Library Matters

Mayor Lightfoot recently decided to reinstitute Sunday hours for Chicago’s public libraries. We should all thank Kang Chiu, president of the Friends of the Rogers Park Library and founder of the Coalition of Friends of Chicago’s libraries, for this development. Kang has been advocating for this chamge for the past three years, and in 2016 he testified before the Chicago City Council about the importance of restoring Library hours. He even figured the dollar cost so the library and the City administration would know how much additional expense would be incurred. 

You can find Kang’s testimony on this blog. The entry is dated March 1, 2017, and is entitled “Chicago Public Library  Survey,” referring to a survey being conducted at that time. His testimony is included in that post.

Kang’s leadership on this issue should not be overlooked. He has kept this matter before the library board and the public. I’m delighted that someone in city government–in this case, our new mayor–has finally paid attention.

Thank you, Kang Chiu, for your vision and your leadership  on the issue of restoring public library hours .

On another library matter, the alderman still says that she has no idea what’s going to happen to the old library. Just a few weeks ago, in April, another vacant library was sold to a Latino community group for $1.  The group plans to develop the site as shared community space. Silverstein voted “yes” on the sale. 

It’s time for the 50th Ward to have a community meeting on the fate of the old library. It’s time for our various community groups to pull together and demand that this building be used to advance  our common goals. Let’s not make it a zero-sum game that only one group can win. Instead, let’s consider forming a neighborhood council of community groups and visionary individuals to guide this enterprise.

Check the City ordinance here:



A Tale of Three Surveys

Three community input surveys about library usage, needs, and desires are currently available online; two are specific to the new Northtown Library, and one is addressed to all library users.

The LEARN Survey
LEARN is the West Ridge coalition that was formed because the community was unable to secure a new library even though the existing library is woefully out of date. LEARN obtained 2,500 signatures on a petition for a new library and presented that petition to the alderman. In February 2017, LEARN launched its online survey, asking West Ridge residents about how they use the library and what they’d like to see improved, added, and eliminated from current services.

Nearly 400 people have responded so far. Not surprisingly, 67% of respondents requested an increase in library hours, with the same number seeing improvement in library offerings as critical. The numbers also indicate widespread support (more than 50% of respondents) for a variety of children’s programming, including arts and crafts; materials that reflect the uncommon diversity of the 50th Ward; computer and technology improvements; and creating a children’s reading area.

Strong needs for more parking and for bicycle racks were also expressed.

Respondents listed as first priorities large-print books, improved technology, an outdoor reading area, Braille books and talking books and movies, separate areas for children and teens so they don’t disturb adult patrons, programs that would bridge age and cultural gaps, more new books, and better-trained staff and librarians.

Many users felt that a wider selection of books was most important, while others stressed the need for a wider variety of children’s books, ESL programming, Arabic-language books, and a dog-friendly area for special reading programs.

The LEARN survey is ongoing.

The Chicago Coalition of Friends of the Library Groups
An exciting new citywide coalition comprised of all the City’s Friends of the Library groups, this organization is the brainchild of Kang Chiu, longtime president of the Friends of the Rogers Park Library. Kang’s leadership led to the creation of the “new” Rogers Park Library on Clark Street at Farwell Avenue; that building replaced a library as outmoded as Northtown’s. The vision for the Coalition of Friends is to help organize Friends groups throughout the City and create a cooperative environment through which such groups could work together on areas of common interest and support one another through partnerships and experience-sharing. The Coalition of Friends’ groups survey was launched in January 2017.

So far, more than 675 responses have been submitted, with 97% of respondents indicating they used the library; more than 95% have library cards. Nearly 50% said they use the Sulzer Library, the Harold Washington Library, and the Library Web site in addition to branch libraries, with more than 70% stating that they use the library on a weekly or monthly basis. An equal number say their visits last an hour or less, but a quarter of all library users say they stay two to four hours per visit.

While at the library, more than half of respondents say they read books and magazines or request holds for library materials. Roughly one-third of all library users request help finding materials, and nearly as many use the free wi-fi service. More than 20% of visitors are attending community meetings or attending workshops and seminars. More than 15% of library users are there to use the free computers, the copiers or scanners, or the audio-visual materials. Almost as many come to the library for children’s story times, to participate in reading or discussion groups, or to attend musical or theatrical performances. Ten percent of users can be found in the study rooms or attending meet-ups for hobbies or using digital content.

Most library users indicated in this survey that they would like to have more books and magazines available, more workshops to continue lifelong learning, more book discussion groups, and, as with the LEARN survey, longer hours. Other users suggested more workshops on health and financial planning as well as homework help.

Most respondents wanted to see library hours increased to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. More than half of all respondents said they would use the library more if it were open longer hours.

Finally, more than half of all respondents would join a Friends of the Library group if one were available.

The Coalition of Friends’ survey is active through the end of April.

Alderman Silverstein’s Survey
The alderman released her survey March 17. She describes the response as “fantastic” but has not released any details yet.

Chicago Public Library Survey

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.