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Lightfoot expands Sunday hours to 10 more branch libraries

Starting April 18, the Altgeld, Mount Greenwood, South Shore, Back of the Yards, Chinatown, Merlo, Edgewater, Independence, Richard M. Daley and Austin branch libraries will open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

The new Altgeld Family Resource Center includes a Chicago Public Library branch.
The new Altgeld Family Resource Center includes a Chicago Public Library branch.
Lee Bey Photography

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s rolling plan to establish Sunday hours at Chicago’s 77 branch libraries will expand later this month to 10 more branches across the city.

Starting April 18, the Altgeld, Mount Greenwood, South Shore, Back of the Yards, Chinatown, Merlo, Edgewater, Independence, Richard M. Daley and Austin branch libraries will open on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Those 10 will join nine other branch libraries that have been open on Sundays since December 2019. The Harold Washington Library Center downtown and three regional libraries — Woodson, Sulzer and Legler — are open 68 hours per week, including Sundays.

The Sunday expansion was bankrolled by an $18 million property tax increase in Lightfoot’s first budget. It was supposed to come to all 77 branch libraries as fast as a hiring blitz would allow. But the citywide rollout stalled during the pandemic, as the city was forced to close its libraries during the stay-at-home shutdown under pressure from library employees.

Sunday hours are now expected at all 77 branch libraries by the end of this year.

Lightfoot chose the $7.5 million Altgeld branch library built by her predecessor as the backdrop for Wednesday’s long-awaited announcement.

The 14,164-square-foot branch at 955 E. 131st Street is the fourth partnership forged between the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Housing Authority.

Two years ago, the library and the CHA opened three projects that combined branch libraries and affordable and mixed-income housing — in the Little Italy, Northtown and Independence neighborhoods.

The Altgeld branch is the fourth. It was built to serve residents of the CHA’s Altgeld Gardens and will house a child care facility operated by the Centers for New Horizons; a YOUmedia space for teens, complete with a student recording studio; and a Maker Lab for patrons of all ages.

Children fill a cramped room at the current Altgeld Chicago Public LIbrary branch in August 2016 to listen to Mayor Rahm Emanuel read. The mayor and other officials were there to announce that a new, larger library is headed to the housing development.
Children fill a cramped room at the current Altgeld Chicago Public LIbrary branch in August 2016 to listen to Mayor Rahm Emanuel read. The mayor and other officials were there to announce that a new, larger library is headed to the housing development.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Lightfoot decided to expand library service during her first months in office, which came as no surprise.

Former Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey, whose 2011 resignation protested Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s draconian cuts to library hours and services, is a close friend, former co-worker, campaign advisor and contributor to Lightfoot.

And Lightfoot’s wife, Amy Eshleman, served as an assistant library commissioner under Dempsey. Eshleman is credited with helping to develop YOUmedia, a digital center tailor-made for teenagers. Eshleman attended Wednesday’s announcement.

On Wednesday, the mayor talked about her own love of libraries and the “accessible gateway” they provided her “to gain knowledge, freedom of thought and inspiration to lift myself up from my current circumstances and to dream about a different kind of life.”

More than 40 years later, libraries are even more than that. They’re “community anchors and meeting places, early learning and job training centers, digital support spaces and places for residents to learn a new skill or even learn about their rights,” the mayor said.

“In order for them to be as impactful as possible, they must be as accessible as possible to our residents. And that means seven days a week. That’s why I’ve been a huge advocate for expanding Sunday hours to all of our public libraries since the beginning of my administration,” Lightfoot said.

Newly-appointed Library Commissioner Chris Brown said he “can’t help but be proud” of the city’s commitment to revitalizing libraries and expanding access.

“Whether partnering with the Chicago Housing Authority to design and revitalize libraries or eliminating overdue fines so every Chicagoan is ensured access or renovating and re-establishing a regional library on the city’s West Side as part of the mayor’s Invest South/West initiative, the Chicago Public Library is providing more equitable services,” Brown said.

“And with the support of Mayor Lightfoot, by the end of ’21, all 81 Chicago Public Library branches in your own neighborhoods will be open on Sundays.”

A new $7.5 million family center at the Altgeld Gardens public housing development contains a Chicago Public Library branch.
A new $7.5 million family center at the Altgeld Gardens public housing development contains a Chicago Public Library branch.
Lee Bey Photography

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), whose ward includes the Altgeld branch, joined the mayor for Wednesday’s announcement. He made it a point to credit Emanuel for the new branch and for the innovative partnership with the CHA.

Afterward, Beale argued the money spent on the Sunday expansion could be better spent on more pressing problems.

One Summer Chicago applications being accepted

Also on Wednesday, Lightfoot announced applications are open for One Summer Chicago, the annual summer jobs program for young people, ages 14 to 24.

The program will run from July 5 to Aug. 13 and include both remote and socially-distanced, in-person jobs and life skills training for 21,000 young people. The deadline to apply for those coveted positions is June 11. Applications can be found at OneSummerChicago.org.