ex libris logo

A Brief History, or how Ex Libris Got Here

Ex Libris circa 1979

Chicago Maroon, 1979

When the Regenstein Library opened in 1971, the new building included a student canteen with vending machines for snacks, soda, and hot drinks. However, almost immediately patrons began clamoring for a real coffee shop.

Initially the Library strongly resisted any expansion of eating facilities in the Reg, fearing damage to books, attraction to pests, and an increase in general untidiness (concerns that continue, with all respect, even to the present day).

But patrons were persistent, and the Library, Student Government, and the Student Activities Office (now ORCSA) jointly drew up plans for a proposed cafe. SG contributed the funds (roughtly $6000 in 1978 dollars), for the necessary remodeling of the A-Level. Initially the cafe was supposed to be ready at the start of the 1978-1979 school year, but construction delays pushed the opening back to Winter Quarter.

In January 1979, Ex Libris Science Digest Coffee Shop began operating on evenings and weekends. Library patrons looking for a post-dinner snack could purchase pastries, yogurt, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, and milk.

By February the shop was gaining in popularity. "In addition to the normal fare of yogurt, doughnuts, milk, coffee, and orange juice that all the coffee shops on campus have, Ex Libris is noted for its wide variety of pastries, cookies, and tea that is not seen elsewhere. Ex Libris's novelty and selection has turned 'A' level of Regenstein into the gathering point of the winter season." (Chicago Maroon, Feb 23 1979).

Ex Libris in 2002

The University of Chicago Magazine, April 2002

Ex Libris continued a brisk business in snacks, sandwiches, and beverages on the A-Level for many years. In addition to its staples of coffee and tea, the shop stocked several types of candy, soda, and sandwiches/entrees from various local restaurants.

The shop's main entrance was through the elevator bay on the A-Level, and a student monitor -- perhaps the most thankless job on campus -- checked the bags of everyone leaving Ex Libris for contraband food or drink.

A reconfiguration project in 1998-2000 brought several changes to the Reg's A-Level, including Ex Libris. During construction the Library's A-11 conference room served as the temporary home of Ex Libris, with the "shop" reduced to a few airpots and a rack of candy in a corner of the room. The inconvenience proved worth the wait when Ex Libris reopened with new counters, new backroom equipment, and an entrance outside of the Library.

first floor Ex Libris in 2012

Library News Office, 2012

The opening of Mansueto Library in 2011 allowed Ex Libris to realize a long-held dream of moving upstairs. Although our secret takeover of the dome was foiled, the moving of books into Mansueto opened up new spaces in the Reg, and the northeast corner of the first floor (aka "the Secret Garden") was found suitable for a new café.

In January 2012 -- one week shy of the shop's 33rd birthday -- Ex Libris opened its first floor doors, and a new (espresso-fueled) chapter of history began.