Gage Park residents want new library

The Gage Park Branch Library, closed for the past 16 months by the pandemic, will reopen Aug. 2. But residents hope the city can commit to replacing it, saying the current storefront location is inadequate.

SHARE Gage Park residents want new library
The Gage Park Latinx Council is calling on the city and the Chicago Public Library to bring a new library to the community.

The Gage Park Latinx Council is calling on the city and the Chicago Public Library to bring a new library to the community.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Antonio Santos found refuge inside the Gage Park Branch Library as a child growing up in the late 1990s. It was a formative moment in his life, he said, as he became familiar with the internet and scavenged the shelves for interesting books.

“That is the library where I started reading all these social justice books and truly found what I wanted to work toward — building up my community,” Santos said. “All these years later I am doing just that and it’s because of the Gage Park Library.”

The library offered kids like Santos a way to explore their own identity through books, but for the past 16 months it has been closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic. That means “kids who are struggling are left without a safe place to congregate or explore in the community,” Santos said.

La Voz AARP

Lea este artículo en español en La Voz Chicago, un servicio presentado por AARP Chicago.

La_Voz_Cover_Photo.jpg

Santos said the library has been severely neglected for two decades, and now, residents of Gage Park want the city and the Chicago Public Library system to invest in a new library; nearly 2,500 people have signed an online petition in support.

The library has been closed so long because it is so small, a library system spokesperson told the Sun-Times. Its small storefront location at 2807 W. 55th St. doesn’t allow for proper social distancing.

Plans call for the branch to reopen Monday.

Santos, executive director of the Gage Park Latinx Council, has led the charge to reopen the library since the city lifted its restrictions on large gatherings. He’s happy it’s finally happening, but it’s not nearly enough.

Santos said the building itself has many issues that include a leaky roof and electrical outages. There’s a second floor, but it is inaccessible to wheelchairs — there’s no elevator — so it is used only for offices. The building also has no parking lot; patrons must pay for street parking — if they can find it.

The book offerings are pretty much the same ones he thumbed through all those years ago. The chairs and tables he sat on as a child are in the same places. Even the walls, Santos said, have the same paint from back then — just a little more chipped. Until the library closed, he said, he thinks even the computers were the same.

“This was all going on before the library shut down,” Santos said.

When the library reopens, according to CPL, new computers will be available.

The Latinx Council used to run its programs out of the library when it was open, but without a dedicated room to reserve, they would hold events in the children’s area.

A new library in a renovated building would be a welcome change for the community, he said. Ideally, it would have a multimedia room, as well as rooms for community meetings, as well as free parking and full access for wheelchairs.

The Gage Park Latinx Council held this event inside the Gage Park library branch before the coronavirus pandemic forced the library to close 16 months ago. The branch is scheduled to reopen Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.

The Gage Park Latinx Council held this event inside the Gage Park library branch before the coronavirus pandemic forced the library to close 16 months ago. The branch is scheduled to reopen Monday, Aug. 2, 2021.

Cortesía

More importantly, he said, there should be robust community programming.

Santos said the library also lacks Spanish-speaking staff, and children’s programs have been cut back over the years. The lack of resources at the library was one of the prime motivators for him to start the Latinx Council.

The Chicago Public Library disputed Santos’ statement about the staff, saying multiple people working at the library speak Spanish, including the branch manager. And a CPL spokesperson noted the system also continues to offer virtual programs for Chicago’s youth that include a series of bilingual programs and “on-demand” programs on its YouTube page.

“Chicago Public Library remains committed to providing free and open access to information and experiences that reflect and engage,” the spokesperson said. “We share pride and purpose to improve the lives of Chicagoans and strengthen communities.”

The Gage Park branch has been in the storefront since 1990. It once was located in the fieldhouse of a local park, where it opened in 1928.

Santos said other neighborhoods have gotten new libraries, including Little Italy, the West Loop and Chinatown.

“All we are asking for is for some sort of investment that isn’t a factory or warehouse to happen here in Gage Park, and a new library is a good start that can change lives,” Santos said. “Right now, Gage Park Library is inside of a small storefront that doesn’t offer parking and the space is leased from a private landlord. That lease ends this year, and I hope the lease isn’t renewed.”

A library system spokesperson confirmed the lease for the branch runs through Dec. 31 but wouldn’t say if it plans to renew.

The Latest
The annual wandering/disappearing at Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife Area delivered the rewards of largemouth bass on frogs and a popper, and a visit by a beaver; plus the Stray Cast.
Likable couple treat themselves to one last epic date before their planned breakup in rom-com based on a YA novel.
She’s feeling a strong connection to a longtime friend but won’t pursue a relationship unless her lonely marriage ends.