Andrea’s new role as commissioner is a fulfillment of a dream−to provide Chicagoans with all the promise of what a library could be.
A Librarian and Chicagoan at Heart
Working at Chicago Public Library is a dream come true for commissioner Andrea Telli. “I was born and raised in Chicago. And while I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the world, I always come back home. I truly believe it is one of the greatest cities in the world.”
What makes the Windy City special? The library, of course!
A voracious reader, Andrea would spend the afternoons of her youth at her local branch devouring as many books as she could. It was in a cooped-up corner of the library, sitting on a wooden chair, head buried in a novel that little Andrea decided she would be a librarian.
And what a librarian she would become!
Andrea’s connection to Chicago Public Library reached a new level of depth almost immediately upon beginning her career in Special Collections. “Our Special Collections safe keeps so much history of our city. You can find all sorts of hidden and not-so-hidden treasures ranging from artifacts of the Chicago Theater, rare manuscripts of Chicago authors, and memorabilia from the World’s Fair among others,” she recalls with such admiration.
(It was during her tenure in the Special Collections department that Andrea met the love of her life, a fellow librarian who would become her husband. “I guess you could say I found love at the library,” she smiles lightheartedly.)
Her journey continued as she served as manager of the Humboldt Park branch, then as Central District Chief for the Library, followed by Deputy Commissioner of Public Services. It was under her supervision that the CPL saw the renovation of 12 branches and one new addition to the library system located in the West Loop in just eight years. Her roles may have changed from archivist-to librarian-to administrator, but her commitment to the library has remained steadfast.
Now, as commissioner, Andrea is determined to provide Chicagoans with all the opportunity and the promise of what Chicago Public Library has always been: a hub that brings us together in community, connecting us to resources, ideas, and each other to make us, our neighborhoods, and our city stronger.
Chicago Public Library is OUR Library.
Andrea’s leadership principles spring from a deeply held belief that the library is the people’s university.
“You don’t have to belong in any socioeconomic group. You don’t have to be in any particular profession. You don’t have to be at any educational level to use the library. Everybody is welcome here to learn, expand their horizon and open up opportunities,” she shares.
In her 30-year-career, Andrea bore witness to the importance of libraries in people’s lives, the pivotal role it plays in communities all over the city. She experienced it firsthand as the doors of the library opened a whole new world to her, one she wouldn’t have thought possible.
To Andrea, the very essence of the library’s mission is equity and inclusion.
“The library is a great equalizer. It levels the playing field by giving individuals and families access to knowledge, resources, and opportunities. It is also a safe and sacred space for people to build and empower their communities,” she explains.
As part of her vision for Chicago Public Library, Andrea plans to bring the promise of the library to all 77 neighborhoods. In the same vein, the new commissioner wants to tap into the strength of these communities. During her first 90 days in office, Andrea has embarked on a listening tour – with library staff, patrons, and local organizations– to find ways to work better together.
“The library is only as strong as our communities are. It is critical that neighborhoods and branches collaborate towards the common goal: No matter where you live in the city, you can go to the library and realize your potential.”
Andrea: Beyond the Library
When she’s not busy overseeing all 81 branches of the library, Andrea spends her time cooking for her family get-togethers. “I come from a close-knit Italian family, so there’s a lot of eating involved,” she laughs. She also enjoys tending to her garden, traveling with her husband and playing with her pet Maxi, a 10-year-old shelter dog.
Reading remains her hobby of choice. She loves works of Willa Cather, T.S. Elliot, DH Lawrence, and Nino Ricci. “But Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote is the most important book I have read,” she beams with pride. “I think that it is the first modern book in history. It’s the first book that addressed the reader, encouraging us to interpret the book – to be one with Don Quixote as he embarks on his many adventures,” she adds like a true bibliophile.
Andrea’s dedication to CPL and her drive to empower Chicagoans ensure that our beloved library system is in capable hands. Her enthusiasm, optimism, and vision will lead CPL to an exciting new chapter.
What keeps you going? I ask.
“It is so incredibly humbling to work and now, lead, an organization so well-loved by the people. All walks of life think that the library is a vital part of the community. That sense of faith in an institution motivates me to serve our patrons better,” she states with a firm resolve of a true library champion.
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