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Seniors, people with disabilities can’t reach their books at Lake View library

“We’re looking at a real justice issue here,” said Darryl Grant, 67, who has moved to another library due to the three-month elevator problem.

Darryl Grant stands in front of Merlo Library.
Darryl Grant outside the Chicago Public Library’s Merlo branch at 644 W. Belmont Ave.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Darryl Grant’s after-lunch tradition used to be browsing and reading at the Merlo branch of the Chicago Public Library until the elevator broke down in late April.

The 67-year-old Edgewater resident no longer visits the library on Belmont Avenue in Lake View because of the difficult climb up the steep stairwell to the adult section.

“It’s just not me. There are other seniors and physically challenged people who cannot access the second floor,” Grant said. “We’re looking at a real justice issue here. A public library’s paid with taxpayer money and is a resource that everybody should use. But it won’t be a good resource if not everybody can use it.”

Grant has started going to other library branches, all at least a mile farther away, and he’s seen some other seniors who used to frequent the Merlo branch.

Deborah Liebow, 63, of Lake View, has had 12 knee surgeries and also struggles with stairs.

“There have been a few times that I wanted to go upstairs to browse, and I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t use the elevator,” said Liebow. “I just wish they’d get it fixed in a more timely manner.”

She now visits the Harold Washington Library Center in the Loop.

“There are many elevators, so it’s much more accessible there,” Liebow said.

Merlo’s branch manager, Michael Conlon, referred all questions to the Chicago Public Library’s main office.

“Chicago Public Library remains committed to creating respectful, safe and welcoming spaces that invite personal growth and create stronger, more connected communities,” said Patrick Molloy, the library system’s director of government and public affairs.

A new door package and transformer will be installed by Aug. 6, according to Molloy.

The long-term elevator repair also has been added to the library’s 2021 capital plan. This project will include a replacement of the elevator controls.

To respond to the immediate issue, the Merlo library recently designated a couple of computers on the first floor for seniors and people with disabilities. If a visitor would like a book on the second floor, they can ask that a librarian get it for them.

A sign on the elevator also lists addresses for nearby libraries with adult computers and books available on its first floor, including the Lincoln Belmont, Lincoln Park and Uptown branches, all over a mile away.

“If you’re in a wheelchair or if you have issues climbing stairs, you won’t be able to access anything on the second floor, which is where most of the things are,” said Allison Bode, a 32-year-old Lake View resident. “It’s just a bummer that it’s broken for so long.”