Harold Washington Library Center
108th Street Playground, ca. 1910
The Special Collections and Preservation Division collects, preserves and provides access to rare and unique materials at the Chicago Public Library. The focus of the collections is Chicago. Civil War materials, rare books and art round out the collections.
Find information about additional CPL collections:
- Archival Collections at the Chicago Public Library »
- Digital Collections at the Chicago Public Library »
Harold Washington Library Center
400 S. State Street
Chicago, IL 60605
Phone: (312) 747-4875
Reading Room Hours
Monday and Tuesday: noon - 6:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: noon - 4:00 p.m.
Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday: closed
Special Collections hosts exhibits in the Congress Corridor (first floor) and the two Exhibit Halls (ninth floor) at the Harold Washington Library Center.
- Called to the Challenge: The Legacy of Harold Washington
- Current Chicago Public Library Exhibits »
Art and Artifact Collection
The collection contains paintings, drawings, prints, posters and sculpture by artists from Lorado Taft to Anish Kapoor. Works from the collection are regularly on exhibit.
Special Collections’ significant holdings on the Civil War include one of the first paintings of Ulysses S. Grant, diaries by Illinois soldiers and swords carried by Union officers. Books about the war, from regimental histories written by soldiers to modern studies of the conflict, provide context.
- Popular Topics: Civil War »
- Wayne Whalen Digital Archive of the Grand Army of the Republic and Civil War Collections »
Chicago Public Library Archives
On January 1, 1873, the Chicago Public Library opened its doors for the first time in a water tank that survived the Great Chicago Fire. The archives show a large urban library responding to social, political and economic factors affecting an American city in the 19th century, through the upheavals of the 20th century and into the digital age.
Chicago Theater Collection
Joseph Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle, 1869
Scrapbooks and extensive runs of programs reveal the city’s theatrical life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They document more than 100 theaters that were staging productions ranging from Shakespeare to vaudeville.
Beginning with the burgeoning off-Loop scene in the 1970s, the contemporary theater holdings are extensive and include material from such pivotal theaters as Goodman, St. Nicholas, Steppenwolf, City Lit, Kuumba and Body Politic.
- Actors, Plays & Stages: Early Theater in Chicago »
- Before the Curtain Goes Up: The Chicago Theater Collection, 1986-1996 »
- Chicago Theater Collection-Historic Programs Digital Collection »
Children’s Books Published in Chicago
Raggedy Andy Stories, 1920
Special Collections showcases historical children’s books published in Chicago, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as well as fairy tales and “moveable” books. The Division holds the archives of the Volland Company, publisher of Raggedy Andy.
Harold Washington Archives & Collections
The archives document Harold Washington’s service in the Illinois Legislature and the U.S. Congress, and his years as the first African American mayor of Chicago. The mayoral papers begin with a copy of the speech in which he announced his candidacy in November 1982 and continue through to his last photograph, taken at a community program November 25, 1987, the day he died.
- Facts about Harold Washington »
- Harold Washington Archival Collections »
- Official biography from 1987 mayoral campaign »
- Remembering Harold Washington Digital Collection »
Neighborhood History Research Collections
Since the 1930s, the Library has collected photographs, manuscripts, clippings and maps about Chicago neighborhoods. These collections chronicle what a Chicago neighborhood was like in the 19th and 20th centuries. Among the neighborhoods included in the collections are Austin, Calumet Region, Loop and Scottsdale.
Selected images from the Neighborhood History Research Collections are online:
Rare Books and Manuscripts
This collection comprises examples of the history of the book, from manuscript to print; Chicago pre-Fire imprints; and volumes from the English Book Donation, the core of the Library’s opening-day collection in 1873.
World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893
The last of the 19th century’s great world’s fairs is documented through photographs, correspondence, guidebooks and ephemera.
- Charles Dudley Arnold Photographic Collection finding aid »
- James W. Ellsworth Collection finding aid »
Century of Progress, 1933-1934
Souvenir booklets, guidebooks and photographs chronicle this fair held in Chicago in the midst of the Great Depression.
For More Information
Using This Collection
The Special Collection and Preservation Division’s Reading Room welcomes visitors and researchers during Reading Room hours and by appointment. Given the special nature of the materials, visitors and researchers are asked to conform to security and handling precautions to protect the Library’s holdings.
- Patrons are required to complete a registration form and present valid photo identification before receiving materials.
- All materials may be used only in the Reading Room.
- Researchers interested in unprocessed collections are asked to contact Special Collections in advance about their availability.
- Research orientation sessions based on the collections are offered by appointment year-round for instructors and their classes.
Photographic Reproduction Services
Photocopies and photographic reproductions may be obtained by patrons for a fee if the physical condition of the material permits.