If you think it was already hard to get those library museum passes...

Library cuts back on amount of free museum passes

June 22, 2012

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Niala Boodhoo
Museum passes at Harold Washington Library.

If you think it was already hard to get your hands on a free Chicago museum pass from the library, it just got much harder.

Earlier this month, Chicago Public Library cut back on the amount of passes it offers through the popular program, which started in 2003.

"Museum passports started as a way for families across the city to be able to experience museums for free," Chicago Public library's Ruth Lednicer explained, from inside the Harold Washington Library.

The program pairs reading lists with the museum: Amelia Bedelia's Masterpiece, for example, for a visit to The Art Institute of Chicago.

The program is so popular that even though the library has never advertised it, the passes are hard to come by.

"We didn’t actually market it widely because it was so popular," Lednicer said.

Library patron Megan Riley says she's never even tried to get one.

"We've heard from friends how hard they are to actually get," said Riley, who was at Harold Washington Library with her kids.

The passes to Chicago’s biggest museums can be checked out for a week. When it first started in 2003, branch libraries had about 10 passes for each of the 15 museums in the program. Then in 2006, it was cut to five passes for each museum.

In June, they cut it to two passes for each museum at most branches. And another new rule: There must be at least one child under 18 and a maximum of two adults on the pass, which usually admit four.

Gary Johnson is president of the Chicago History Museum and chairman of Museums Work for Chicago, which runs the program. He says the library pass program was about to end and cutting back was the only to save it.

The program had been sponsored in part by Kraft, Johnson said. While Kraft is no longer the sponsor, that is not the reason for why the program is being cut back, he said, adding that Kraft's donations were only to pay for the printing of the actual passes.

He said in an era of cuts, he was just happy to be able to save the program - and he points out that Illinois residents still have 52 free days a year at each of these same museums. (On a normal day at say, the Brookfield Zoo, admission for four costs about $55.)

And as for the pass: "It may not be possible for you to check out the pass for your first choice museum but you’ll undoubtably have a way to find a pass for one of the museums," he said.

Library patrons like Megan Riley still thinks the cuts are a shame, especially for families like hers.

"I think that's a real loss for families in the city and families that want to stay in the city and raise their kids here and still have access to all the reasons that you would stay," she said.