Newberry Library

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Newberry Library
20070329 Newberry Library2.JPG
Type Private research library
Established 1887
Location Chicago, Illinois, US
Other information
Director David Spadafora

The Newberry Library is a privately endowed, independent research library for the humanities and social sciences in Chicago, Illinois. Although it is a non-circulating library, the Newberry is free and open to the public. The collections embrace Western civilization from the late Middle Ages to the end of the Napoleonic Era in Europe, from the Era of European Exploration to the Age of Revolution in Latin America, and to modern times in North America. Within this framework are a variety of specialized collections, on such diverse topics as North American Indians and the history of printing. The Newberry houses a large collection of maps, manuscripts, sheet music, and other printed material.


Library from Washington Square on a c. 1910 postcard

The Newberry was established by a $2.15 million bequest by Walter Loomis Newberry, an early Chicago resident and business leader involved in banking, shipping, real estate, and other commercial ventures. Newberry died at sea in 1868, while on a trip to France. Following the death of his widow, Julia Butler Newberry, in 1885, Newberry estate trustees, William H. Bradley and Eliphalet W. Blatchford, established the library in 1887. Initially, the Newberry was located in three temporary locations.

The Newberry's first librarian, William Frederick Poole, was a primary force behind the library's noncirculating research and rare book collections, as well as conceptualizing the facility to house them. The present building, designed by Poole[1] and architect Henry Ives Cobb (1859–1931), opened in 1893. It is located at 60 West Walton Street, across from Washington Square. It is a structure in the Spanish Romanesque architectural style, built of Connecticut granite.[2]

The original plans of the trustees contemplated the gathering of a general collection of reference and source books on all subjects. Later, however, a cooperative arrangement was entered into with the Chicago Public Library and other libraries under which the field of knowledge was roughly divided among them, and a policy of non-duplication of books was adopted.[2]

Stanley Pargellis, the fifth Newberry librarian (1942–1962), broadened the library's mission, launching scholarly outreach programs (such as fellowships, conferences, and the Newberry Library Bulletin) to publicize the library's holdings and encourage their use.

Between 1962 and 1986, the library was greatly expanded under the leadership of president Lawrence William "Bill" Towner. During this time, the Newberry acquired many important collections, a stacks building was constructed, and the library's emphasis moved from the old world to the new, especially as to Native American and early North American settlers. Towner also inaugurated a number of initiatives, including research centers in the fields of history of cartography, American Indian history (now American Indian and Indigenous studies), family and community history (now American History and Culture), and Renaissance studies.

In 1994, the Newberry continued to expand its reach, by establishing its Center for Public Programs to coordinate a variety of humanities offerings, including exhibitions, seminars, lectures, and performances of the Newberry Consort.

David Spadafora has been the president of the Newberry since 2005.

Current services[edit]

Newberry main entrance
Newberry from Washington Square Park

The library houses more than 1.5 million books, 5 million pages of manuscripts, and 500,000 historic maps. Collection strengths include materials on the European Renaissance, genealogy, American Indians, early music, cartography, the history of printing, Chicago history, railroad archives, Luso-Brazilian history, and Midwestern authors' manuscripts. The Newberry's manuscript holdings include work by Mike Royko, Elmo Scott Watson, and Ben Hecht. Among its most valuable works are a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, Thomas Jefferson's copy of The Federalist Papers, and the oldest copy in existence of the Popol Vuh.

The Newberry also offers a variety of exhibits, lectures, classes, concerts, teacher programs, seminars, and other public programming related to its collections. Recent exhibits have featured architect Daniel Burnham and the history of children's literature. In addition, the Newberry makes available a variety of highly acclaimed fellowships and programs to scholars, teachers, and undergraduates.

The Newberry's Research and Academic Programs Division offers programs for local, national and international scholars, in addition to teachers at all levels of instruction. The four research centers generate and disseminate scholarship in their areas of focus: Renaissance Studies, American Indian and Indigenous Studies, American History and Culture, and the History of Cartography.

Reference staff are available in the Newberry's three reading rooms whenever the library is open to readers. Reference librarians work with all readers, and offer orientation, in-depth bibliographical instruction, and specialized assistance as needed. Although open to the public, researchers and readers under age 16 are prohibited, with some exceptions made on a case-by-case basis.

The Newberry was the primary institution responsible for the production of the 2004 Encyclopedia of Chicago, a landmark single-volume work that covered Chicago's history from 1630 to 2000.

The Atlas of Historical County Boundaries Project, a historical GIS project that aims to map every county boundary configuration in the United States from the early 17th century to the present, is also based at the Newberry.

In popular culture[edit]

The Newberry was featured as the workplace of Henry DeTamble, a main character in Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time Traveler's Wife; many scenes in the book are set at the library, and (fictional) members of the library staff play a considerable role in the plot.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Landram Williamson, "William Frederick Poole and the Modern Library Movement," Columbia University Press, 1963.
  2. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Newberry Library". Encyclopedia Americana. 

Further reading[edit]

1. Davis, Donald G. Dictionary of American Library Biography. "Towner, Lawrence William, 1921-1992."

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°54′00″N 87°37′50″W / 41.9000°N 87.6306°W / 41.9000; -87.6306