The Chicago Coalition of Library Friends is a citywide organization working to restore library hours that in 2010 were cut from 64 to 48 hours per week. The Coalition’s leader, Kang Chiu, president of the Friends of the Rogers Park Library, recently testified on this issue before the City Council (see remarks below). Research done by the coalition suggests an annual price tag for the restoration of those 16 hours per week, including Sunday hours, of $34,300,000, or $6.60 per resident. The Coalition noted, “We cannot rely on foundations to contribute to the library’s operational cost, and the library is not getting sufficient funds from the state and federal level. Yet for Chicago, $6.60 for each resident is a small price to pay to strengthen a precious learning resource. “
The Coalition is also surveying library users about how they use their existing neighborhood libraries. The information collected will be forwarded to the City “…in an effort to strengthen the programs and services offered by the Chicago Public Library,” as stated in the Coalition’s survey.
If you’d like to participate in this campaign, do two things: (1) call or write your alderman and Library Commissioner Brian Bannon and state your support for expanding library hours; and (2) complete the survey. The only information you need to do so is the name of your neighborhood library and your zip code.
Testimony by Kang Chiu to Chicago City Council, November 1, 2016:
My name is Kang Chiu, and I represent a coalition of library friends groups, all who are in support of the Chicago Public Library. I graduated in 1966 from Lane Technical High School, and during our 50th year reunion I could not help but reminisce about those days. Many of us would not be able to climb the ropes in gym class or swim laps with a ten pound weight or solve a math problem with a slide rule. However, we all appreciated the education we received, but not all our education was from time spent in class. I spent some of that time in the Rogers Park Library, which then was opened from 9 to 9, Mondays to Fridays and Saturdays from 9 to 5. At closing time, I would quickly scour the stacks for a book that would give me an edge, but I came to realize that one book cannot educate. It takes a library filled with many books to form the brain and inform the mind.
In 2010 the Chicago Public Library reduced the number of hours it was opened, from 64 hours to 40 hours a week. I thank you for not closing our libraries for that would be like the city performing a frontal lobotomy on itself. Nevertheless, the reduction of hours is still a partial lobotomy. It has handicapped our neighborhood learning resource, and reduced the availability of meeting space for community discussions.
A friend visiting Chicago marveled that on a Saturday afternoon, the Rogers Park Library was packed with young people studying or using the computers to explore the Internet. The Chicago Public Library has kept tabs on its users, and with the library’s 2016 stats confirmed my friend’s impressions. In spite of the reduced hours, by the end of this year, the CPL will have over 9 million visitors coming through the doors of all of its facilities. There will be over 2 million computer sessions, and around 4 million connections made to library’s Wi-Fi. For many of these users, the Chicago Public Library is their only on-ramp to the Information Superhighway. I have no doubt that restoring hours will significantly increase those numbers.
The reduction in hours has its greatest impact on another group of library users, students. In 1988, the Friends of the Rogers Park Library tackled the problem where hundreds of students would come to the library after school. Some just hung out and were not the quietest of library users, but many struggled with their homework. The staff was overwhelmed with questions about how to solve math problems or to write a composition. We did not see this as a problem, but an opportunity. We started the Homework Center to help the many students that use the Rogers Park Library. We recruited volunteer tutors, who would help several students. They generously shared their knowledge and skills, and they lowered the barriers to learning,
We did not know how effective we were in reaching our students in our tutoring program, but a couple of years ago, we found out the influence we had on one student. Florian Sichling, a PhD student at the University of Chicago interviewed Hivan Herrejon for his research project on former Sullivan High School students. Florian wrote to us and said “Because libraries and other neighborhood institutions hardly ever hear about the critical impact that their services and programs can have on the lives of those whom they serve.” The Rogers Park Library had an impact on Hivan.
We contacted Hivan, and he wrote: “So sorry for the late reply but work has been hectic! However, I want to state the fact, that yes, had it not been for the free tutoring program at the library I probably would have either taken a long time to learn to read or who knows what would have happened. In the beginning of third grade I was at first grade level and by the end of the year I exceeded my grade level and was reading at a 4th grade level! I cannot thank the library enough for what they did for me! I went off to Sullivan High School as part of their Honors program then to The University of Chicago. After graduation I joined the Teach for America Corps in Phoenix and now I’m a program manager at a marketing firm. Soon I will be applying to go to business school.”
This Homework Center has morphed into the Teacher in the Library program funded by the Chicago Public Library Foundation but operates within the limited hours that the library is opened. I think Hivan is not an exception but the rule. This program helps the many students, throughout the city. It is proof that our Library is part of the process of education. Whenever, I visit the Rogers Park Library, I noticed it is heavily used by elementary and high school students. I suspect that the frequent users of the Chicago Public Library are still young students trying to find their edge. They deserve a richer library experience that will increase opportunities to Read, Learn, Discover, and that means longer hours to increase that opportunity. George Bernard Shaw said “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” [emphasis added]
I hope you will change your minds, and restore the hours to the Chicago Public Library.