The city’s coolest libraries aren’t in libraries at all.
Plopped amid 385 acres
The place you visit for greenscape strolls isn’t only about the outdoors. Tucked inside Chicago Botanic Garden (1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe, 847-835-5440, chicagobotanic.org), the sunny Lenhardt Library especially welcomes families, kids and teachers. Library director Leora Siegel has just one rule: “No shushing!” The entire collection is nonfiction with a focus on plants and science. Books just for kids (marked with yellow dots) teach about everything from butterfly habitats to tree types; books for adults and kids together (with green dots) might explain how to create a garden or interact with nature. A teachers’ reference corner encourages educators to use the library’s resources for hands-on biology and botany projects. January through May, pop in for storytelling on Monday mornings.
Tucked into a slice of Ireland
Down a leafy street in Mayfair, inside an enormous former college that is now the Irish American Heritage Center (4626 N Knox Ave, 773-282-7035, irish-american.org), lives a dreamy little library that fittingly looks as if it sprang from the Emerald Isle. Hand-painted Celtic script in rainbow colors covers the walls and ceiling with names of famous Irish and Irish-American authors. Two rooms down, past the facsimile edition of the Book of Kells and the music co llection, you’ll find the children’s section—a quiet space, unless it’s hosting (as it often does) a storytelling event complete with costumes and treats. The collection holds beautifully illustrated Gaelic books, but your wee one doesn’t labhraíonn sé Gaeilge? No worries—browse shelves of Irish folklore, fairy tales and history, all in picture-book form.
Shelved in a former mansion
A complete interior revamping upped the ante in the interactive department at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (800 S Halsted St, 312-413-5353, hullhousemuseum.org). A salon and library were recently added to its new first-floor facilities, layering history lessons within the literature. Aimed at high schoolers and up (and middle schoolers with patient parents), the library houses two sets of books: famous titles from the turn of the 19th century that inspired Addams’s ethical principles; and books written by former Hull-House residents, visitors and those who directly influenced Addams. Nestled in each title is a glossy bookmark detailing historical events, ideas and movements related to the book. So whether it’s tomes such as War and Peace (Addams visited Tolstoy in Russia!) or the quirkier The Suffrage Cookbook, each book packs a history lesson—like an analog Wikipedia.