The John Crerar Library’s history of nurturing research and learning in the sciences continues
It holds a place of distinction in the world of libraries. In 2014, we celebrate the 120th anniversary of the founding of the John Crerar Library, and the 30th anniversary of the library’s move to the University of Chicago. Since its beginnings, the Crerar Library has offered unique collections and innovative technology and services that nurture research and learning in Chicago. And we see this as only the beginning of the Crerar Library’s history; its core values are as important today and in the future as they were at the Library’s founding.
The John Crerar Library was founded in 1894 and first opened its doors to the citizens of Chicago on April 1, 1897, with a collection numbering over 30,000 volumes. Located in the Marshall Field Building, it was to be, according to John Crerar in his 1886 will, a “library for all time” and the City of Chicago. Indeed it has been. In 2014, collections have grown to 1.4 million volumes, services have evolved, and facilities have changed; however, the library has remained open not only to Chicagoans but also to researchers from around the world interested in the sciences.
Developing outstanding collections has been a priority for the John Crerar Library since its beginnings. John Crerar did not specify the scope of the library but indicated that it must not contain nastiness and immorality, such as dirty French novels and all skeptical trash and works of questionable moral tone. Envisioned by its earliest leaders to complement and not compete with the existing Newberry and Chicago Public Libraries, the John Crerar Library included philosophy, physical and natural sciences, the fine arts and sociology and economics.
In 1906, the Library expanded the collection in response to requests by local medical institutions to bring medical literature together with related science material already located at Crerar. The collection of valuable medical and surgical literature formed by Dr. Nicholas Senn and originally given to the Newberry Library was moved to the John Crerar Library with the approbation of Dr. Senn. In later decades the social sciences and arts collections were transferred to other libraries, in order to focus Crerar’s collections on the sciences, medicine, and technology. Today, the Library continues to respond to changes in user needs, areas of research, and the University’s curriculum. One example is purchasing electronic databases, journals, and books, in response to the preference of researchers in the sciences for electronic material. Another is a change to the collection scope in support of the Institute for Molecular Engineering following its establishment at the University in 2011.
Pioneering innovative uses of technology and user services is a hallmark of the John Crerar Library. In 1912, Crerar was one of the first libraries in the U.S. to offer a photoduplication service, providing copies of material from the collection to researchers outside Chicago instead of lending material. The Research Information Service (RIS) offered intensive expert research assistance. Established in 1946, it was, reportedly, the first fee-based research service of its kind in the country. The Corporate Members Program was established in 1951 to provide companies access to research materials. In 1952, Crerar became one of the first libraries in the U.S. to use a Teletype machine. The National Translation Center, first supported by the Special Libraries Association and the National Science Foundation, and later by the Library of Congress, was based in the John Crerar Library from 1953 to 1993 and was the central location for translations in the U.S.
Today, the Crerar Library continues its tradition of providing high-tech services tailored to meet the needs of our users. The Library has partnered with the Research Computing Center to equip our Kathleen A. Zar Room for 3D visualization with interactive touch technology. The Computer Sciences Instructional Laboratory (CSIL) makes its home in Crerar, in support of the College and Department of Computer Science. Crerar’s expert staff members provide point-of-need reference service, in-depth research consultations, and instruction sessions using the latest online resources. In collaboration with faculty, staff, and other specialists from across campus and around the world, they contribute to 21st-century initiatives such as the Google Books digitization project and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.
The John Crerar Library began thanks to the philanthropy of one individual but continues to thrive due to the dedication and support of many. This dedication and support has taken many forms throughout the years. In 2002, a gift from University Trustee Harvey Plotnick supported creation of online records for 20,000 titles in the John Crerar Collection of Rare Books in the History of Science and Medicine, located in the Special Collections Research Center. The 2010 acquisition of the rare book collection of the Rush University Medical Library was made possible by a bequest from the estate of Erica Reiner, the John A. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor Emerita in the University’s Oriental Institute, who specialized in the history of Babylonian science including medicine. The John Crerar Foundation, established in 1981, provides ongoing support for Library programs ranging from the digitization of collections to the presentation of exhibits to the annual John Crerar Foundation Science Writing Prize for College Students. The creation of the Kathleen A. Zar Room and the technology that enables innovative research and teaching in this space is supported by the Kathleen and Howard Zar Science Library Fund—which also supports a biennial symposium series and collection development at Crerar. Throughout the years, support has come from these and many others, all helping the Library to expand collections, preserve materials, and enhance services, programs, and spaces.
The bequest that John Crerar gave to Chicago in his will has nurtured science research, teaching, and learning in Chicago for 120 years, and we are committed to seeing that it does so far into the future.
Non est mortuus qui scientiam vivificavit.
He has not died who has given life to knowledge.
To learn more about the history of the John Crerar Library, visit our web exhibit A Library for All Time: The History of the John Crerar Library.