The John Crerar Library
is a library, which after a long history of independent operations, is currently operated by the University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...
. It is recognized as one of the best libraries in the country for research and teaching in the sciences, medicine, and technology. Throughout its history, the library's technology resources have made it popular with Chicago-area business and industry. Though privately-owned and operated, the John Crerar Library continues its tradition of free access for the public. The library first opened April 1, 1897 and is named for John Crerar who gained his wealth by founding a railroad supply firm.
John Crerar died in 1889. His will gave approximately $2.6 million of his estate to Chicago as an endowment for a free public library, selected “to create and sustain a healthy moral and Christian sentiment, and that all nastiness and immorality be excluded.” To comply with Crerar's wishes without duplicating existing area libraries, the directors decided to limit the collections to the sciences, including the history of science. In 1906, the directors expanded the library's mission to include medicine. Since 1951, the collection has focused on current science, technology, and medicine.
In 1891, Crerar's friends lobbied the Illinois state legislature to enact a law to protect privately funded libraries, entitled, "An Act to Encourage and Promote the Establishment of Free Public Libraries in Cities, Villages and Towns of this State." On October 12, 1894, the library was incorporated under that law. However, Crerar's relatives contested his will and then appealed issue to the Illinois Supreme Court. On June 19, 1893, the will was sustained.
Librarians and Executive Directors
|Clements Walker Andrews
|J. Christian Bay
|Herman H. Henkle
|William S. Budington
The Crerar Library opened in the Marshall Field building, moving in 1921 to its own building at the northwest corner of Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue. The Board of Directors of the library established a building fund with the 1889 endowment and set out to gain approval for a Grant Park
Grant Park, with between the downtown Chicago Loop and Lake Michigan, offers many different attractions in its large open space. The park is generally flat. It is also crossed by large boulevards and even a bed of sunken railroad tracks...
location. In 1902, the Chicago City Council
The Chicago City Council is the legislative branch of the government of the City of Chicago in Illinois. It consists of 50 aldermen elected from 50 wards to serve four-year terms...
approved the plan, but public criticism force the design to be built on the Northwest corner of Michigan Avenue
Michigan Avenue is a major north-south street in Chicago which runs at 100 east south of the Chicago River and at 132 East north of the river from 12628 south to 950 north in the Chicago street address system...
. World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...
postponed groundbreaking of the 16-story Holabird & Roche
The architectural firm of Holabird & Root was founded in Chicago in 1880. Over the years, the firm's designs have changed many times — from the Chicago School to Art Deco to Modern Architecture to Sustainable Architecture.-History:...
design until 1919. When the building reached it capacity in the 1950s, the library's directors decided to affiliate with a university. The directors contracted with the Illinois Institute of Technology
Illinois Institute of Technology, commonly called Illinois Tech or IIT, is a private Ph.D.-granting university located in Chicago, Illinois, with programs in engineering, science, psychology, architecture, business, communications, industrial technology, information technology, design, and law...
to provide library services for its campus. In 1962, the library moved into a new building that was designed by architect Walter Netsch
Walter Netsch was an American architect based in Chicago. He was most closely associated with the brutalist style of architecture, as well as the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. His signature aesthetic is known as Field Theory and is based on rotating squares into complex shapes...
. It was a 92000 square feet (8,547.1 m²) facility with a international modern design inspired by Mies van der Rohe. During its 22 years located on the IIT campus, the John Crerar Library remained a separate organization, with IIT reimbursing the costs attributable to it. By the mid-1970s, however, the library had out-grown that building, and in 1980 Crerar and IIT agreed to terminate the contract within four years. On April 13, 1981, the directors agreed to consolidate the collection with the University of Chicago's science collection in a new building, which opened on September 10, 1984. Because the library was incorporated under the 1891 special law, court approval was required for the merger. A condition of the merger was that the combined library would also remain free to the public. The merger, with a combined collection of 900,000 volumes, was among the largest in American library history.
Following World War II, the John Crerar Library became one of the first to offer a fee-based research service which was targeted to industry and government users. In 1952, it became one of the first libraries in the nation to install a Teletype
A teleprinter is a electromechanical typewriter that can be used to communicate typed messages from point to point and point to multipoint over a variety of communication channels that range from a simple electrical connection, such as a pair of wires, to the use of radio and microwave as the...
machine. The library now offers computer-based searches of a wide variety of scientific and medical data bases. Since the 1950s, the library offers corporate memberships to both for-profit and non-profit organizations that includes borrowing privileges and access to the University of Chicago Libraries as well as to Crerar. Also, from 1968 to 1979, the National Library of Medicine funded the library to serve as its Midwest Regional Medical Library.
The current four-story structure was designed by Stubbins Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has 160,836 gross square feet of floor space, with dimensions 135 feet (41.1 m) east-west by 294 feet (89.6 m) north-south, costing $22 million to build. The new building has capacity for 1.3 million volumes with 770,000 volumes on 27 miles (43.5 km) of conventional shelving and 530,000 volumes on 12 miles (19.3 km) of movable compact shelving.
The merger set aside $300,000 to form a separate John Crerar Foundation. The Foundation now also sponsors the John Crerar Foundation Science Writing Prize for College students
The official motto of the John Crerar Library is engraved on its current building: Non est mortuus qui scientiam vivificavit
(translation: "He has not died who has given life to knowledge")
The Crerar collection includes 27,000 rare books including works by Copernicus, da Vinci, Descartes, Franklin, and Newton.