Introduction

Watercolor,  The Newberry Library

Henry Ives Cobb.  “Newberry Library,” ca. 1890.

How did the simple idea expressed in the 1868 bequest of Walter Loomis Newberry—a “FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY, to be located in that portion of the City of Chicago now known as the North Division”—develop into the complex Newberry idea of today? 

This exhibition explores the 125-year evolution of the Newberry from its 1887 opening as a “Library of Reference” to its 2012 presence as a unique and renowned research institution and “center for the humanities” that remains free and open to the public on the city’s near north side.

The display is organized around four major elements of the Newberry idea that are expressed in its mission statement for the early twenty-first century:

1. To Acquire and Preserve a Broad Array of Special Collections Research Material

2. To Sustain the Highest Standards of Collection Preservation, Bibliographic Access, and Reader Services
 
3. To Encourage Life-Long Learning, as well as Civic Engagement
 
4. To Foster Research, Teaching, and Publication

In this exhibition you can compare how each of the Newberry’s eight President and Librarians has conceived of the library; consider how their ideas have influenced collections, programs, and spaces; discover how a dedicated and talented staff has shaped the institution; and explore early precursors to current programs.

Over 125 years, the Newberry has been a vital and active place.  So of course its full story can’t begin to be told in a one-room display.  This exhibition is intended to open up several perspectives on the Newberry’s history, especially by concentrating on the evolution of some “firsts” and “beginnings.” We hope to whet your appetite for learning more about the library by exploring its archives, from which this exhibition is drawn.