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The Chicago Traveler

Harold Washington Library Center

by Matt B on May 6th, 2007

The Harold Washington Library Center is an impressive building, inside and out. This 756,640 square-feet (70,294 m2) building opened in 1991 and appears in the The Guinness Book of Records as the largest public library building in the world. This may not be surprising, seeing as this library can seat over 2,000 readers and has over 70 miles of shelving.

Harold Washington Library Center

Harold Lee Washington was the first African-American mayor of Chicago, serving from 1983 until his death in 1987. The mosaic mural in the main lobby of the Center depicts Washington’s accomplishments as a soldier, a lawyer, a congressman, and mayor.

Near the State Street entrance is the Popular Library, where current general titles and audiovisual materials are featured. One the second floor is the Children’s Library named after Thomas Hughes, who organized a campaign in England to gather over 8,000 books for Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire of 1872. With over 18,000 square feet, the Children’s Library contains the largest collection of children’s books in the city.

Visitors will find the General Information desk on the third floor, along with check-out and return counters and the Computer Commons, where Internet and word processing stations are available to the public. And of course, all branches of the Chicago Public Library provide free wireless connections. The library also keeps its newspapers, periodicals, and encyclopedias on this floor. More than 2,000 current and retrospective periodical titles, nearly 300 newspapers from every state, and English-language newspapers from 24 foreign countries can be found here.

Looking for some good fiction? The Literature and Language Department is on the seventh floor with nearly 700,000 books, two hundred thousand of which are novels and volumes of short stories. This collection of fiction is the largest in the Midwest. The department also collects poetry, drama, literary criticism, and biographies of writers.

The Winter Garden on the ninth floor reaches up through the tenth floor to a skylight. This large public space can be rented for special events. This floor also contains the Special Collections and Preservation Division, where books, pamphlets, photographs, artifacts, artwork, and other materials on the Civil War, Chicago Theater, and Harold Washington are housed.

Photo credit: Douglas Kaye

Harold Washington Library Center : 400 S State St; 773-542-7279
Mon - Thurs: 9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat: 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Sun: 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Street parking available; pay lot
Public Trans: #2, 6, 10, 29, 36, 62, 144, 146, 148
Orange/Purple/Pink/Brown Line train (Library)
Metra train (Library-State/Van Buren)

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POSTED IN: Art, Collectibles and Hobbies

1 opinion for Harold Washington Library Center

  • Chicago Cultural Center
    Mar 24, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    […] 1991, the Library was relocated to the new Harold Washington Library Center. The Chicago Cultural Center is now the home of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and is […]

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