Visiting a Literary Landmark: Chicago’s Harold Washington Library

Libraries are pillars of our communities.  Not only do libraries hold vast amounts of knowledge, but they also provide classes for adults, computers for a quick email check or resume update, blocks for kids to build imaginary cities, and other wonderful, miscellaneous things.  My local branch even provides a box for glasses donations!

Libraries are also beautiful!  While in Chicago, you should absolutely stop in at the Harold Washington Library.  Libraries should reflect the community they serve, and this one does.  It is larger than life, easy to access (it is located right off the Library L station), full of culture, and provides spaces and books for people of all ages, races, background and preferences. 

Harold Washington Library opened in 1991, and the main branch of the public library moved from the north side of the central business district to the south, a matter of walking about eight blocks.  It was named to honor Chicago’s first African-American mayor, Harold Washington.  The exterior design plays tribute to some of Chicago’s most iconic buildings (The Rookery and Monadnock buildings) with its red stone.

The verdict is still out on how residents feel about this library’s exterior.  Some Chicagoans love it, some hate it (I’m not a big fan of it, myself).  But inside…you cannot help but love the details. 

Inside Harold Washington Library

Walk inside the building and take the escalator down to the basement. It feels like a long-lost secret.  It holds two theatres and large breakout rooms to host cultural events. Just recently Harold Washington Library held an open mic event with Chicago Public School students and Chance the Rapper showed up to jam with them. I recently attended a public hearing of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Senate Committee that took place in the field.  Author events also happen weekly, so keep an eye out for the multitude of events happening here. You never know what you may run into.

The second floor has a brand-new library for kids with a large table to draw on, Legos and toys to build with, overstuffed bean bag chairs to read comfortably throughout the stacks, and computers where kids can to learn to read. The second floor is its own section, separated from the rest of the library, so kids of any age can enjoy being boisterous without the fear of being shushed by someone nearby.  This place was made for kids to feel safe to be themselves, and to fall in love with the library like so many of us did when we were growing up.

While the floors above the kids’ library are full of racks and racks of beloved books, my favorite place is on the top floor in the winter garden. This place is a hidden sanctuary in the city.  Beautiful, warm and welcoming at any time of year.  Do yourself a favor and visit this hidden gem the next time you walk by the library.

While you’re in the loop, be sure to visit the Cultural Center to see what used to be the library before the Harold Washington Library was built in 1991.  Do not miss the two stunning domes at the top of the Cultural Center.

Plot Twist Tip

If you loved this, then you’ll love…

Since you’re visiting a library – why not read a book about libraries?  Here are a few we’d recommend to complement any library trip.

The Library: A World History by James W.P. Campbell Coffee table worthy! Any library-lover will devour this breathtaking book. 

The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders by Stuart Kells (link to: book) Book nerds unite! You know you want to read a book about the History of libraries.

For Kids: Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen The Library Lion shows up one day for story time and just keeps coming back.  A sweet book, much beloved in our Plot Twist Travels house.

If you are someone who seeks out literary landmarks, consider visiting Chicago’s main library branch, Harold Washington Library, for one of the many events it holds, to catch a story time with your kid, or to just pop to the top of the building to see a surprisingly beautiful winter garden.

Have you ever visited the Harold Washington Library before?  What is your favorite part of this massive building?