Harold Washinton Library

Harold Washington Library 400 S State St

Jackson Red Line/Harold Washinton Library
Chicago Scene
Written By Chicago Scene

“The Insider's Guide” Of Where To Go And What To Do In Chicago

After a temporary central library opened on Michigan Avenue in 1977, there was a debate for most of the 1980s as to where to put a permanent library. This decision dragged out for so long due to the lack of funding, until Mayor Harold Washington was elected in 1983.

Washington supported the new building of a central library, and after his tenure in 1986, $175 million dollars was provided to actually construct the library. The Pritzker family later chose the library’s new site—Congress Parkway and State Street. Opening on October 7, 1991, and named after Chicago's first black mayor, it is deemed the largest public library in the world.

The architecture is a big part of HWLC's history as well. Architect Thomas Beeby crafted the building, which is known for its striking 12-foot-high owls that are scattered on the roof. The owls are augmented with seed and leave piles to represent growth and wisdom.

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The winter garden is the library’s “architectural centerpiece”, located on the 9th floor of the library. With its all glass windows, 52-foot glass dome, and marble flooring, it’s popular amongst visitors, and those who reside in Chicago. It is a great place to study or read a book, but many occupy this space for events, galas, auctions, or weddings.

While it is a library, there’s more you can do here than just cracking open a book and fawning over the winter gardens. You can learn about Harold Washington, research your family history in their database, look at the variety of artwork, make something in their award-winning maker lab, and even play music in one of their practice rooms. Harold Washington Library isn't just for adults and students. Inside, you can find a renovated Thomas Hughes Children's Library on the second floor. It is a reading haven for young kids and has many customizable learning experiences. The library is divided into neighborhoods—one for kids under 5, one for school-age kids, and one for tweens.

The library is open to the public seven days a week 9 AM to 9 PM Monday through Thursday, 9 AM to 5 PM on Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday from 1 PM to 5 PM. There is always exciting things happening at the Harold Washington Library from art exhibits to special collections to learning experiences.

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