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).

Polish Museum of America

If you live in Chicago, you may have heard people say that Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw, Poland.  Chicago’s radio station, WBEZ, investigated this claim in 2015.  Although it is not completely true, there are elements of truth to it.  According to WEBZ, the largest Polish populations outside of Poland can be found in London, New York City (which was only recently surpassed by London), and Chicago.  However, if the suburbs are considered, then Chicago does rank as having the largest Polish population outside of Poland (not second to Warsaw though).  One reason why Chicago has such a significant Polish population is because Poles have been moving to the area since the 1850s.

The Polish Museum of America, in Chicago, focuses on preserving Chicago’s Polish history.  It was founded in 1935 as the “Museum and Archives of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America,” and merged with the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America’s Polish library, which was founded in 1912.  Today, the Polish Museum of America is part of the Chicago Cultural Alliance, a consortium of ethnic and cultural museums in the Chicago area.

When you arrive at the Polish Museum of America, you have to pay for your ticket at the gift shop.  When I visited, the kind staff member there asked me if I was a student.  After I said no, she told me that she would still give me a discount because I looked like a student! As soon as I paid for my ticket, I joined a tour of the museum in the exhibit area upstairs.  I highly recommend joining the free tours, because otherwise, it might be confusing to figure out how the displays are connected to each other.  The tour also provides a helpful overview of Chicago’s Polish history.

Interestingly, one of the first major collections added to the museum were items Poland sent to represent itself at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  Because of the outbreak of WWII in 1939, these items could not return to Poland after the Fair ended, so the Polish Museum of America took them.

My favorite exhibit at the Polish Museum of America is the Paderewski Room.  Ignacy Jan Paderewski was the third Prime Minister of Poland, in 1919, and was also a pianist and composer.  He was living in New York when he died in 1941, so some of his personal items were donated to the Polish Museum of America afterwards.  Today, the items are displayed in a beautifully decorated room that tells the history of Paderewski.  It includes his Steinway piano and the pen he used to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

If you visit the Polish Museum of America, be sure to visit the library there.  The entrance to it is separate from the entrance to the museum, although they are both located in the same building.  The library allows people to borrow many of its 100,000 books, most of which are written in Polish.  The library also houses the Polish Genealogical Society of America, making it a great place to do genealogical research in the U.S. if you have a Polish background.

One of the biggest legacies that Chicago’s Polish population has left on Illinois was creating Casimir Pulaski Day.  Casimir Pulaski was a Polish nobleman who came to help George Washington in the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s.  He died from injuries following a battle in 1779.  In the 1970s, Chicago’s Polish community requested the creation of a holiday in honor of him, on the first Monday in March.  By 1985, Casimir Pulaski Day became a statewide holiday, meaning that many Illinois public schools and businesses would close on that day.  Apparently, in 2012, Chicago Public Schools stopped closing on Pulaski Day.  Nevertheless, many still observe the holiday in Illinois.

Not only did the Polish community successfully name a holiday after Pulaski, but an important street in Chicago is also named after him.  However, I do not believe Pulaski’s fame reaches beyond the United States.  One time I asked some new Polish immigrants if they had ever heard of Casimir Pulaski, and they said no.

I would like to mention one more thing about WBEZ’s 2015 investigation regarding Chicago’s Polish population.  It stated that a large percentage of New York City’s Poles are Jewish, whereas most of Chicago’s Poles are Catholic. This is significant, because most Polish Jews probably do not take pride in being from Poland, whereas most Polish Catholics do.  The two groups are not very connected to each other.  In fact, I found it interesting that at the Polish Museum of America, I only found one reference to Polish Jews, even though, prior to the Holocaust, Jews made up a huge percentage of Poland’s population, and Polish Jews did come to Chicago.  Despite this, I recently had the opportunity of seeing the Polish Jewish and Catholic worlds combine.  In 2019, I went to a screening of the 2017 film The Zookeeper’s Wife at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois. The film is about a Polish woman who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.  After the film finished, the man sitting next to me told me that his father, Zbigniew Sciwiarski, rescued 6 Jews during WWII, and was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal by Israel. What a privilege to have sat by this particular man during the film, and how beautiful that he chose to form a relationship with the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

Due to the efforts of Zbigniew Sciwiarski’s son, his deceased father has a memorial plaque at the Illinois Holocaust Musem in Skokie, Illinois.

Other Chicago Cultural Alliance Members that I have written about so far include:

Sources and Further Reading
“About Library.” The Polish Museum of America. (accessed December 5, 2020).

“About PMA.” The Polish Museum of America. (accessed December 5, 2020).

“Core Members.” Chicago Cultural Alliance. (accessed December 5, 2020).

Dukes, Jesse. “Can Chicago Brag about the Size of Its Polish Population?” WBEZ. (accessed December 5, 2020).

Greene, Nick. “What Is Pulaski Day?” Mental Floss. (accessed December 5, 2020).

Mansur, Sarah. “Risked His Life to Save Others.” Chicago Daily Law Bulletin 164 (18). January 18, 2018. (accessed December 5, 2020).

Pacyga, Dominic A. “Chicago.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005. (accessed December 5, 2020).

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).

University of Saint Mary of the Lake’s Feehan Memorial Library

One of the most beautiful libraries that I have ever visited was the Feehan Memorial Library at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois (about an hour’s drive north of Chicago).  Built in 1929, and inspired by sixteenth-century Italian palaces, the architecture of the library may not be the most practical, but it is definitely gorgeous.  The McEssy Theological Resource Center, which was a 2004 addition to the library, is not as classical in appearance as the main building, but it is also beautiful.  The library contains approximately 200,000 volumes and specializes in theological resources.

The University of Saint Mary of the Lake is a Catholic seminary that trains men to become priests.  Originally founded in 1844, it closed in 1866, due to financial difficulties.  However, Archbishop (later Cardinal) George Mundelein helped push for its 1924 reopening, and ultimately influenced the Illinois village where the school was located to be named after him. In 1926, the new University was one of the hosts for the 28th Eucharistic Congress in 1926, which is when Catholics from around the world gather together to perform Communion. Today, the Univeristy of Saint Mary of the Lake has approximately 150 seminarians, but 1000 students total in all of its programs (both part-time and full-time).

The Feehan Memorial Library has little spiral staircases between the different levels, in addition to an elevator.

In the McEssy Theological Resource Center, there is a hidden museum.  Visitors must specifically make an appointment if they would like to see it.  This museum includes a large variety of objects, many of which were from Cardinal Mundelein’s personal collection.  Included in this museum are old European furniture, Catholic religious items, and even the first serial editions of Charles Dickens’ books.

McEssy Theological Resource Center

The University of Saint Mary of the Lake offers architectural tours of the campus upon request.  However, visitors are welcome to visit the campus on their own as well.  The campus has beautiful buildings, a picturesque lake, and a trail surrounding the lake.  Because the university is religious in nature, people are asked to dress conservatively upon visiting.  The University also offers housing for those interested in hosting a retreat there.

There are bees on the Feehan Memorial Library’s ceiling because bees are part of the Barberini family’s coat of arms. The Barberini family helped sponsor Cardinal Mundelein’s education.

If you live in the area and need a quiet place to study, the University of Saint Mary of the Lake is definitely a worthwhile place to visit, both in its library and outside of it.

Sources and Further Reading

Chicago Catholic. “1926 Eucharistic Congress Brings ‘Sense of Wonder.’ Chicago Catholic. September 6, 2017. (accessed August 8, 2020).

“History of University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary.” University of Saint Mary of the Lake. (accessed August 8, 2020).

“Library History.” Feehan Memorial Library and McEssy Theological Resource Center. October 9, 2019. (accessed August 8, 2020).

Allen County Public Library

The largest research library focused on genealogy in the entire world is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.  However, the second largest genealogy library in North America is the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Both libraries are open to the public for free, however, the first is a private, Mormon library, while the second is a public library.

This is the main hallway of the Allen County Public Library.

The Allen County Public Library functions like most public libraries, in that it has popular books, DVDs, etc. available for the local community to borrow.  However, one large section on the second floor of the library houses the genealogy collection, which does not circulate, meaning that you can only use its resources inside the library, and not take them home.

The library has a large DVD collection for the local community, organized like a Barnes and Noble.

When you walk into the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library, you are greeted by several librarians sitting at a desk.  They are specially trained to assist patrons with genealogy research.  When I visited the library, I went to the desk, and a librarian provided me with a basic orientation of the Genealogy Center.  This means that she explained to me the layout of the collection, provided me with a map, and gave me brochures related to the places where my family originated.  These brochures listed helpful resources to get me started on researching specific topics of interest.  The librarian also provided me with a temporary password so that I could log into any of the research computers and access the genealogy databases.

The Genealogy Center’s website recommends that you do some preliminary research before visiting.  For example, they recommend that you visit their website,, to see what resources they may have on your topic, thus saving you some time upon your visit.  Additionally, the Genealogy Center’s website provides some orientation videos that you can watch ahead of time:

The Genealogy Center’s collection includes books, microfiche (newspapers, books, etc. compressed into rolls or slides of film that can only be read using a microfiche reader), videos, and databases.  The majority of the collection focuses on United States history.  However, there is also a significant amount of resources focused on other countries, since the United States’ population has historically been made up of immigrants from all over the world.  The library’s databases are only available inside the library, but are free to use, and include and numerous newspaper databases.

The Genealogy Center has a large reading room full of tables, where you can sit and research.  It also has microfiche readers and photocopiers that you can use to scan and copy pages from books.  When you are finished using a book, you are asked to place it on a cart, instead of putting it away yourself.  This not only ensures that the book is re-shelved correctly, but also helps the library keep usage statistics to see how often a resource has been used.

Since it is a public library, the Allen County Public Library has a children’s section.

The Allen County Public Library partners with the Internet Archive to scan print books and place them online.  What that means is that if a library wants to work with the Internet Archive to digitize a lot of books in its collection, but is not located close to the Internet Archives’ headquarters in San Francisco, California, it can work with one of the Internet Archives’ partners instead.  For example, libraries located in the Midwestern United States that want to digitize their books with the Internet Archive would be assigned to work with the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, since that library is located closer to them than San Francisco is.

Any serious genealogist should definitely consider visiting the Allen County Public Library.

Sources and Further Reading

Allen County Public Library. (accessed May 30, 2020).

Genealogy Center. (accessed May 30, 2020).

“Scanning Services Digitizing Print Collections with the Internet Archive.” Internet Archive. (accessed May 30, 2020).

“United States Archives and Libraries.” Family Search. (accessed May 30, 2020).

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. (accessed January 11 2019).

“History.” The University of Chicago. (accessed January 11 2019).

“The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library.” The University of Chicago Library. (accessed January 11 2019).

“The Largest Libraries in the U.S.” Infoplease. (accessed January 11 2019).

“Libraries and Museums.” The University of Chicago. (accessed January 11 2019).

“National University Rankings.” U.S. News & World Report. (accessed January 11 2019).

Library Detective Work

Instead of writing about a specific library or museum, today, I want to write about how librarians can sometimes do detective work.  I have had experience overseeing book donations and cataloging the books of an unprocessed library.  For both tasks, I have always tried to scout out any books that seem potentially significant.  I have done this by removing papers that are often inserted inside of books, or by inspecting older books, to see if there is anything noteworthy about them.  Several times, this has led to some fun finds, which have sometimes required further detective work.

My favorite book donation mystery was a Bible that I ended up opening, even though it did not look special on the outside.  Inside, I noticed a printed inscription by Franklin Roosevelt about the importance of the Bible, which was dated January 25, 1941.  It was clearly a mass-produced military Bible, but it was confusing, since the United States did not enter World War II until December of 1941.  This caused me to investigate further.  I then learned that the United States Army had several large drafts prior to its entry into WWII, because it knew that U.S. involvement in the War was imminent.  Of course, I had to contact the donor after I discovered this Bible.  Sure enough, the donors did have family who served in WWII.  They had not realized that the Bible was from WWII, so were excited to have it returned to them.

Another interesting donation mystery was solved by one of my colleagues.  As he was going through some donations, he noticed a military bookplate inside the front cover of a book.  After further investigation, he discovered that this particular bookplate meant that the book was once part of the many military libraries that the ALA (American Library Association) created for U.S. soldiers during World War I, both overseas and at military bases in the U.S.  This particular book dated to 1912, which means that it was new during WWI (1914 to 1918).

My final library detective story did not require that I investigate the provenance of a book that I was cataloging, but I did anyway, because that is what makes monotonous work (which cataloging can sometimes be) fun. 

The book that I was cataloging was volume 1 of The Jewish People, Past and Present, published by Jewish Encyclopedic Handbooks in 1946.  Inside this book, I found a letter.  Most of the time, the papers I find inside of books are receipts, bookmarks, or, sometimes, newspaper clippings.  Because this was a letter, I knew that I should read it before throwing it away, just in case it mentioned something significant in regards to the book that I was cataloging.  The letter’s envelope did not have a postage stamp, but did have a postmark that said, “Century of Progress World’s Fair Chicago 1933.”  (Chicago has hosted two World’s Fairs, one in 1893 and the other in 1933.)  Another postmark dated the envelope to “May 17, 1933.”  If the envelope was dated to 1933, that means that the recipient must have thought that his letter was worth saving, since he still had it by 1946, which is when the book that I found the letter in was written.

Overall, the contents of the letter were not particularly interesting.  In it, the writer explained how his business was doing well.  He then asked the recipient to let him know when his graduation was, so that he could try to attend.  I immediately came to the conclusion that this letter was from a father to his son away at college.  I then read the names on the envelope.  Both the sender and the recipient had the same last name, which confirmed my theory.  Furthermore, the sender had a Chicago address, while the recipient had a Champaign, Illinois address.  Since the University of Illinois is in Champaign, and since the sender mentioned a graduation, I guessed that the recipient was a college student there. 

The sender used his own personal letterhead, which said that he was an architect.  This piqued my interest, so I decided to expand my investigation to the internet.  Sure enough, the one search result for his name showed me that a house he built is currently for sale in Illinois.

I then proceeded to Google the recipient’s name.  The result was a University of Illinois graduation list from 1933, which showed that the recipient received a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture that year.  I then concluded that the recipient decided to become an architect because his father was one.

Searching the recipient’s name also brought me a link to the history of a Chicago-area synagogue.  Since I found the letter in a book about Jewish history, this did not surprise me.  I learned that one of the art pieces in the synagogue was dedicated in memory of the recipient, after he deceased, because he was a member of that synagogue.

Finally, my search led me to the 1930 United States census, which is freely accessible to the public, since all U.S. censuses become public after 70 years (next year, the 1950 census will be made public).  This final search showed me that the sender and recipient of the letter were actually brothers, not father and son!

Isn’t it amazing how much you can learn about strangers just from one letter?

Since this post includes war books, here is a photo of a 1943 book I found while cataloging. It mentions how books were made of poorer paper quality during WWII to help the war effort.

*November 29, 2019 Update: I was able to track down the grandson of the recipient of the 1933 letter and return it to him!

Sources and Further Reading

“1917.” American Library Association. (accessed November 16, 2019).

“Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, June 16, 1933, with Emergency Meeting of June 27, 1933.” University of Illinois Archives. (accessed November 16, 2019).

“United States Census, 1930.” (accessed November 16, 2019).

Rolfing Memorial Library

The Chicago area has many universities, both private and public.  Undoubtedly, all of them have interesting stories and materials.  Trinity International University is an example of one of them.  Located in Bannockburn, Illinois (a small suburb about 30 miles north of Chicago) since 1961, the University can trace its roots back to 1897.  During that time, Swedish immigrants, who were members of the Swedish Evangelical Free Church in Chicago, started a Bible school.  Eventually, this school merged with a Danish-Norwegian Evangelical Free Church’s Bible school.  Over the first half of the twentieth century, the university changed its name and location several times, and was even a part of Moody Bible Institute and Chicago Theological Seminary on different occasions.  Today, the University has over 2,000 students, although this number includes two other smaller campuses in California and Florida.

The university’s current library is called the Rolfing Memorial Library, and was built in 1974.  It was named in memory of James E. Rolfing, who was the son of the president of the Wurlitzer Company, which makes organs and pianos.  Sadly, James E. Rolfing died prematurely in an airplane crash, so his parents donated money to the library in memory of him (although, I do not know if he had any connection to Trinity).

The university’s archives is located in the library, and is named after Gleason Archer, who served as an Old Testament and Semitics professor at Trinity from 1965 to 1986.  His office was located where the archives are currently housed.  Archer knew at least eighteen languages and, according to his son-in-law, taught himself Egyptian hieroglyphs as a young boy.  Trinity has one of his typewriters, which typed in Greek.

Other interesting items in the archives include a signed copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first book, This Side of Paradise.  Because the book has library stampings in the front, it must have circulated in the library at one point, until someone realized its importance.  Additionally, the archives contains about 200 theological books, mostly written in Latin, and mostly dating from the seventeenth century.  Obviously, the archives also houses documents relating to the University’s history.  However, perhaps the papers that are of most interest to scholars are those of Carl F. H. Henry, the cofounder and first editor of the magazine, Christianity Today.  He taught as an adjunct professor at Trinity occasionally, and ultimately donated his papers there. 

My favorite items in Trinity’s archives are 11 unique book pages, mostly dating from the seventeenth century.  They originally came from the collection of Stanley Slotkin, but Trinity does not know how they obtained these book pages, which range from a musical score page, to a Hebrew and Greek commentary page, to a Quran page from 1207.  Interestingly enough, it appears as if the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History also has a page from this same Quran that Trinity has:

Stanley Slotkin was born in the U.S. to poor Russian-Jewish immigrants, but became wealthy by renting furniture to people, which was not a common practice in the 1930s.  With his wealth, he started several hobbies, which included collecting books and donating them to different libraries.  However, to ensure that many places could benefit from these donations, he disassembled the books and gave each page to a different place.  Clearly, archival practices have changed since then! 

Slotkin had other hobbies as well, such as funding peoples’ plastic surgeries.  After Slotkin funded his secretary’s plastic surgery on her nose, she found a husband soon afterward, so this inspired him to sponsor plastic surgeries regularly.  Additionally, Slotkin created the first blood bank in Israel during its war for independence in 1948, and also gifted different museums with stones from Bethlehem.  More information about this unusual man can be found in the links below.

One final noteworthy artifact at Trinity is a 500-year-old Torah scroll from Germany (meaning that it survived the Holocaust), which was donated to the school in 2014.  It is currently on display in the library.  A Torah consists of the first five books of the Bible, and is read on a weekly basis at the synagogue, so that the entire scroll is completed each year.  Trinity’s scroll was donated by Kenneth R. and Barbara Larson, a Christian couple who have been purchasing unkosher Torah scrolls (meaning that they cannot be used in a synagogue anymore due to various reasons), and donating them to Christian universities.  Trinity was the third recipient, of what has been 55 donations thus far. 

Although Trinity does not have an archivist, you can contact the friendly library staff to see if they can give you a tour:

Sources and Further Reading

“Archives and Special Collections.” Trinity International University. (accessed October 25, 2019).

“History & Heritage.” Trinity International University. (accessed October 25, 2019).

Oliver, Myrna. “Stanley Slotkin; Began Abbey Rents.” Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1997 (accessed October 25, 2019).

“Page from Koran.” National Museum of American History. (accessed October 25, 2019).

Stocker, Joseph. “He Gives People New Faces.” The Evening Independent, December 13, 1959.,2427726 (accessed October 25, 2019).

“Torah Recipients.” God’s Ancient Library. (accessed October 25, 2019).

“Trinity Receives Rare, 15th Century Torah Scroll.” Trinity International University Newsroom. (accessed October 25, 2019).

Assyrian War Memorial

My uncle enjoys estate sale shopping, so in 2016, when he was cleaning out his house in order to move, he came across many interesting items that he had acquired over the years.  One of those items included a booklet, bound in an unassuming, brown cover.  Inside this booklet, dated 1944 (the year before World War II ended), it says, “Assyrian Americans of Chicago who are serving in the armed forces of their country.  Assyrian National Association of Chicago, Inc.”  With the exception of a brief introduction to who Assyrians are, the rest of this booklet depicts black and white photos of Assyrian soldiers, listed in alphabetical order by last name.  My uncle knew that I would enjoy this book, so he gave it to me.  Ever since then, I have attempted to track down its history.

Because my uncle purchased the booklet from an estate sale, I assume that the estate sale must have been happening because one of the soldiers depicted in the book had died.  Unfortunately, I cannot confirm this guess, but I did learn other interesting facts about the book.  First of all, I tried to discover what became of the Assyrian National Association of Chicago.  I eventually learned that it was renamed the Assyrian American Association of Chicago, which does still exist.

As I continued digging, I learned that the Ashurbanipal Library, an Assyrian library belonging to another Assyrian organization, the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, did not own this book in its collection.  However, it owned multiple reprints of it.  This reprint edition was published in 1993 by the American Assyrian Amvet Post #5, in order to raise money for a war memorial in Elmwood Cemetery.  As I did more research, I found two Chicago Tribune articles about how one of the soldiers pictured in the book, John Hosanna, worked tirelessly to create this war memorial.  Unfortunately, Hosanna, who began the campaign in 1992, died a month before the memorial’s completion in 1997 (see

My research eventually led me to visit the Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.  This cemetery used to be an American Civil War post before it became a graveyard, so it now has some Civil War memorials.  An Assyrian Church eventually purchased plots in this cemetery.  Section 45 not only has the Assyrian War Memorial, but also contains numerous Assyrian graves, many of which have tombstones written in the Aramaic script, Syriac.  The majority of these graves date to the first half of the twentieth century.  (Most of the more recent Assyrian graves can be found at the Montrose Cemetery in Chicago, including the grave of the late Assyrian Church of the East patriarch, Mar Dinkha IV).

Graves with Syriac script in Elmwood Cemetery

Much research has been done on the history of different minority groups who served in World War II.  However, that is not generally the case for Assyrians.  For instance, most people do not know that the U.S. diplomat in Japan during World War II, Eugene Dooman, was Assyrian.  He grew up in Japan because his parents were Assyrian missionaries from Iran serving there.  Additionally, not many know about the Assyrian Levies from Iraq, who helped the British during World War II.  Since the British oversaw Iraq during that time, these Assyrians were some of the many men from British territories and colonies who fought in the British army during WWII.  Hopefully, more research will be done in the future, but in the meantime, we can be thankful for men like John Hosanna, who worked hard in preserving a bit of history.

Assyrian War Memorial in Elmwood Cemetery – River Grove, IL

Sources and Further Reading

“Assyrian AmVets Memorial.” The American Legion. (accessed October 12, 2019).

Borsky, Daniel. “Veterans Hope to Set Memories in Marble.” Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1996. (accessed October 12, 2019).

“Elmwood Cemetery and Mausoleum.” Dignity Memorial. (accessed October 12, 2019).

“Forest Park Cemeteries.” The Historical Society Forest Park. (accessed October 12, 2019).

“Our History.” Montrose Cemetery and Crematorium. (accessed October 12, 2019).

Peters, Lincoln R. Biak-Zambo: A Story of Two Soldiers. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2000.

Sclair, Helen. Encyclopedia of Chicago, s.v. “Cemeteries.” Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 2005. (accessed October 12, 2019).

Shavit, David. The United States in Asia: A Historical Dictionary. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Shoumanov, Vasili. Assyrian American Association of Chicago: 100 Years. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2018.

Zielinski, Graeme. “Last Chance for Immortality.” Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1998.      (accessed October 12, 2019).

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).