Chicago Public Libraries, Meeting the Needs of Local Communities

By Maura Biedron and Nuschia Taylor

With the development of an increasingly digital world, it’s not unrealistic to beg the question: are libraries a necessary component to Chicago communities?

(Google MyMaps By Nuschia Taylor)

This interactive map depicts all of the Chicago Public Library locations showing a vast distribution throughout the city. There are 79 libraries in this map covering each of the 77 neighborhoods throughout Chicago.

Chicago Public Libraries, comprise many valuable components that speak to the need and desire for libraries within Chicago communities.

So what resources and programs are offered and utilized within the CPL system? A Head Librarian and a Branch Manager from two CPL locations said there are many children, teen and adult programs implemented by the libraries. Each location varies, depending on the needs of the neighborhood. Each library location offers a variety of activities and resources to help individuals find the fun in learning and developing new skills.

There was a running theme among the Beverly and Mount Greenwood branches that there isn’t enough money for their programming needs to be met. Joyce Colander, the Head Librarian at the Beverly Branch said they often apply for grants which are fulfilled by local schools and Universities.  Jessica Jeffers, Branch Manager at the Mount Greenwood Branch, as well as the Children’s Librarian often spend their own money on refreshments and supplies for programs. Jeffers also said they rely heavily on fundraisers run by the branch employees during the summer.

Colander, explained that this location offers a large variety of programs and activities. These include book clubs, poetry groups, and various cultural programs such as the all city jazz band.

Colander added that individuals coming to the library still utilize the resource for checking out books; “many adults read and enjoy self-help books, nonfiction, and fiction books.”

According to Colander many students from grade school and high school come to the library to get help from the teachers that come after school to assist with homework.

“College students also come to use the computers and study materials,” she said.

Colander also noted that most individuals who visit the library use it to its full capacity by taking advantage of all of the resources available.

(Image of the Mount Greenwood Public Library By Maura Biedron)

Jeffers said that the children’s programs are the most utilized at the Mount Greenwood location.

“Summer of 2016 there were 500 participants for the Summer Learning Challenge.” Jeffers said. “There is a Children’s Librarian who is in charge of programs such as; storytime for toddler and pre-k, as well as a My First Book Club program for children 5-6 years old and third graders being introduced to chapter books.”

Jeffers said that the My First Book Club, which meets monthly, is very successful and has a great impact on the children to instill in them a reading experience that helps them understand stories and find the fun in reading.

(Image of Children’s area at the Mount Greenwood Branch taken By Maura Biedron)

While the children’s programs are the most used at this location, the library does provide access to computers which Jeffers said are used mostly by older individuals which is similar to the Beverly branch.

Colander mentioned that at the Beverly branch “many adults and college students come to use the computers and internet for homework and job applications since many of them don’t have access to these things in their home”.

The various library branches will connect with schools in their servicing neighborhoods. Jeffers, from the Mount Greenwood location, said they have connections with eight of the surrounding public and Catholic schools. While they do service local schools, at the Mount Greenwood branch, it is not common for teen’s to partake in the programs offered for them. Jeffers stated that most of the teens that come to the library are there volunteering to help with the Children’s Summer Learning Program.

It is clear that libraries are not sparse, and people do still utilize these community resources uniquely depending on the area in which they are located. Stop by your nearest library, and ask the librarian what they have to offer, you might be surprised at how many free services they have.

Now, how does Illinois stand up to the rest of the country in regards to quantity of locations?

This interactive map of the US depicts the quantity of libraries in each state throughout the country. The American Library Association (ALA) helps to fund library programs and employees throughout the US. The ALA helps to fund a program to increase access to digital media in CPL. Much like Chicago, other states build libraries where there is a need for these community resources.

In order to create and sustain programs, build new locations and update old facilities; it is necessary for the CPL system to have enough money. The Chicago Public Library Foundation is the CPL’s fundraising partner. Darcy Evon, the Chief Development Officer and Kate Nardin, the Director of Institutional Giving at the CPL Foundation spoke about what role fundraising plays in financing the libraries.

“There are some programs that are deemed ‘favorites’ amongst donors” said Evon and Nardin. Among those favorites are: Children’s programs (Summer Learning Challenge, Teacher in the Library), teen programs (YOUmedia), and adult programs (cyber navigators).

The YOUmedia program is very popular in the city, especially at Harold Washington Library, and is expanding to 17 more locations. One success story of this program as mentioned by Evon is Chance The Rapper, who produced his first mix tape through this program, as discussed in this article. Another example of how YOUmedia impacts the local communities is discussed in this article about Isaiah Fernandez who, because of the library programs is now majoring in computer science at UIC.

(Google Streetview of the Harold Washington Public Library in Chicago)

Another popular program is the Cyber navigators, which Nardin mentioned is a program to “help address the digital divide”. This program is fully run by the CPL foundation and Evon says the navigators as well as teachers in the library have proven to be helpful in many communities.

“There will be four new library locations built near CHA housing, to make sure that individuals with higher need for free resources have easy access to the libraries,” Evon said.

Both Evon and Nardin made it quite clear that the libraries are there to offer residents of all communities a “safe haven” and an opportunity to learn or experience learning in a way they may not have been able to without these crucial and free resources.

Evon said, “Over the last few years, the Foundation and CPL, which are separate entities, have become more cohesive and it has benefited the Foundation’s fundraising efforts”.

Evon also mentioned that 2016 was their “most successful fundraising year in the last eight years”.

Nardin mentioned that their biggest fundraising events are the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, targeting a more corporate audience, as well as the Night in the Stacks event, run by the Foundation’s junior board, targeting a younger demographic.

Another factor that has assisted in their fundraising efforts mentioned by Evon is their social media presence.

“Veronica Brown and the Junior Board from the Foundation have created a social media presence to market other events and videos throughout the year.”

Take a look at this infographic depicting what types of programs the CPL and Chicago Public Library Foundation funded over the last few years as well as their expenses and expenditures.

Comparison of Chicago Public Library Funding, Expenses and Programs for the years 2013, 2014, and 2015 By Maura Biedron



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