Resident Access

Getting into Northwestern University’s Library.

I always try to find new and inspiring places in which to write.

It’s not uncommon for me to write a Patch article while sitting in my car in front of The Musical Offering waiting for my daughter to finish her piano lesson. I’ve written in coffee shops and at the Evanston Public Library; in friends’ homes (one friend refinished her basement and the floor looks exactly like a deeply-hued, shiny bowling ball) and in my own home (where the laundry and the dog and the garbage are always demanding my attention); in bookstores – actually, “the bookstore” now that Border’s is closed – and at hair salons while getting my gray covered.  I’ll write just about anywhere.

A friend recently suggested trying out the Northwestern University Library.

“It’s open to the public?” I asked.

“Pretty sure,” she said. “If you’re an Evanston resident, you can get a daily pass. Imagine how much peace and quiet you’d get writing in those stacks…”

I called the Northwestern and inquired about my friend’s theory.

“Of course you’re welcome!” a grandmotherly voice, cooed, conjuring images of a gray-haired woman with a tight bun and rosy cheeks.

I kicked myself for not exploring this option sooner. It only makes perfect sense that, as an Evanston resident, I’ve got access to one of the world’s finest libraries on earth. Even if I just want to use it as a convenient place to crank out blog posts and Patch articles and chapters of my children’s novel, it’s right here, no?

Well, I’m here to tell you: It’s a little trickier than I thought to reach the “inner sanctum”.

“So,” I asked Grandma Wildcat, “can you tell me what the library’s hours are?”

“Oh my,” she said. “For residents of Evanston? That’s a really good question.” At that point she must have put down the knitting needles and stared nervously at a computer screen. “You know what?” she asked. “Would you mind calling back a little bit later? Someone who knows the answer to that will probably be able to help you better than I can. I’m terribly sorry.”

“No problem,” I said, figuring I’d just look up the hours on the Internet. I never got around to doing that, but yesterday I decided I’d head over to campus and get the real story.

Challenge #1: Parking

On campus parking is highly restricted Mondays through Fridays from 8am to 4pm. You’re a gifted individual if you find a rare, metered spot – so enjoy every one of those 30 minutes (MAX) before re-feeding your meter.

I discovered you can purchase daily passes for $7.50 from the University Police at 1819 Hinman Avenue.  If you think that’s too much, call them at (847) 491-3319.

The good news? You’re permitted to purchase up to 10 daily permits at one time.  

Additionally, if you’re ever looking for a cool, free place to bring younger kids interested in seeing a real-live surveillance setup, stop by the University Police lobby: there’s an officer in front of about 30 screens displaying security camera shots around campus. It’s very NU CSI.

After I obtained my overpriced parking pass (yes I could have walked, but readers of previous posts know I have a weak ankle), I walked to the library. Using a step counter/stopwatch App on my phone, I recorded 407 steps and/or 4:39 from the parking lot to the library.

Non-Challenge #1: Getting In

I literally handed my Driver’s License to the young gentleman behind the desk and within 15 seconds I was in.  He ran my license through a machine then issued me a temporary nametag with my photo. I was about to put it on when he said, “You don’t have to wear that. Just hold on to it.” Good thing, because I felt conspicuous enough as a middle-aged-non-NU visitor. Maybe I’d blend in…or not.

I’ve also learned Evanston residents may apply for a 3-month Borrower’s Card for $50.00.


Challenge #2: Staying In

Visitors are limited to the following times during the academic year:

Monday – Friday 8:30am to 5:00pm

Saturday 8:30am to 12:00pm


Summer Hours are much better:

Monday - Thursday 8:30am to 10:00pm

Friday/Saturday 8:30am to 5:00pm

Sunday 10am to 6:00pm


Challenge #3: Blending In

Call me paranoid, but NU students must have finely tuned gray-dars. What I thought might be a neutral outfit to wear (black yoga pants, matching black jacket, backpack) wasn’t working.

It also might have been my shiny green, faux alligator (plastic) purse from Payless  that I bought with a store credit after returning a pair of Fortnightly shoes my daughter didn’t like, overflowing with my neon yellow NU VISITOR parking passes,  a Diet Coke and a water bottle from home (thinking the NU Library Police Squad might run me out if I violated anti-beverage laws). Funny, but I didn’t see a single NU co-ed carrying a purse like mine...

They knew I was new, and I knew they knew, which made it all a little weird.

Still, I tried not to gawk. The library is amazing, and even if I looked like a tool, I just had to take photos for those of you who’ve never been inside.  

Non-Challenge #2: Admiring the Facilities

My intention was to write in the (more Hogwarts-y) Deering Library, seen from Sheridan Road.  From Northwestern's website:

Charles Deering Library, built in emulation of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge... opened in January 1933, had a capacity of 500,000 volumes (not including government publications) and seating for 900 readers. Deering Library was built at a cost of $1,250,000 to a design by James Gamble Rogers. Taken together with its setting on higher ground overlooking Deering Meadow and facing, at a patrician remove, Sheridan Avenue, Deering Library is recognized today as the university’s most prominent landmark.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the library’s 70s-era section in which the main entrances and Plaza Café are located.

Oh, and drinks with lids are permitted.

This piece was written in the Deering Library’s 2nd floor Music Library. I made it in with a bit of a struggle…and it was absolutely worth it.

About the library -- click below to see:

The History

What's There


Correction: An earlier version of this article said the library 3-month borrowing card costs $5.00. It is actually $50.00.

Richard Schulte December 02, 2011 at 05:46 PM
"What's there": "Many of these materials are of broader historical significance as well, ranging from the ransom note composed by Leopold and Loeb in the infamous 1924 murder case to the baton that belonged to Glenn Cliffe Bainum, the band director who originated the use of marching band formations during football games (the first one, incidentally, spelled out “Hello”)." Most interesting. . . . .perfect timing too-I've been working on developing a ransom note, but had "writers block". The Leopold and Loeb note should help. Since there is so little work in the construction business and things are gettting desperate with winter coming, I've decided to kidnap myself and hold myself for ransom.


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