From the Ashes, 1872-1900
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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July 6, 1875

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The Great Fire destroyed the private libraries of the Young Men's Christian Association, the Chicago Historical Society and several other organizations. Chicago had had no public library. In the conflagration's aftermath citizens of Great Britain mounted a drive to collect books for donation to the decimated city. In all 17,355 volumes were donated and shipped to Chicago. A makeshift library was established in temporary quarters in 1873. The following year the collection was moved to another temporary but more substantial structure at the corner of Lake and Dearborn Streets. And William Frederick Poole, a pioneer in American librarianship, was appointed head librarian.

The public library was open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Observed holidays were New Year's Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For the period July 1, 1875- June 30, 1876 the library's reading room received over 700,000 visitors. The book collection consisted of nearly 50,000 volumes and there were almost 30,000 registered borrowers. With an annual budget of $25,000, which was barely enough to meet operating expenses, needed acquisitions to the collection were not possible. To reduce costs the library's directors ordered early closings briefly in 1875. But public discontent was so great that the city council caused longer hours to be reinstated.

Points to Consider

What was the stated purpose of the public library?

Why would the laboring classes be deprived use of the library if it were closed at 6:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday? In 1875 what were the average workday and workweek?

Briefly describe the development of the Chicago Public Library.

Public libraries have been described as the "universities of the masses." Was this description valid in 1875? Is it valid today?

See Related Document:

6 and 36

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