Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chicago Public Library: Harold Washington Library Center

Harold Washington Library Center
400 S. State Street

Okay, so I wrote a bunch of shit about the Chicago Public Library, but I'm going to be more positive for a couple of posts. The Harold Washington branch is the big downtown library in Chicago, and while it has many of the problems I discussed in the other posts, I'm going to talk about some cool things.

Actually, first one more bad thing. There's a separate Young Adult section at this library, which is neat. What isn't neat is that _all_ of the YA books and material are there, and it's hours are considerably shorter than the rest of the library. The Library is open 9-9 on many days, while the YA section is only open from 1-8pm. Great!

Anyway, on to some good things. There's some neat architecture/sculpture outside.


More in the "weird' section, they have a huge card catalogue for music scores that hasn't been updated in almost 20 years. They also have loads of vinyl records that you can borrow!

I honestly barely remember how these are even used.

They also had a huuuggee section of clippings from magazines and stuff. It was really weird, and what was kind of weirder was that it was still being updated. While it was really neat, it was also weirdly useless as there was no note as to where any of the clippings came from originally. Sure that's an awesome picture of a 17th century fashion, but where did it come from? I have no idea. Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of the actual clippings.

There was also a music listening room where I think you could listen to records and stuff if you gave them to the staff to put into bizarre machines inaccessible to patrons, multiple (strangely un-sound proofed) piano practice rooms (two of which were in use), and nobody around.

There were even less people on the next floor up, which had offices, and weird empty corridors and rooms. It was almost like exploring some abandoned location in Bioshock or some other video game.

This was in the lobby of the library. America, you are weird. Putting a flag on the ground is bad, but putting it into a box where people can throw old batteries and garbage on top of it is fine? I will never understand.


  1. You may have chosen not to focus on the negative aspects of this branch, but I really really disliked this library as a physical space -- the cold grey marble hallways, leading to a cold white walled and grey marble lobby with security guards every where in grey and black uniforms and no clear idea how to access the books that are supposedly in the building .... somewhere. My first thought on entering the lobby was, "I need a map to figure out where the library is inside the library building." There are a few areas and collections tucked in the various entry hallways on the ground floor, but you have to go up TWO escalators to enter the main collection passing a narrow little set of security gates and another security guard. Then the floors are stacked one on top of the other feeling institutional, lacking natural light, and without any sense of being open or inviting. The escalators that go up to higher floors are so narrow I felt like anyone with the slightest little handicap or even a little overweight would have been uncomfortable on them. The overall layout combined with all the marble basically mixed the worst aspects of pretension and institutional bureaucracy to me. Most of all though, it felt unwelcoming and judgmental, the very building felt that way. And that made me sad. After spending a considerable amount of my ALA time discussing under served and disadvantaged populations, talking about diversity issues in the library, and hearing fantastic stories of libraries integrating at-risk populations into all of their services, this one building brought the reality of just what and who we actually mean when we say we serve the "public" crashing down upon me in the most depressing way.

    1. Yeah, it was pretty lame. I had no idea where the books were when I first went inside. It's kind of ridiculous that ALA is based in Chicago, and yet their libraries are so shitty.