Service, which provides free 20-25 minute tours of the home daily (except during COVID-19, so take a virtual tour).  Also nearby is Lincoln’s large tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery.  Finally, about thirty minutes away is New Salem.  New Salem is a reconstruction of the small town that Lincoln lived in prior to living in Springfield.  It is now a living history museum, so you can walk inside the reconstructed log buildings while learning more about life in the town from the staff, who are dressed in nineteenth-century garb.  Interestingly, New Salem was reconstructed in the 1930s and early 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a governmental program that provided unemployed young men with jobs during the Great Depression.

Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield

Sources and Further Reading
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. (accessed October 3, 2020).

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. (accessed October 3, 2020).

“Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.” Visit Springfield Illinois. (accessed October 3, 2020).

“History.” Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. (accessed October 3, 2020).

“Lincoln Home.” National Park Service. (accessed October 3, 2020).

“Lincoln Home National Historic Site, National Park Service.” Google Arts & Culture. (accessed October 3, 2020).

“Lincoln Tomb.” Visit Springfield Illinois. (accessed October 3, 2020).

“Lincoln’s New Salem.” Historic Preservation Division. Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. (accessed October 3, 2020).

Perlman, Seth. “New Museum Brings All Sides of Abraham Lincoln to Life.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. April 17, 2005. (accessed October 3, 2020).

“Presidential Library History.” National Archives. (accessed October 3, 2020).“Virtual Tour.” Lincoln’s New Salem. (accessed October 3, 2020).