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 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.
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