The tourism collection includes  bounty of vintage Michigan travel brochures

The tourism collection includes a bounty of vintage Michigan travel brochures

Going to a library isn’t on the Top Ten list of things to see and do for most visitors to Chicago. But The Newberry, one of only 20 independent reference and research libraries in the country, is a destination for researchers, students, folks who are checking into their genealogical history as well as the just plain curious.

Chicago's Newberry Library was completed in 1893

Chicago’s Newberry Library was completed in 1893

The Newberry was established in 1887 with $2.2 million from the estate of Chicago businessman Walter Loomis Newberry, who specified that it be a free, public institution located on the north side of the Chicago River. The Newberry’s first librarian, William Frederick Poole, acquired 25,000 books in the first 18 months it was open, and oversaw the design and construction of the library’s fourth and permanent structure in the city’s Gold Coast neighborhood. The elegant, five-story pink granite Romanesque building opened in November 1893 on Washington Square, Chicago’s oldest park.

Rare access
The collection of more than two million books, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, brochures, advertisements, personal papers, sheet music and many other types of print materials focuses on the humanities. Among the rarities are Thomas Jefferson’s copy of The Federalist Papers and a First Folio edition of Mr. Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories & Tragedies that was printed in 1623.

3. Newberry journal_1257

Visitors can view rare manuscripts as well as personal items like a child’s scrapbook from the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago

Although they can’t be checked out, the items are accessible for study in reading rooms to anyone at least 16 years old or a high school junior. The materials are kept in climate-controlled stacks, and on request are retrieved by staff. Gloves and book rests are provided for handling delicate materials. There’s no charge to access the collection, but all researchers must have a Newberry Reader’s Card; they’re free and issued on the spot with proper identification.

Core subjects include music, religion, American Indian and Indigenous Studies, Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern Studies, American History and Culture, and Maps Travel, and Exploration. I had a chance to browse a sampling of travel-related literature, from tour guides and maps to trip journals and photographs, including a notebook by a young visitor to the 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition. Rail buffs would enjoy exploring the archives of the Pullman Company and the Illinois Central and Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroads.

Book Fair and more
The Newberry hosts programs, exhibitions and an annual book sale that supports the library and is a major event for bibliophiles. More than 120,000 donated, used books (plus CDs, posters and such), most of them priced at $2 or less, will be up for grabs at the 29th Annual Book Fair, Thursday-Sunday, July 25-28, 2013.

This September 125 specially selected items from the library’s collection will be displayed in honor of The Newberry’s 125th anniversary. The quasquicentennial exhibit will include an aria handwritten by a nine-year old Mozart, the first Bible printed in North America, and letters from Jack Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway. A book about the 125 objects featuring photos and essays by nearly 40 writers will be published this fall.

The Newberry’s bookstore features titles that reflect the subjects in the library’s collection plus general interest and children’s books, gifts and stationery.

# # #


The Newberry Library reading rooms are open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. The Newberry offers free public tours of the facility at 3 p.m. Thursdays and 10:30 a.m. Saturdays. Hours for the Exhibition Galleries and Bookstore vary; see website., 60 West Walton Street, Chicago, IL; 312-943-9090

The Newberry Book Fair, July 25-28, 2013 is open Noon-8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; admission is free.

Sustenance: The Newberry website carries printable lists of dining spots in its neighborhood.

Rest: The Newberry has made arrangements for discounts at several lodging properties for short and long-term stays; details are on the Newberry website.

Visitor Information:
Chicago Tourism: 
Illinois Tourism:

This story originally appeared at

Story and photos copyright Kath Usitalo