Mayor Lori’s Lightfoot’s rolling plan to establish Sunday hours at Chicago’s 77 branch libraries begins this coming weekend at nine neighborhood branches evenly distributed across the city.
The first branches to open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays will be: Portage-Cragin, Northtown and Dunning in the North District; Little Italy, Toman and Hall in the Central District and Whitney Young, West Pullman and Chicago Lawn in the South District.
Three West Side branch libraries — Douglas, Richard M. Daley and Austin — are already open Sundays to compensate for the fact that the Legler regional library is closed for renovation.
“We didn’t want to saturate any one area of the city with Sunday hours. Because then, there would be areas that would be what we’ve been calling, ‘information deserts,’” Library Commissioner Andrea Telli said Monday.
“We took a look at existing staffing in the branches. We looked at population density, socio-economic and educational attainment factors. … We’re gonna open an additional round of branches in the first quarter of next year. And we’ll make sure that there are the same number of branches that we’re opening in the north, central and south.”
Lightfoot noted that when she announced the $18 million property increase to bankroll Sunday hours, aldermen who normally cringe at the thought of raising property taxes applauded — “which may have been a first for announcing a levy” increase, the mayor said.
“Why people cheer about things to support the library is very simple: The library is an intrinsic part of every neighborhood,” Lightfoot added. “They’re community gathering places. They’re places where the unemployed come to look for jobs. Where individuals get real skills that they need to be competitive in the workforce.”
Until now, only four Chicago Public Library locations had been open Sundays: the Harold Washington Library Center downtown and three regional libraries — Woodson, Sulzer and Legler.
Those same 1 p.m.-to-5 p.m. Sunday hours will be phased in to all branch libraries as fast as a hiring blitz allows.
“We’ve got 81 locations across the city. We’re adding 177 staff members. It’s very difficult to just flip the switch like that. So we wanted to roll it out — not slowly, but in an equitable way to ensure that we had adequate staffing in the branches to handle the additional services,” Telli said.
How busy does Telli expect Chicago’s branch libraries to be on Sundays?
“We’ve had patrons come to us and say, `Look, I work from Tuesday through Saturday. I really would like to be able to use libraries on Sunday.’ So, we really think it’s gonna be something that patrons are gonna be able to use,” Telli said.
Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) joined Lightfoot and Telli to announce the Sunday roll-out at the newly-opened Northtown library, 6800 N. Western.
“The 50th Ward is one of the most diverse wards in … Chicago. That’s why it’s so important to introduce Sunday hours right here in this neighborhood — and why I pushed so hard for it,” said Silverstein, whose ward includes a large contingent of Orthodox Jews.
“The Northtown library brings visitors and patrons from all races, ethnicities and religions and cultures. We need to keep the library open seven days a week so everyone can come and benefit from this wonderful facility.”
Community activist Beverly Siegel created a vibrant picture of the 50th Ward in her documentary, “Driving West Rogers Park: Chicago’s Once and Future Jewish Neighborhood.”
Siegel recalled being “captivated” by the old Northtown branch library; it opened in 1962, when she was a freshman at Mather High School.
“When my children were growing up in the area, they went to religious day school and we were Sabbath observers. The day school had long hours because of the dual curriculum. So we didn’t get to use the library very much during the week. And Saturdays was our Sabbath. We could read on the Sabbath. But there were too many traditions that coming to the library would conflict with,” Siegel said.
“So the truth is, the public library did not play much of a role in my kids’ lives when they were growing up. If my grandchildren lived here, they, too, wouldn’t get to be using this public library very much — until now. Sunday hours….Sunday hours are a gift to our whole community.”