Opening the door to the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries feels a little like entering an oasis. After navigating the hot Chicago streets and crowded Art Institute lobby, the quiet of the library room is welcoming, not oppressive. It also doesn’t hurt that the room is beautiful. There are high ceilings, a huge skylight, and objects de art scattered throughout.
The front of the library houses a rotating set of exhibits and when I visited they were featuring a number of primary documents from the Art Institute at the time of the Armory Show in 1913.
In addition to the exhibits, the library reading room houses a variety of art books, travel guides, and art periodicals that are available for browsing in the open stacks that line the walls. The library is also home to an archive of original documents that are available to the public for research purposes.
While I did not have any reason to view archived materials during my visit, I felt assured that the pleasant and unobtrusive library staff I encountered would have been more than happy to help patrons locate the research materials they needed. In fact, as I was walking around the reading room, I noticed several tabled loaded with books and research materials. As I passed I felt more than a little jealous of the scholars who had the opportunity to spend their study time in this serene library space.
Even if you are not an arts scholar (I’m not), the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries are definitely worth visiting, particularly if you’re planning a trip to the Chicago Art Institute. If you can’t make it to Chicago, check out the libraries’ digital collections. For all this and more, visit the libraries’ website at www.artic.edu/research