One Of Our Editors Is Sharing Her Favorite Secret Libraries of Chicago That You'll Absolutely Love

Your college days are over but you still love going to the library? You’re not the only one. Believe it or not, almost 70% of Americans have a library card. Since Chicago is home to so many universities and other academic institutions, the city is packed with libraries. If you’re not a fan of huge, crowded libraries and you’re searching for a good place to do some casual reading or actual studying, there are several secret libraries of Chicago that you’ll love. 



Why we love libraries

  • There is no place quite as quiet and peaceful as a library. Whenever you want to escape the noise of the big city and find your inner peace, you can find it in a library.

  • Libraries are an endless source of knowledge, and knowledge is the thing that helps us be the best versions of ourselves.

  • Libraries are affordable. In addition to books, you can check out CDs, magazines, movies, even artwork, all of which is super cheap or free.

  • Having your own book collection is great, however, if you live in a small space, you need to be practical. Furthermore, you need to take care of the books, protect them from humidity, clean the dust, use boxes to pack your books when moving, not to mention how heavy they can be.

PHOTO BY  Janko Ferlic.

PHOTO BY Janko Ferlic.

Let’s discover some little-known libraries of Chicago that you'll love

The International Museum of Surgical Sciences Library 

This is a library every Chicago doctor and med student will love. In addition to a beautiful library of more than 5,000 journals and books, including rare medical texts dating back to the 16th century, there is a remarkable collection of medical artifacts ranging from heart valves to amputation saws. One of the most amazing things about this Chicago library is the Hall of Murals. Its 12 graphic oil paintings illustrate great moments in surgical history. The paintings feature medical heavyweights including Semmelweis, Paré, and Vesalius.  

The Gerber/Hart Library and Archives 

The second library on our list of secret libraries of Chicago is the Gerber/Hart Library, founded in 1981. This Chicago library features the Midwest’s largest collection of LGBT literature with more than 14,000 volumes, 800 periodical titles, and 100 archival collections. It was recently moved to a new space in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. It is dedicated to preserving and promoting the culture and history of LGBT individuals and organizations. It serves for both research and recreational reading purposes and holds open hours and events attended by hundreds of people. 

Pritzker Military Museum & Library

The Pritzker Military Museum & Library is a hidden gem of Chicago located in the middle of downtown. Its rare books, digital collections, rotating exhibits and guest speakers all contribute to preserving the military history. The visitors of this non-profit museum can see iconic war posters, listen to a lecture on leadership, and learn something new with each visit. 

The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries

The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, founded in 1912, preserve an old-school aesthetic but still offer wi-fi. As part of the Art Institute of Chicago, these secret libraries of Chicago contain extensive archival collections relating to American artists and designers. There are over 500,000 print titles and many more held digitally. The libraries cover all periods, including 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century architecture and 19th-century painting, drawings, prints, and decorative arts. Here, you can find architects' correspondence, job files, photos, scrapbooks, sketchbooks, transcripts, articles, as well as diaries.

PHOTOS BY  Pixabay.

PHOTOS BY Pixabay.

The Read/Write Library  

Another secret library of Chicago that you’ll love. The Read/Write Library is an independent experimental library and community information lab - it the only project of its kind in the world. Its Chicago-specific collection of more than 5,000 local historical and contemporary books, zines, chapbooks, art books, and more is truly fascinating. The library has migrated several times and its current home is near Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. 

The Field Museum’s Library and Photo Archives Collection

Chicago’s Field Museum features exhibits such as dinosaur skeletons, geological specimens, taxidermy Komodo dragons. The library is open Tuesday to Friday for researchers with confirmed appointments. Natural history and history of science researchers won’t find a better library in Chicago. It has more than 275,000 volumes dedicated to evolution, biology, archaeology, geology, and ethnology. The Mary W. Runnells Rare Book Room, with 7,500 rare volumes and 3,000+ original works of art, stores some of the most valuable items. 

Perhaps the most interesting part of the museum is its photo archive which contains more than 300,000 photos documenting the history of the museum and its staff. It dates back to the 1893 World’s Fair! Here, you can find pictures of Carl Akeley as he perfected his taxidermy techniques in the museum. Moreover, there are hundreds of pictures of Indonesia and the Philippine Islands taken between 1908 and 1910, and the photos of Malvina Hoffman who traveled the world to document its peoples in 1930. 

PHOTOS BY  Ylanite Koppens.

PHOTOS BY Ylanite Koppens.

The Oriental Institute Research Archives and Elizabeth Morse Genius Reading Room

This library is a unique resource for students of the Ancient Near East. A librarian named Johanne Vindenas oversaw the collection for 40 years. During that period, she catalogued more than 50,000 volumes in a system of 284,000 index cards. The Catalog of the Oriental Institute Library, a 16-volume set of her indexing work, was published in 1970. Today, the library has more than 60,000 volumes, encompassing an entire field of knowledge under one roof. James Henry Breasted, the founder of the Oriental Institute, claimed that the library reading-room in the west wing was the most beautiful room in the building.

The Poetry Foundation Library

The list of secret libraries of Chicago would not be complete without the Poetry Foundation Library. This is the only library dedicated solely to poetry in the Midwest. The library has a great downtown location and free wi-fi. Here, you can experience audio and video recordings in private listening booths, browse a collection of 30,000 volumes, research your favorite verses or write your own poetry, and view amazing exhibits of poetry-related materials. Besides, the Poetry Foundation Library regularly hosts interactive programs that inspire a wide readership of all ages.