In 1951, under the direction of Chief Librarian Gertrude E. Gscheidle, the Library expanded its service to Chicago’s neighborhoods by modernizing the traveling library system. In less than eight months of operation, the traveling library system of bookmobiles circulated almost 100,000 books to neighborhoods without full library services.
Beginning in the 1960s, a significant number of neighborhood branch libraries were constructed or were established in leased storefronts or reading rooms. By 1985, there were 76 such locations throughout the City.
The Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, named after the “Father of Modern Black Historiography,” opened its doors in December 1975. The two-story, 62,000-square-foot building features a 182-seat auditorium and two conference rooms. Woodson Regional Library is also home to the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Literature. Named in honor of the first African American woman to head a location of the Chicago Public Library, the Harsh Collection is one of the largest repositories of information on the black experience in the Midwest.
The Conrad Sulzer Regional Library opened to the public in late 1985. Located at 4455 N. Lincoln Avenue, the Sulzer Regional Library replaced the Hild Regional Library and serves the North Side of Chicago. Designed by the architectural firm of Hammond, Beeby & Babka, the Sulzer Regional Library is an example of neoclassical architecture. The two-story structure measures 65,000 square feet and includes a Neighborhood Historical Room housing the Ravenswood-Lake View Historical Collection.
During the 75 years of great neighborhood library expansion, it became increasingly clear that the Chicago Public Library had outgrown its Central Library on Michigan Avenue. Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and Chicago’s civic leaders planned for the construction of a new Central Library.
The designated site for the new Central Library was 400 S. State Street, a one-and-one-half block tract in the South Loop. On July 29, 1987, Mayor Harold Washington and the City Council authorized a design/build competition and approved a bond issue to finance the project. Under the rules of the competition, architects and builders teamed up to design the building within the set price of $144 million. The winning entry was that of the SEBUS Group which included U.S. Equities, developers; Hammond, Beeby & Babka Inc., design architects; Schal Associates Inc., general contractors; A. Epstein and Sons, International, architects of record and structural engineer; and Delon Hampton & Associates, architects and engineers.
The Library Board decided that the new Central Library would be named after the late Mayor Harold Washington, the city’s first African American mayor, a great lover of books and advocate of the Chicago Public Library, who had died November 25, 1987.
The groundbreaking for the Harold Washington Library Center took place October 13, 1988.