Meet our 2024 Library Foundation Award honorees.

Branching Out: Neighborhood Libraries Reinvented

A playful postmodern geometric design with a contemporary flair. Floor to ceiling glass-paneled walls that let visitors soak in the sunlight.  Bright colored cushions that are as fun to look at as they are to sit on. An expansive open space for people to talk and children to run (yes; you read that right—children running). Rows and rows of books are present, a welcome reminder that this is, in fact, a library.


Reshaping Libraries  


Chicago Bee (Bronzeville), Independence (Irving Park), West Loop, and Whitney Young (Chatham) branches break the mold of a traditional library; their transformations are symbolic of what Chicago Public Library (CPL) has become – an innovative 21st century learning center. “Times change. Neighborhoods change. Most importantly, our patrons’ needs change. Our core service mission will always remain the same, but we adapt to serve Chicagoans better,” explains Brian Bannon, CPL’s visionary Library Commissioner & CEO.
The metamorphosis begins with the physical space. The West Loop branch marks CPL’s 81st branch and its most recent since 2011. West Loop has an entire floor dedicated to the children’s area, including an Early Learning Play Space. Whitney Young expanded to 2,500 square feet. “Space equals access, and access equals opportunity. We’re going beyond increasing the floor plan. We’re also talking about equity since the Library is one of the few institutions that serve the whole community, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and social status,” Brian clarifies. True enough, these branches are intentionally designed for every Chicagoan, from our youngest learners to our seniors, to feel welcomed in a beautiful environment. Looking at children running around, high school students learning graphic design software, and retirees tinkering with new technology, everyone can explore their interest and unleash their curiosity at the Library.
For Little Italy (formerly known as the Roosevelt branch in the Little Italy neighborhood) and Independence (Irving Park) branches, access presents itself as an innovative partnership between CPL and Chicago’s Housing Authority (CHA). These libraries, located on the ground floor of mixed-use senior housing complexes, are a first in CPL and CHA history. “Both the Library and CHA provide essential services to our communities, so integrating these two public benefits in one place makes sense,” shares Brian.
Be Our Guest.
At the heart of CPL’s evolution is a strategy to provide lifelong learning opportunities in the 21st century. What was once a brick and mortar repository of books has become a space for learning and access to technology through programs that are as innovative as they are transformative. When you think of the library, images of a quiet building may come to mind. Not anymore. Take a peek at CPL’s Early Learning Play Spaces for children and caregivers, and you’ll hear little ones talking, reading, singing, dancing, and playing to their heart’s content.
CPL has also pioneered the maker culture as a valuable aspect of holistic learning. Teens have a safe space in YOUmedia to explore their interests in fashion, music, coding, and more. Adults can do the same at the Maker Lab that provides access to tech that includes 3D printers, milling machines, design software, and more for creative projects or prototypes. Apart from an expressive outlet, these resources help participants learn new skills that open up continued education or employment opportunities.
True to our digital age, alongside books are plenty of computers free for children and adults to use. Along with being the city’s largest free Internet provider, CPL integrates technology in after-school Homework Help for students and through CyberNavigators (tech tutors) who assist adults as they maneuver through today’s digital landscape. “When we think of programs, we think of innovation and impact to people and communities,” Brian describes.
A Public and Private Partnership That Works
What makes Chicago Public Library a resounding success? “It helps that we have a City and a community that understand the role libraries play and are willing to work together to strengthen the institution,” Brian shares. Unprecedented capital investments by the City in people, infrastructure, and services coupled with remarkable private philanthropic contributions by donors to the Chicago Public Library Foundation have made Chicago Public Library the #1 ranked library in the country. More importantly, our joint efforts are making a lasting impact on all Chicagoans, but particularly those who need these resources the most. “The fact that the Library is open for everyone – to read, explore, and learn – makes all the difference,” expresses Maya, a loyal patron of the Independence branch.
The designs of the library may transform, and the programs may evolve, but its core mission stays the same. It was, is, and will always be a transformative community anchor.
Programs at Chicago Public Library are made possible by generous donors to the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

Interested in reading more on the good work supported by Chicago Public Library Foundation donors? Join the Curious Movement and sign-up for BOOKMARK, our monthly e-newsletter!Chicago Public Library Foundation sign up