The First Floor, One Year Later

In the fall of 2018, the Newberry hosted a “grand reopening” to unveil its renovated first floor: 25,000 square feet of historic Chicago architecture, now updated to provide enriching cultural experiences for modern-day Chicagoans.

Both the American Institute of Architects and the Chicago Building Congress praised the renovation, honoring the Newberry and the project’s architects with 2019 Merit Awards. The generosity of donors like you made this project possible.

While many of our new spaces are named for donors who made significant gifts to the First and Foremost campaign, unrestricted support from Annual Fund donors provided a great deal of funding for the construction and helps us maintain and program these new spaces to engage with visitors in ever more meaningful ways.

We thank you, as do the thousands of new visitors and readers who have streamed into this more accessible and welcoming version of the Newberry.

Below you’ll find a tour of your impact, statistic-by-statistic. The general trend? You made public engagement soar!

Reader Registrations and Reading Room Use

New reader registrations rose 35% post-renovation, while visits to the reading rooms rose an even more impressive 55%. This means that more people than ever are accessing the Newberry’s world-renowned collection—and that they feel encouraged to keep coming back.


In 2019, more than 56,000 people visited From the Stacks, our new permanent exhibition sponsored by Joan and William Brodsky and housed in the new Helen M. Hanson Gallery. From the Stacks highlights a rotating selection of Newberry collection items, from medieval manuscripts to protest ephemera from 2017. Meanwhile, more than 16,000 visitors attended the temporary thematic exhibitions housed in the redesigned Roger J. Trienens Galleries, bringing total exhibition attendance in 2019 to more than 70,000. That’s more than four times as many visits as Newberry exhibitions received two years ago.

Public Programs

Though the number of public programs rose a modest 5%, attendance climbed nearly 50% for a total of 9,725 public program participants in 2019. Many of these programs made use of the new versatile event spaces on the first floor, including Rettinger Hall, the Baskes Boardroom, and the ITW Seminar Room.

Collection Presentations

The ITW Seminar Room and the Baskes Boardroom are specially equipped to host collection presentations, bringing these unique visitor experiences to the first floor for the first time. The number of collection presentations held at the Newberry nearly doubled thanks to the renovation. As a bonus, classrooms and researchers around the world were able to join collection presentations, classes, and conferences through the ITW Seminar Room’s cutting-edge audio-visual technology.


Since the renovation, more than 300 volunteers have contributed 10,000 hours (and counting) to the Newberry, many of which are spent on the first floor. Volunteers register readers in the new Victoria J. Herget Welcome Center, process sales and donations in the Rosenberg Bookshop, welcome visitors at the Greeter Desk, check in public program attendees in the lobby and event spaces, and offer tours in exhibition galleries and throughout the building.

So, thank you—from staff, volunteers, readers, and all who walk through our doors—for making the first-floor renovation possible and for supporting the range of activities that fill our new spaces. A building as historic and grand as 60 West Walton can be intimidating to some; but with your help, we’re shaping it into a welcoming and engaging space for all.

Follow the links below to explore activities and programs that have benefited from the renovation and your support:

Learn more about volunteering at the Newberry.

View a calendar of upcoming public programs.

Register for a reader's card.

Explore current and upcoming exhibitions at the Newberry.

This story is part of the Newberry’s Donor Digest, Winter 2020. In this newsletter the Newberry shares with its donors exciting stories of the success and innovation made possible by their generosity. Learn more about supporting the library and its programs.