Saluting the Citizen Soldier: Chicago's Pritzker Military Library Honors the Heritage of the Nation's Armed Forces

By Flagg, Gordon | American Libraries, February 2006 | Go to article overview

Saluting the Citizen Soldier: Chicago's Pritzker Military Library Honors the Heritage of the Nation's Armed Forces


Flagg, Gordon, American Libraries


In downtown Chicago, a few blocks from Michigan Avenue's "Magnificent Mile," stands a small private library that honors the nation's military heritage through means ranging from collecting antiquarian volumes to adopting the latest communications technology.

The Pritzker Military Library's mission statement says it aims "to acquire and maintain a collection of materials, and develop appropriate programs focusing on the concept of the Citizen Soldier as an essential element for the preservation of democracy."

The library began in 2003 with an opening-day collection consisting largely of 9,000 volumes donated by founder James N. Pritzker, who retired from the Illinois National Guard with the rank of colonel after serving for 27 years in the U.S. Army and the guard. The opening-day collection, including rare volumes dating to the 18th century, was acquired over four generations by the Pritzkers, a prominent Chicago family known for their philanthropic efforts. The collection now totals some 15,000 volumes, mostly contributed by private donors.

Recently the library acquired a 1,700-item collection focusing on the Marine Corps from retired marine Lt. Col. Robert C. Peithman of Barrington, Illinois. The titles, which have an estimated value of $60,000, range from Gen. Smedley D. Butler's irreverent 1935 speech War Is a Racket and Norman A. Chandler's five-volume series on sniping, Death from Afar, to Richard S. Collum's 1890 History of the United States Marine Corps.

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Other notable donations include a small collection of books and personal papers on prisoners of war from the estate of Jack D. Gordon, a captain in the Army Medical Corps, who was a survivor of the Bataan Death March; and military titles from the personal library of the late Chicago journalist Irv Kupcinet, as well as plaques and awards he received for his service to veterans.

Among the rarities in the Pritzker's collection are a signed copy of Ernest Shackleton's 1911 Heart of the Antarctic, part of a small collection on Antarctic military expeditions; Archibald Duncan's 1806 six-volume Mariner's Chronicle, plus a separate volume of artists' proofs of illustrations from the set; Friedrich von Steuben's 1779 work Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States; and a signed copy of Joseph Heller's 1961 antiwar novel Catch-22.

Librarian Theresa A. R. Embrey said visitors to the library--who numbered 1,975 from January through November 2005--range from scholars and history buffs to members of the general public. She added that filmmakers have used the library to research period military costumes, and relatives of military members come to search genealogical information.

However, most of the library's usage occurs online. Nearly 2,000 people have taken advantage of free registration to view live and archived webcasts of its programming and search the library's online catalog. The 204 individuals who have purchased associate membership for $100 are granted research and borrowing privileges. Most of the circulation, however, is in the form of interlibrary loans, which have accelerated since the library joined OCLC last July.

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Entering the facility, located on the second floor of a vintage building that once housed Chicago's famed Chez Paree nightclub, the first thing a visitor sees is the prominent lecture area set in the library's atrium, with a small stage and seating for 60 people. The stacks of the circulating collection flank the atrium, with additional stacks overlooking it on the mezzanine level. …

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