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Chicago Public Library’s One Book, One Chicago Tackles Climate Change Head On

As the earth warms, ocean levels rise, and more species face extinction, the Library encourages Chicagoans to read, learn, and act together.

Season for Change 
The recently concluded One Book, One Chicago season’s theme was Chicago Public Library’s boldest one yet: climate change. “From bush fires in Australia to the shoreline erosion along our very own Lake Michigan, it seems timely to discuss what is shaping up to be the most dire and urgent issue of our time,” said Jen Lizak, Coordinator of Special Projects, Cultural and Civic Engagement at Chicago Public Library.

“This year’s season is a response to patrons’ growing interest in learning more about the environment and understanding how climate change impacts their lives.”

Themed “Season for Change,” the 2019/20 One Book, One Chicago season explored the climate crisis through the lens of Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work, The Sixth Extinction.

“The book is as meticulously researched as it is captivating. Elizabeth Kolbert has a way of making complex information read like a novel. Amid her catastrophic predictions lies the wonderfully coordinated world we live in, where every living thing is interconnected. Kolbert’s vivid prose propels the reader to a compelling call to action,” shared Lizak.

The Book is Just the Beginning. 
How do you engage a diverse city of 2.7 million people about a topic as complex, nuanced, and controversial as climate change?

As a hub for every Chicagoan, the Library put together a thoughtful program that appealed to a wide variety of audiences and their interests. This season, there were over 150 different events related to climate change—author talks, book discussions, energy-saving tips, film screenings, and hands-on workshops across 81 branches, along with walking tours in xx neighborhoods.

“We reach out to all people and communities, no matter how familiar they are with the theme. Whatever your interest is—from art to history to (re)discovering Chicago—we have programs that will help you explore the theme in ways that are meaningful to you.” 

The Sixth Extinction itself is available in a variety of formats (print, audiobook, and e-book) and languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, and Polish). Customized formats are also available for people with disabilities, empowering every Chicagoan to read and participate in the program.

Different Voices in the Room 

Throughout the season, respected authors and climate experts shared their insights about climate change with library patrons eager to learn more. Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, relived her first-hand experience with facing and fighting the impacts of climate change from her home in the Arctic Circle. New York Times bestselling author Dan Egan discussed the vulnerability of the Great Lakes and the steps we can take to protect these vitally important bodies of water. New York Magazine editor David Wallace-Wells forecasted the radically different lives that humans will lead in the near future due to the climate crisis.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Elizabeth Kolbert closed out the season. Speaking to more than 400 guests for the season finale at Harold Washington Library Center, Kolbert explained the serious threat climate change poses for present and future generations across the globe. In the same breath, she also shared hope that all is not lost. We can find solutions together.

“Seeing you here gives me hope,” Kolbert said of the hundreds gathered to hear her talk. “Now, we must transform the energy of this room into action.”

Continuing the Conversation 

The Season for Change may be over, but the citywide conversation about climate change continues.

“One Book, One Chicago encourages patrons to explore our theme and go beyond the book in ways that matter to them. Some seek to read additional books or watch a documentary to keep learning about climate change. We’ve heard from many people who have switched to energy-efficient lightbulbs after attending one of the Library’s energy-saving workshops. A couple of patrons are talking to their family and friends about environmental legislation. Others are starting to be more active in the preservation of their local parks,” shared Lizak. 

However you choose to take action, Chicago Public Library is here as a resource for learning, growing, and exploring!

Visit for curated content about our environment, check out photos from this season’s finale here, and stay tuned for the announcement of the next inspiring One Book season coming fall 2020!

Special thanks to The Joyce Foundation, Elizabeth and Bill Wallace, Harold M. & Adeline S. Morrison Family Foundation, United Airlines, WBEZ91.5, and generous donors to the Chicago Public Library Foundation for making “Season for Change” a huge success. 

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