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New West Loop library has meeting space for grown-ups, ‘tinkering lab’ for kids

Children's area at West Loop library branch

The new West Loop branch's children's reading space was packed with kids Thursday morning. | Troy Closson/For the Sun-Times

While residents and community officials gathered Thursday morning ahead of the ribbon-cutting for the new West Loop Branch library, in a nearby room, a group of about 20 kids had their minds on something else.

Sitting around a rectangular table in the new library’s “tinkering lab,” — a place to “play, learn and get messy” — the school-aged children wielded wooden blocks and toys, seemingly oblivious to the festivities.

Creating spaces accessible to kids — like the tinkering lab — was one of the priorities in the development of the city’s 81st library branch. The new facility, at 118-122 N. Aberdeen St., officially opened Thursday with Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) and representatives from developer Sterling Bay struggling to cut through a sturdy orange ribbon.

“As we evolve our idea about how we engage children and learning over time … we’ve learned a lot,” Chicago Public Library commissioner and CEO Brian Bannon said. “What you see upstairs in this children’s library, I think, is the best example of what we can do in neighborhood libraries to support learning.”

In addition to the first-floor tinkering lab, the branch features an early learning space for younger children and both youth and adult reading areas. It also contains a sound studio and high-quality digital technology, including a 3D printer. On the second floor, private meeting rooms and study spaces are available, and a sign promises that a large community room is coming soon.

Ribbon-cutting at West Loop library branch

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) joins Sterling Bay managing principal Andy Gloor and city officials to cut a ribbon signifying the opening of the new West Loop branch. | Troy Closson/For the Sun-Times

The 16,500-square-foot space was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. After purchasing the space in 2014, Sterling Bay donated the former Harpo Studios building to house the library.

The developer’s contribution, Bannon said, was the first time the Chicago Public Library has had a space of “this scale (donated) in a neighborhood.” Matt Letourneau, president of Neighbors of West Loop, also presented the developer with a more than 50 thank-you cards written by residents, children and others involved in the neighborhood.

After hearing residents push for a public library for years, Burnett told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting that he was excited to see it finally come about.

“Thank you for allowing our neighborhood to be a part of the growth of the city of Chicago — but at the same time, encouraging us to make sure not only are we a part of downtown, but we’re still a neighborhood.”

The West Loop branch soon will be joined by another new library. On Tuesday, the Little Italy Branch — formerly the Roosevelt Branch — will open at 1336 W. Taylor St.