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Columbia College Chicago Library
by Kimberly A. Hale, Head of Community Engagement and Special Initiatives

Columbia College Chicago is an international leader and recognized pioneer in arts and media education. Founded in 1890 by Mary A. Blood and Ida Morey Riley as the Columbia School of Oratory (and named after the Columbian Exposition/World Fair of 1892), Columbia College Chicago has remained an institution immersed in creative arts and communication education throughout the course of its history. From an emphasis in oratory skills to early childhood education, transitioning to the burgeoning fields of mass communications and broadcasting, Columbia has reinvented itself several times in its 125-year history while staying true to the philosophy of “learn to do by doing”. Today, Columbia College Chicago is a highly respected institution emphasizing visual, performing and communication arts grounded in liberal education.

The Columbia College Chicago Library

At the center of Columbia College Chicago’s academic community is the Library, welcoming more than 170,000 visitors in 2016. The Columbia College Chicago Library serves the curricular needs and research interests of over 8,100 students and 1,850 faculty and staff on its campus as well as library consortia members and visitors from around the world. Established by its founders Mary Blood and Ida Riley in 1890 from their own personal collections, the library had grown into a reference collection of more than 1,000 volumes. Today, the Library has nearly 300,000 books, 553 serial titles, 61,000 e-books 180 databases, 46,000 film/video titles and over 350,000 digital images.

This book was from Mary Blood and Ida Morey Riley’s personal libraries.
Source: Columbia College Chicago College Archives

The library is located on the first five floors of a building built in the Beaux Arts and Renaissance Classicism style in 1908 by Christian A. Eckstorm. It began as a seven-story building to house the Chicago Musical College, headed by Florenz Ziegfield Sr. (father of Broadway Follies producer Flo Ziegfield, Jr.) In 1922, a seven-story addition was designed and built by Alfred Alschuler. Later, the building was renamed the Blum Building and housed the studios of a dance school and boutique women’s clothiers. Tenants included Augustus Eugene Bournique’s dancing schools and two select women’s clothiers, Stanley Korshak’s Blackstone Shop and Blum’s Vogue. Subsequent names for the building include the Grant Park Building, the Barnheisel Building and the Torco Building.


Photography by Philip Livingston
Source: Columbia College Chicago Preservation Plan, 624 S. Michigan., 2005, p.6


The mission of the Columbia College Chicago Library is to support Columbia College Chicago and its academic programs by providing access to information resources and teaching students to evaluate and use them. Our Library has a teaching mission, and is committed to preparing our users to be lifelong learners in an information rich society. It is a gathering place for intellectual and artistic freedom and expression, where we consistently surprise and delight our community with a fierce dedication to coloring outside of the lines in support of lifelong learning. 

About the Library

The Columbia College Chicago Library is comprised of five departments and one center: Access Services and Assessment, College Archives and Special Collections, Community Engagement and Special Initiatives, Technical Services and Collection Management, Reference and Instruction and the Center for Black Music Research. As part of an institution whose primary focus is on the visual and performing arts, communications and entrepreneurship, our library is unique in the materials we collect, services we provide and the programs we develop, always with Columbia students and faculty in mind. We embrace a 21st century curriculum, supporting student success and career readiness in addition to teaching critical thinking skills which are tied to the curriculum and developed with the cooperation of teaching faculty. Our collections align with the coursework taught at Columbia, with emphases in the visual, performing and communication arts. As a member of several local and national consortia, the Library provides access to a wide array of collections across the world.


Students studying in the Library in the 1950s. Source: Columbia College Chicago College Archives


Students studying in the Library in 2017. Source: Kim Hale, Photographer

Creativity and Community Engagement

Columbia College Chicago is an institution where creativity is at the core of the student experience. The Library is a vibrant and creative space; with our Maker Lab, we provide students the opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills in 3D printing, vinyl cutting, sewing, button making and other areas. Many of our staff are artists and creatives who integrate their artistic skills and expertise within library programs and activities. The passion of our staff and the support of and encouragement by the Library Dean enables these programs to happen.

Community engagement efforts began in 2000 through a collaboration with the Center for Book and Paper Arts through our Edible Books and Tea celebration, in which a contest was held for the best representations of a book or literary theme in edible form.

Thirteenth Annual Edible Books and Tea, Columbia College Chicago Library (2012)
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Artist: Loni Diep| Book author: Jules Verne | Ingredients: Seafood, rice, and seaweed
Source: Columbia College Chicago Library Blog,

Over the years, library programming expanded, including participation by staff members from all departments. In January 2017, Columbia was selected as one of three recipients of the ACRL Excellence in Libraries Award. This was, in part, due to the combined efforts of library staff and connection with the college community in our engagement practices. Below are examples of our efforts.

Aesthetics of Research: The Aesthetics of Research is an ongoing project dedicated to exploring how resources shape and inform artistic practice across disciplines--from the tangible (print & electronic media, studios/workspaces, supply sources)  to the intangible (workshops, tutorials, creative communities).  With a slant toward non-traditional, indie, and underground art forms, the project seeks to connect artists to both resources and each other, forming a thriving network of similarly minded creatives. Currently in residence at the Columbia College Chicago Library. Aesthetics of Research works to develop targeted projects (exhibits, displays, programming) with an eye toward showcasing the Library's wealth of materials, engendering discussions about how those materials inspire creative work, and building interest and enthusiasm toward the collection and its possibility for artists.


Poster for Aesthetics of Research Egg Hunt (2017). Graphics and poster design by Kristy Bowen, Columbia College Chicago Library


Aesthetics of Research Egg Hunt (2017). Photo by Amy Killebrew, Columbia College Chicago Library.

Art in the Library/Exhibitions in the Library: The Art in the Library program began in 2002, originally featuring the artwork by library staff. It later expanded to include Columbia faculty, staff and students. This continued through Fall 2015. In 2016, the focus changed to highlight students from all disciplines including both undergraduate and graduate students. Renamed ”Exhibitions in the Library”, collaborations with departments such as Art and Art History, the Department of Exhibitions, Performance and Student Spaces, and other campus units provide the necessary “pipeline” for receiving new work on a consistent basis. In addition, the Library supports an Artist in Residency program open to all Columbia College Chicago student artists and includes a secure private studio in the library with unlimited access during library hours to encourage their creative body of work.

The Big Read: The Columbia College Chicago Library is a five time grant recipient of The Big Read, a nationwide reading initiative sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts designed to "revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.”  Grants are awarded based on the quality of the application as well as the ability to carry out programming that will draw audiences of readers and (especially) non-readers alike and increase readership through book discussions and dialogue. In 2007, the Library collaborated with the Center for Asian Arts and Media with The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Since then, four other books have been featured: In 2009, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury followed by The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (2011), In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (2013) and in 2016, The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. These grants allowed us to work with public libraries, bookstores, Chicago and suburban public schools, college and universities, literacy organizations, and created partnerships that have continued through subsequent Big Read programs.

Friends of the Library Signature Showcase: Designed to promote the work of Columbia College Chicago’s stellar faculty, Signature Showcase was created in fall 2008 and invites the Columbia community and the public to the Library to discover their work. Past participating faculty include writers Sam Weller, Nami Mun and Audrey Niffenegger; historian
Dominic Pacyga and music critic Jim DeRogatis,

Collaborations with faculty and the curriculum: Several of our library staff have successfully collaborated with faculty who included the Library as part of their class assignments. Faculty from the Communications department have used the Library as a client for marketing campaigns, Art & Art History and Liberal Education faculty have had class art exhibitions in our space and College Archives staff have taught an undergraduate course using primary and secondary sources for historical and archival research.

Sofia Bravo, In Between (fourth floor)
Installation/Site Specific Art Class Final Project, fall 2016

Abena Motaboli, Yesterday’s hanging sentiments tumbling down in ensemble (3rd floor).
Installation/Site Specific Art Class Final Project, Fall 2016

Jeremy Weber, The Strangers (5th floor)
Installation/Site Specific Art Class Final Project, Fall 2016


Lex Jannota, Tape Illusion (2nd floor)
Installation/Site Specific Art Class Final Project, Fall 2016


Cates, Jo. "Staff Speaks Volumes with Art of the Library." American Libraries Vol. 34, No. 6 (2003): 57-8.

Columbia College Chicago website

College Archives and Special Collections, Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College Chicago Library Annual Report, 2015-2016.

History of the Columbia Chicago Library.

McGuire, Igleski & Associates, Inc. Columbia College Chicago Preservation Plan, 624 S. Michigan., 2005, p.6

Rydell, Robert W. “World's Columbian Exposition”, Encyclopedia of Chicago History:

Institutional Effectiveness, Columbia College Chicago:
Columbia College Chicago Library Blog Entry:

Copyright 2017 by Kimberly A. Hale.

About the author:
Kim Hale is Head of Community Engagement and Special Initiatives. In September 2017, she will celebrate her 28th year at Columbia College Chicago Library. During her tenure, she has worked in acquisitions, collection development, collection management before transitioning to outreach and community engagement work.