Is there any place in the world more magical than a library? For readers and writers, probably not.
As much as we love our local public library branches, it also pays to go off the beaten path and seek out some of the more specialized and obscure libraries of the world, of which there is no shortage here in Chicago.
Read on to discover some unusual new libraries, then grab a book bag and go exploring!
The Poetry Foundation Library
One of the best-known specialty libraries in Chicago, the Poetry Foundation Library is the only library in the Midwest dedicated exclusively to poetry. Visitors will find over 30,000 volumes of poetry, as well as rare and limited editions, broadsides, chapbooks, criticism, and audio archives dating back to the 1950s. And a bonus for writers submitting their work: the library also features an up-to-date selection of local and national literary magazines.
The Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago
Founded in the early 1900s by two prominent Chicagoans, the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries are located inside of the Art Institute of Chicago, and contain a world-class selection of books on history, art, architecture and design. Because of the many rare and fragile books in the collection, readers are not admitted to the book stacks and materials are not circulated, but planning a day inside the architecturally stunning Reading Room is well worth your time, especially if you’re doing research.
The Newberry Library
Another architectural gem in downtown Chicago, The Newberry Library houses a wide range of research materials in all branches of the humanities, including genealogy, American Indian studies, Renaissance literature, and cartography. Accessing the collections can be a bit tricky, so it’s best to prepare for your visit and have a research question in mind. Luckily, for casual readers, there are plenty of guided tours, free lectures and events, and a bookstore.
The Sterling Morton Library at the Morton Arboretum
Located within the Morton Arboretum’s acres of trees and gardens, the Sterling Morton Library contains a unique collection of—what else?—books on botany and horticulture. Visitors will find everything from historic botanical illustration books to contemporary nonfiction to gardening advice, making it a must-see whether you’re writing about plants or just adding some greenery to your writing space.
The Read/Write Library
One of the most truly unusual libraries in town, the Read/Write Library “collects, preserves, and provides access to community media” of all kinds. Founded ten years ago (and originally known as the Chicago Underground Library), the Read/Write Library now contains an ever-growing collection of books, magazines, zines, journals, broadsides, newspapers, and art books of all types, genres, and print runs from the Chicago area. Plus, not only can writers enjoy browsing this eclectic collection for inspiration, you can also donate your own publication and become a part of the collection.
Do you have a favorite off-the-beaten-path library in your town, or here in Chicago? Let us know! If not, then we hope you take the time to discover something new in a library near you.