Is there a book you want to read but you just can’t find it at your local library? Don’t fret! Chances are you will find that book at the Harold Washington Library, downtown Chicago. This library has made it into the Guinness book of records as the largest public library building in the world!
But this was not the original building for the Central Library in Chicago.
The original library was opened in 1897 and was located on Washington Street. The building was converted in 1977 to an arts and culture center, now called Chicago Cultural Center (you can read about that building here).
The central library was temporarily relocated and because the new building was smaller than the previous one, many of the books were placed in storage. The temporary relocation turned into long term until Harold Washington was elected mayor of Chicago in 1983.
In 1986 with the support of the city and the Library Board a $175 million bond was issued to provide funds for a new building. In 1987, a design competition was held by the city to decide on the architecture of the library. One of the entrants was Hammond, Beeby and Babka who took elements from nearby historic buildings as part of their design entry and who ended up winning the competition.
With the support of Harold Washington and Chicago's wealthy Pritzker family, ground was broken and construction of the building commenced. The building was completed in 1991 and the newly appointed mayor at the time, Richard Daley, named the building in honor of former mayor Harold Washington, who was an advocate of reading and education for the citizens of Chicago.
The building is made up of approximately 756,000 square feet (70,200 m2) of space and is ten stories high, with each story dedicated to a specific genre of print material. In general the library houses 6 million books, periodicals, photographs and other items. This is not just any library; it is a library that offers anything your heart desires. It offers a makerspace, which included multiple 3 D computers. It has a media room where you can create video. An art room for, you guessed it, creating art. It has exhibitions galore from famous artist to famous chefs. There is always something being presented here.
One of the art exhibits which opened in February of 2016 is called "Above and Beyond". The exhibit was created by Vietnam War veterans and is made up of 58,000 dog tags, representing each person killed in the Vietnam War .
This library is also a place many homeless people spend the cold winter days or the hot summer days of Chicago, sitting. There is an unwritten rule that you can sit in the library but you cannot sleep. A security guard walks around each floor making sure everyone in the building is awake. If someone is sleeping, he nudges them and asks them to sit up and not sleep. It reminded me of the same routine I had in my classroom.
The piece de resistance is located on the 9th floor. This floor not only houses exhibit halls, Special Collections, and the Harold Washington Archives but also holds the Winter Garden, or atrium if you please. Here you can bring your food, sit, read a book , and relax. Many area office workers land here for lunch.
By the way, although there are ten floors in this building, only nine are open to the public. The tenth floor is made up of offices and technical services for the library.
If you are ever in Chicago, this building should be on your list of places to see, you will not be disappointed.