Delve deep into Chicago’s past with just one click

Traffic Intersection at Michigan Blvd and Monroe Street

“Traffic Intersection at Michigan Blvd and Monroe Street,” Illinois Department of Transportation Chicago Traffic photographs, Special Collections, University Library, University of Illinois at Chicago.


Where can you find a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago in 1968? Or descriptions and images of all the pavilions in A Century of Progress, the 1933 Chicago world’s fair? Or background on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ early career with a Chicago comedy troupe?

Until a few weeks ago, your queries would have taken you to libraries all over town.

Now, you can search the collections of 21 Chicago universities, libraries and museums from one online portal, established by the Chicago Collections Consortium.

“It’s meant to gather all the archives that are about Chicago,” said Mary Case, dean of the UIC libraries who chaired the committee that developed the portal.

The Chicago Collections Consortium portal allows one-click searches of databases at the UIC Library and the collections of 20 other Chicago-area institutions.

These institutions form the Chicago Collections Consortium, organized nine years ago with the director of the Newberry Library. “We started out with 12 core members; now we’re up to 21. There are three more in the queue,” Case said.

In its first two weeks, more than 9,000 users visited the Chicago Collections site from all 50 states and more than 50 countries, said portal manager Kate Flynn.


Most popular items: neighborhoods, sports

That’s gratifying for the project’s organizers, who spent years recruiting other collections, writing grants, planning governance, hiring administrators and building a website.

“People kept up their interest and commitment,” Case said.

“It’s hard when you’re all volunteers, but once Jaclyn (Grahl, executive director of the consortium) was on board, we really moved forward.”

The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Chicago Urban League archives

Available in UIC Library Special Collections: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Chicago Urban League Collection, University Library, University of Illinois at Chicago.

The portal is a time-saving tool for users, who may be slowed only by the temptation to browse too many topics.

So far, Chicago neighborhoods and sports are the biggest draws. “Users have been particularly interested in finding out more about their own neighborhood. We’ve had users searching for images and information on neighborhoods from Uptown to Bronzeville to Pullman,” Flynn said.

“And there is a really great collection at the Chicago History Museum of sports images from the Chicago Daily News that mostly date from the early 20th century.”

The most popular UIC Library item is the C. William Brubaker Collection, the papers of an architect who worked at Perkins & Will and kept photos from 1963 to 1999. The images feature downtown landmarks, along with neighborhood images like a block in Bridgeport and plazas in Sandburg Village.

“The portal is just a first step,” Case said. “Right now, the portal is a finding aid, not the digital object, although it does have a lot of images.

“We’re talking about the potential for joint digitization projects, expanding to other media — oral history, video, full texts.”



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