Harold Washington Library
The Harold Washington Library Center is the central library for the Chicago Public Library System. It is named for former Mayor Harold Washington. It is located just south of the Loop 'L', at 400 S. State Street in Chicago. It is a full service library and ADA compliant. As with all libraries in the Chicago Public Library system, it has free wifi internet service. It is approximately 756,640 square feet (70,294 m 2).

The building was designed by the architectural firm of Hammond, Beeby and Babka, now known as Hammond Beeby Rupert Ainge, Inc., winners of a design competition held in 1987 to replace the old central library, which had been housed in the present Chicago Cultural Center.

The exterior evokes the design of the Rookery, Auditorium and the Monadnock buildings. The bottom portion is made of large granite blocks. Red brick makes up the majority of the exterior. These two portions draw on the Beaux-Art style. The pediments and most of the west side facing Plymouth Court are glass, steel and aluminum with ornamentation hearkening to the Mannerist style. In 1993, the roof was ornamented with seven large, painted aluminum acroteria designed by Kent Bloomer with owl figures by Raymond Kaskey. The acroterium on the State Street side depicts an owl, the Greek symbol of knowledge. The acroteria on the Congress Parkway and on the Van Buren sides contain seed pods, which represent the natural bounty of the Midwest. The acroteria angularia each contain an owl perched in foliage. On the divide between the granite blocks and the brick portions are wall medallions that have the face of Ceres and ears of corn. On the north, east and south sides of the build are five story tall arched windows. Between the windows are rope friezes.

All public doors lead to the lobby. The north public entrance on Van Buren is just east of the CTA Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren stop, served by the Brown, Orange and Pink Lines and the Purple Line Express. The corridor goes east then south then west and opens south to the lobby. The east and south public entrances open directly to the lobby. The west public entrance opens to the offices. The west corridor goes east then south to open at the lobby.
  • The lower level houses the Cindy Pritzker Auditorium, Multi-Purpose Room and Exhibit Hall.
  • The central lobby is two stories tall. On the east side, the Popular Library is housed.
  • The second floor houses the Thomas Hughes Children’s library.
  • The third floor is the floor that is the entrance to the main library. The circulation desk, book check-in/check-out, computers for public use, periodicals, interlibrary loan and general information services department.
  • The fourth floor holds the business, general sciences, and technology items.
  • The fifth floor holds government publications, Chicago municipal references, maps, and center for the blind, visually impaired and physically disabled.
  • The sixth floor holds social sciences and history resources.
  • The seventh floor holds literature and language resources as well as a work by acclaimed Polish sculptor Jerzy Kenar.
  • The eighth floor holds visual and performing arts resources, music practice rooms, and audio/visual rooms.
  • The ninth floor holds the winter garden, which may be rented for social functions, special collection and preservation department, the Harold Washington archives and collections and exhibit halls.
  • The tenth floor is not open to the public. It houses library offices and technical services.

The Harold Washington Library opened on October 7, 1991. After the refurbishment of the Chicago Cultural Center in 1977, where the central library had been housed, much of the library's collection was placed into storage. A debate on a new central library ensued and continued throughout most of the 1980s, frustrated by a lack of funding. Upon his election in 1983, mayor Harold Washington supported the construction of a new central library. Finally, in 1987, a design competition was held that drew five prominent entries from Arthur Erickson, Hammond, Beeby and Babka, Helmut Jahn, Dirk Lohan, and SOM. The entries were narrowed down to two finalists: Helmut Jahn's glassy, modern design and Hammond, Beeby and Babka's postmodern design that took elements from nearby historic buildings. Notably, Jahn's design was to have arched over Van Buren Street onto the area that is now occupied by Pritzker Park, incorporating a new elevated station on Chicago's Loop. As these elements were deemed too expensive, along with the rest of Jahn's design, the Hammond, Beeby and Babka design won the competition. With the support of Harold Washington and Chicago's wealthy Pritzker family, ground was broken at the chosen site at Congress Parkway and State Street, covering an entire block. Upon the building's completion in 1991, the new Mayor Richard M. Daley named the building in honor of the now-deceased Washington, an advocate of reading and education among Chicagoans as well as an advocate of the library's construction. Since completion, the library has appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest public library building in the world.