Thursday, February 02, 2006

Practical Guide: The Harold Washington Library

If you’re the kind of person who appreciates a great library, the Harold Washington Library Center (HWLC) is a prime destination. Named in honor of Chicago’s first African American mayor, the HWLC was the world’s largest public library building when it opened in 1991. It is the main branch of the Chicago Public Library system.
Learn More About the Harold Washington Library Center

Several HWLC departments are of particular interest to genealogists. The Newspapers and General Publications Center’s holdings include nearly 300 newspapers from every state in the union, as well as English language newspapers from 24 foreign countries. The Center has many Chicago newspapers on microfilm, dating back to 1833. (Clearly, everything wasn’t destroyed by the Chicago Fire in 1871.) The newspaper collection contains complete runs of the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Times of London.

Another department of note is the Government Publications Department, which receives materials from the governments of the United States, Illinois, Cook County and Chicago. The collection totals about 2,000,000 items. The library has been a U.S. depository since 1876. Nearly all federal publications have been collected, including a complete run of the Congressional Record and its predecessors. An extensive collection of U.S. topographical maps and several other map series are found here. The library’s State of Illinois collection dates back to the 1800s. The Municipal Reference Collection is also quite extensive. It includes most published Chicago government documents since the mid-1800s, city ordinances, a clipping file dating from 1956, and a large collection of Chicago-related maps.

The Chicago Public Library website contains many links of interest to genealogists. The website, at includes links to the Chicago Timeline and the Harold Washington Library Center

The Harold Washington Library Center is located at 400 South State Street, in Chicago’s South Loop. The library is open 7 days a week. It is convenient to both public transportation and abundant parking. See the HWLC website for specific information.

A trip on public transportation to the Harold Washington Library Center from the NGS Conference hotel couldn't be simpler. Walk .3 miles north of the hotel to the Rosemont CTA station. Take the CTA Blue Line to the Jackson/Dearborn CTA station and walk .2 miles SE to the Harold Washington Library. See the RTA Trip Planner at for details.


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