A library opening in any community is cause for excitement. But today's dedication of the restored community library at Altgeld Gardens was particularly joyful.
The library at Altgeld was closed for more than a year after a pipe broke in early 2009, flooding the library and rendering its collection unusable. In late December dozens of residents of the public housing complex went to City Hall to demand that the library be re-opened.
The new facility is a collaboration among Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Housing Authority and the city's library system.
To Cheryl Johnson, the new library is a portal beyond her isolated Chicago Housing Authority development. “You may live in public housing,” Johnson said, “but the library can take you internationally.”
The new library boasts 37 computer stations and free wireless internet. Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey says trained staff help people master the internet.
“Our reference librarians and cyber-navigators report sixty percent of their time is being used to help people search for jobs,” Dempsey said. Cyber-navigators teach people of all ages basic computer skills - setting up e-mail and searching the internet.
In addition to computer trainers, the Altgeld branch will have a teacher present after school to help students with their homework.
The new structure shares a building with Carver Elementary School and the Phyllis Wheatley Child Parent Center. It will be open six days a week.
There are currently 75 libraries in Chicago, with an additional four slated to open by the end of 2011.
Library Commissioner Dempsey credits MayorRichard Daley with being an advocate for the construction of neighborhood libraries.
“In a time when our colleagues in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, [and] Phoenix are seeing their budgets be slashed drastically, ours is improving. And in a very difficult economy to have your budget stay steady is a great victory but ours actually grew slightly this year because of the addition of the new branches.”