Saturday 5 July 2014

Chicago Library Rises Out of the Ashes

The Chicago Public Library rose out of the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871.  After the fire, Queen Victoria, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and other high society Brits donated 8000 books to the city to replenish its library, a city that didn't have a library previously.  Their generous gift was an incentive to build one.

The Illinois Library act of 1872 set up a way to collect funds for the new building.  It would be located on Michigan Ave. between Washington and Randolph Streets on land donated by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War Veterans association.  Designed in the Beaux Arts style, it had red brick and high arched windows running the length of the walls.  Inside, it boasted mosaic ceilings with a Tiffany glass dome in the Centre.  The new building opened in 1895 and would be used for 96 years.

New Librarian Henry Legler presented "A Library Plan for the Whole City" in 1916.  His plan would include "library service within walking distance of every person in Chicago who can read".  It would be the United States first comprehensive branch system.

In the 1950's bookmobiles travelled from suburb to suburb to provide Chicagoans with books.  In the 1960's, many new branches were opened in the city.

Chicago Bookmobile circa 1940's courtesy

Finally, in 1991, they closed the original building on Michigan Ave and opened a new building on State Street where the library is still located today.  The original building serves as a cultural centre for the city.  Native Chicagoans go there for concerts.  Tourists flock there to snap photos of the Tiffany glass dome.

Today, the Chicago library is housed in a different building.  It houses almost 6 million books, making it the ninth largest library in the United States.

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