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Surprised by Libraries

If you believe that books should be worn and used, and if you like being part of a community, even if that community includes some people that smell like…

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Your library has much more than just books

by Natalie Edwards

scan-091023-0002If you believe that books should be worn and used, and if you like being part of a community, even if that community includes some people that smell like pee, the Chicago Public Library system might be for you.

The CPL has over 10,745,600 volumes, and if they don’t have what you want, they’ll get it for you from anywhere in the world. They offer a zillion programs like computer classes, genealogy classes and other stuff retired people like, but they also have classes for first time home-buyers, people who want to green up their homes, and those who want to learn to cook Polish food. The main library, Harold Washington, hosts the Poetry Festival and the Chicago Book Festival, and they bring in big names for readings like Michael Chabon, Sherman Alexie, and Audrey Niffenegger.

You can check out audio books online and movies and CDs, and even free passes to any Chicago museum. Most CPL libraries have permanent art collections or local history information. Your libraries just give and give, so get yourself a library card and take advantage of them.
Harold Washington
400 South State Street
(312) 747-4396

Some complain about the patrons of this particular library, what with it being downtown and open to any person that wants to go inside–that being the mission and purpose of public libraries and all–but if you’re afraid of interacting with Chicagoans, you should probably just stay at home. Also, you probably need to reevaluate your classist ways. Anyway, the Harold Washington is the hub for CPL activities. The library was once in The Guinness Book of Records as the largest public library building in the world.

2353 S. Wentworth Avenue,
60616 (312) 747-8013

Next time you’re nursing a hangover with some Dim Sum, drop in for a dose of culture by checking out the Chinese Heritage Collection at the Chinatown branch. They have the largest concentration of Chinese Language Materials, so if you speak Chinese, you’re in luck.

Albany Park
5150 N. Kimball Avenue, 60625
(312) 744-1933

They’ve got a great collection of Arabic Korean and Spanish language materials, but you can also check out a fishing pole at this library. That’s right. Take your pole on over to River Park and catch something. It’s clean enough.

Bucktown-Wicker Park
1701 N. Milwaukee Avenue, 60647
(312) 744-6022

It’s an environmentally sustainable, new building, like many newer CPL buildings, built under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. It’s also a place where you can pick up hot chicks and dudes.

4801 S. Michigan Avenue, 60615
(312) 747-2541

This branch was birthed by the first CPL African-American Librarian, Vivian Gordon Harsh. She toured the world building the collection of African-American literature and promoting her library. The library is rich in community history and has served as a meeting place for authors such as Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay and Richard Wright. Hall Branch features a reading garden and is a staple of the Bronzeville community.

Humboldt Park
1605 N. Troy Street, 60647
(312) 744-2244

You can also get fishing poles here and skip on over to Humboldt Park, where the Park District stocks the pond with actual fish. Water is pumped in from Lake Michigan. Eat at your own risk.

1805 S. Loomis Street, 60608
(312) 746-4329

One of the awesomest-looking libraries in Chicago. The building has a pre-Columbian Olmec design, which surrounds the interior as well as the exterior. There are three public art pieces, and the branch is named in honor of Rudy Lozano, community activist and union organizer. They have a giant Mexican Heritage Collection.

4455 N. Lincoln Avenue, 60625
(312) 744-7616

The Conrad Sulzer Regional Library is giant and has a great movie collection. They house the Chicago History Collection, and a retrospective and bound magazine and periodical collection, so you can check out that 1976 issue of Beading Quarterly you’ve been after.

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