If you work in the humanities, you might want to check out the Newberry Library in Chicago. This research library has a number of core collections in American history and culture, American Indian and Indigenous studies, Chicago and the Midwest, history of the book, and Medieval and Renaissance studies. These collections include manuscripts, maps, images, music, and are supported by numerous secondary source materials. To get an idea of the extent and depth of the library’s holdings, see their Research Guides.
Should you find what you need at the Newberry, consider applying for a library fellowship to fund your research. Their website is incredibly helpful in planning your visit, so I’ll offer a quick overview with links to the most useful sites and a few tips from my own experience.
Before you go, make sure you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for because you will need to write a short description of your project when you apply for a reader’s card. To plan your stay, check out nearby accommodations & restaurants.
The library’s huge pink granite block exterior might seem imposing, but the staff is very helpful, and hopefully this quick guide will help you feel more confident on your first visit. When you arrive, you will be greeted by a security guard at the front kiosk next to the information desk and asked to fill out a reader’s card application. You will need a picture ID, proof of current home address, and short description of your research interest. Then, put your coat, bag, and any other non-essential items in the lockers. You will be given a clear plastic bag for your laptop, notebook or loose-leaf paper for notes, pencils (not pens), and anything else you would like to have with you. Sign in at the security kiosk and take your form, photo ID, and plastic bag to the Reference Center on the third floor. The Reader’s Card is free and is good for one year. See the website for specific information about what you can use for identification and proof of address.
Tuesday-Friday 9:00-5:00 (lunch 12-1 – no call requests accepted)
- Digital cameras are allowed, but flash cannot be used.
- Scanners are not allowed
- Call slips must be submitted 9-12 and 1-4. They are not filled between 12-1.
- The Newberry staff will make all photocopies (no more than 30 pages from a single volume or manuscript collection). Some types of materials cannot be photocopied. Copies are $0.40 per exposure. See the website for specific pricing information. The Newberry staff will also mail photocopies to you; payment must be received in advance.
- Take a tour of the Newberry to learn more about the collections and familiarize yourself with the reading rooms and policies.
- Bring a sweater because some of the reading rooms are quite cold, even in the summer.
- If you’re shorter than about 5’8” and plan to take notes your laptop, you might want to bring a sweater or a cushion to sit on
- If you don’t have a quarter for the locker, there’s a change machine in the locker area, and the security guard usually has some to lend. Don’t forget to return it when you’re done!
- If you’re working with any materials from the enormous Ayer collection, find some time to speak with the collection’s curator, John Aubrey, who is incredibly knowledgeable about the collection and American history and culture, as well as Chicago and the Midwest. The same holds true for any of the other collections you might be interested in. The curators can point to sources you may not have run across yet, which will help you conduct your research more quickly and efficiently.
Finally, the library also offers a number of seminars that you may be interested in, so be sure to look at the schedule and email the coordinator ahead of time, as papers are usually pre-circulated. The following centers offer seminars and special events: American History and Culture, American Indian Studies, Renaissance Studies, and the History of Cartography. For those in American Indian Studies, the Newberry offers a fantastic graduate student summer institute for students from member institutions. See the following link to determine if your university is in the Newberry Consortium in American Indian Studies (NCAIS) and if the institute complements your research interests. Applications are due by April 6.
What research libraries, archives, and/or centers have you found most helpful? What suggestions do you have for fellow researchers at these sites?