Chicago’s Newberry Library may have closed stacks, but they’ve got a new open access policy that’s already making history. Since February, every digital image of their collections is now available to everyone! From every collection they’ve got online to the photos you snap in their reading room, as long as the collection item is in the public domain, you’re good to go. There’s no licensing, no permission fees, open access means it’s all free.
What does that mean for you? Well, just about every single one of the 1.7 million images they’ve got online are now available to use without having to fill out any permission forms at all. This change is intended to foster “life-long learning and civic engagement with the humanities” while allowing for easy and effective use of the Newberry’s collections.
How To Do Things
Want to make your own Westworld-esque broadsides while remaining historically accurate? Browse through the Graff collection for period-accurate language and typography! Need a little inspiration for your own revolutionary invectives? Check out this monstrous collection of French Revolution pamphlets! Looking for classroom resources? They’ve got ’em! Anything in the digital collection, they want you to make stuff with it. Scholarly research, creative endeavors, mix it up… the collections are meant to be used.
The Newberry’s updated open access policy also means that visitors can share photos they’ve taken of the collections themselves. Since I’m lucky enough to live nearby, I had the opportunity to do this myself just this past weekend! I went to an event with the Society for Typographic Arts that focused on calligraphy, lettering, and flourishes. Using my phone’s camera as a way of taking visual notes, I got some great images of fantastic flourishes that are literal centuries old.
An Open Book
And, y’all, the Newberry Library is FREE. Anyone 14 and older can get a reader’s card and access anything in their collection. Maps, postcards, gilded and illuminated manuscripts, sheet music, tickets from the Columbian Exposition, and more extraordinary old books than you can shake a stick at!
Their hours aren’t the most convenient, but if you’re ever in Chicago with a need to pet the oldest books you’ve ever held, I can’t recommend it enough. The staff is friendly and eager to share their enthusiasm and knowledge with you, and you can browse the catalog ahead of time to maximize your time in the reading room. And really, there’s just something cool about paging through an illuminated Book of Hours once owned by a queen.
Seriously, go check out their digital collections. And maybe stop by whenever you’re in town.