It may be a brisk Saturday morning outside, but inside Independence library, it’s starting to look a lot like Spring.
Bathed in sunlight, a large crowd gathers excitedly as live music plays. Colorful décor makes the already breathtaking venue more vibrant. Children coo as they tackle science experiments. Families design a maze made of sticks and blocks. On the second floor, teens tinker with laser cutters to make Valentine’s Day crafts. Loyal patrons and first timers explore their new library branch with wide-eyed wonder. Just like a flower in spring, the Independence Library Branch is in full bloom.
“Today is our first family day at the Independence branch and almost 800 residents joined us,” shares Rory Brown, the library manager. Laughter, friendly chatter, and audible gasps fill the entire building. After smoke and water damage from a fire to an adjacent building closed down the space in October of 2015, there was a collective joy in the neighborhood in having a library to call its own.
A Community Comes Through for the Library
“The Independence and Irving Park communities have always loved the library. It has always been the most visited space in the neighborhood. In the morning, you can see (grand)parents and children singing, dancing, reading, writing, and playing. In the afternoon, students seek homework help from a teacher in the library. And the whole day, almost everyone spent time at the library reading or just catching up. The library played a big role in the community so when the tragic accident happened and the branch closed down, we were devastated.” – Roberta Bole, President of the Independence Library
Shortly after, local groups organized to advocate for the construction of a new library. “We attended neighborhood meetings, signed petitions and got our state rep and the entire community involved. It was a cause everyone voluntarily took up,” shares Roberta.
Why would residents bother? “Because libraries in neighborhoods matter. They are more than just buildings. To many, they are first stops and last resorts. For some, they are the only safe haven they have access to,” she explains. Without a library, there is nowhere for families to go. There is nowhere for children to receive free academic support. There is no safe space for residents to come together. The library is a community anchor.
Four years in the making, The community worked so hard to make it happen,” she recalls.
The stunning, contemporary 16,000 square-foot space has glass-paneled walls, welcoming natural light. Hues of bright orange, green, and purple adorn the expansive white building. But the charm of the Independence Branch is beyond skin-deep. “The library brought the entire community to life,” says Rory. You have parents who grew up attending this neighborhood library, bringing their own children, bonding over books and activities. Library loyalists audibly gasp, mesmerized by the library’s transformation and new equipment. “I used to visit the library to read. Now I can use the computer too!”, exclaims Rob. Indeed,the Independence branch offers something for everyone. And it’s all free!
“The Independence and Irving Park communities are immensely grateful. Visitors come up to me and staff just to say thank you. They ask how they can support the library,” shares Rory. Befitting this active community, two months after the inauguration, the library has become the venue for local meetings. Clubs, schools, and community-based organizations meet here regularly and promote library programs to their neighbors. “This is our library and we invest in it in however we can. Now, it is our collective duty to help our library thrive,” describes Roberta.