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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, http://www.genealogycenter.org/, 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: http://www.genealogycenter.org/Services/orientation.
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 Ancestry.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
*November 29, 2019 Update: I was able to track down the grandson of the recipient of the 1933 letter and return it to him!
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: https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_808673
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!
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: http://library.tiu.edu/archives
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 https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1998-04-05-9804050286-story.html).
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).
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.
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.
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.
Most people are familiar with the existence of public and university libraries, but did you know that many companies also have their own libraries? The John Deere & Company World Headquarters in Moline, Illinois is one of them. The library serves John Deere’s employees, both for their research as well as for their enrichment. Many of the library’s books are related to science and technology, however, the library also has business books, as well as books that make reference to John Deere & Company. Additionally, the library provides its employees with databases and other resources that can help them with their research.
its tractors, John Deere is the largest agricultural
machinery company in the world. However,
it was founded in 1837 (182 years ago), before the tractor was invented. The founder of the company was,
unsurprisingly, John Deere. Born in
Vermont in 1804, John Deere moved to Grand Detour, Illinois in 1836, which was
the western frontier of the United States at the time. Since blacksmiths were a dime a dozen in
Vermont, he decided to seek better opportunities in Illinois.
While working as a blacksmith in rural Illinois, Deere frequently heard famers complain about how their plows did not work well in the thick, Midwestern soil. Whereas iron plows worked well in New England, in the Midwest, the soil would stick to the plow, making it heavy and frequently in need of cleaning. Therefore, Deere experimented and ultimately created a plow that worked well, because it was finely polished and made of steel. As farmers started to realize how well Deere’s plows worked in comparison to other plows, Deere had to produce more plows for the growing demands. He eventually hired more staff and created his company. Ten years later, he moved from Grand Detour to Moline because the latter was closer to the Mississippi River, which meant that the plows could be shipped to other places outside of Illinois more easily.
Today, John Deere & Company still has its headquarters in rural
Moline, because that is the heart of the American Midwest, where the majority
of farming in the United States occurs.
Although the company no longer sells plows, it continues to create and sell
innovative farming tools, which is why the company has lasted for so long.
Who knew that one man’s attempts to improve a simple farming tool could leave such an impactful legacy? Not only does his company continue to serve famers in the United States and throughout the world today, but his invention was also instrumental in encouraging people to settle in the American Midwest in the first place.
Many people have heard about the Ancient Assyrians when learning about ancient civilizations in history class, or when reading the book of Jonah in the Bible. However, most people do not realize that there is a Christian, ethnic minority group in the Middle East that still identifies with this ancient civilization. Assyrians live in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. Although they speak the languages of their home countries, whether that be Arabic, Farsi, or Turkish, their mother-tongue and church liturgy is in Aramaic. Prior to Islam, Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Middle East. When Islam spread into the region, the Christian groups who refused to convert to Islam, also refused to replace their Aramaic language with the cognate language of Arabic.
Because of the instability and numerous wars in the Middle East within the last 100 years, Assyrians have been fleeing the Middle East in waves. The recent upheavals in Syria triggered the most recent wave.
Currently, Chicago has one of the largest Assyrian populations outside of the Middle East – at least 100,000 people. Because of this, Chicago also has many Assyrian organizations. One of the largest is the Assyrian Universal Alliance Foundation, which houses a library of approximately 8,000 books. These books range in topics from Assyrian history, Middle Eastern politics, and Aramaic dictionaries. The books do not circulate, and are in the process of being cataloged and made searchable online. However, visitors and researchers are still welcome to visit the library during its visiting hours: https://www.auaf.us/library/
The library is housed in the building below and is named after Ashurbanipal, an Ancient Assyrian king known for his extensive library of cuneiform tablets, where the Epic of Gilgamesh was found.
The neo-Aramaic dialects spoken by Assyrians today use a script called “Syriac.”
The Ashurbanipal Library contains many Syriac books including this book of religious poetry from 1577.