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2013 Year in Review: Chicago Public Library, Part IV

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on June 30, 2013 a $1,000,000 grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that would allow the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.) and the Aarhus Public Libraries in Denmark to work together, with the assistance of the design firm IDEO, on creating innovative library services and programs. “I’ve encouraged all our City leaders to constantly look for better ways to serve our public and I’m thrilled that the Gates Foundation is offering CPL the opportunity and funding to take a fresh look at our library,” said Mayor Emanuel. “As Commissioner Bannon knows, I want to be sure we are offering Chicago families the best and most relevant services and programs.”

The Gates Foundation Global Libraries initiative believes that innovative leaders and well trained staff are vital to creating high-impact libraries that meet the changing needs of their communities. The Gates Foundation awarded the grant to the Chicago Public Library Foundation (C.P.L.F.) to fund the work with IDEO as well as the projects tackled by both the CPL and Aarhus Public Libraries. The goal of the partnership between the CPL and Aarhus Public Libraries was to create a new model for innovation, experimentation and decision-making within libraries.

“Over the past decade, libraries have begun re-thinking their traditional mix of services and programs, identifying fundamental questions about their roles in an evolving world,” said Library Commissioner Brian Bannon. “This grant gives us the opportunity to tap into the design thinking process that IDEO has used to help hundreds of organizations innovate and grow. Now more than ever, libraries and librarians need such tools to help them identify and address their users’ rapidly-evolving needs, through flexible, nimble and responsive decision-making and program design.”

“Working on innovation practices for public libraries with Chicago Public Libraries and IDEO is a dream come true for Aarhus Public Libraries and for the City of Aarhus,” says Alderman Marc Perera Christensen of Aarhus, Denmark. “It gives us the opportunity to learn and disseminate insights with the best in the trade.”

Commissioner Bannon joined 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman; Mayor Emanuel's wife, Amy Rule: community leaders; and residents on June 22, 2013 for the opening of the new Edgewater Branch Library at 6000 North Broadway. The two-story, 16,300-square-foot branch is nearly 5,300 square feet larger than the previous library, which served the community for forty years.

“The new Edgewater Branch represents more than an investment in the future of this community, it represents opportunities for children and teens to grow and learn in new ways. The addition of more computers and more materials provides children with positive activities and resources to be successful in school,” stated Mayor Emanuel. “Plus, we are happy to be able to open this in time for the kids to take part in Rahm’s Readers this summer.”

“It is with great excitement our community celebrates the opening of the new Edgewater Branch Library. The library has always served as an integral part of the lives of the residents in this neighborhood,” said 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman. “The new library will provide the state-of-the art educational environment necessary to strengthen our neighborhood and to give our residents, young and old, the fullest opportunity for lifelong learning. Our community has also gained a beautiful and friendly space for community gathering, which will serve 48th Ward residents for many years to come.”

The $13,700,000 project, managed by the Chicago Public Building Commission (P.B.C.), was targeted to receive LEED Gold certification and includes additional spaces for community organizations and residents to meet. In addition to the large, dividable community room, two smaller study rooms offer flexible uses, from study groups to meeting space for small businesses.

The public technology has increased from ten computers to fifty desktops and four laptops available for public use, all free of charge. As with all CPL public computers, these all offer patrons access to the Internet, as well as Microsoft Office suite of productivity software, allowing them to write resumes, do homework, create spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and more.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer Edgewater residents a 21st century library in order to better serve the needs of patrons in this diverse community,” said Commissioner Bannon. “We know how much this community loves its library—the previous Edgewater location was one of the highest circulating branches in the city. I am sure they will appreciate all this new library offers—not only a larger building, but a larger collection, more meeting spaces, more access to technology and a focus on the teens in the neighborhood, with a separate lounge for teens and a librarian focused on teen services.”

The Edgewater Branch Library's enclosed teen area reflects a growing trend of libraries providing physical space dedicated to nurturing teens’ values, identity and the new skills necessary to grow and thrive. Teens are offered a variety of STEM-based and financial literacy programs, as well as book clubs, Teen Tech Week and Teen Read Week.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The expanded branch staff includes a librarian specifically for teen services.

Thanks to the strong efforts of the CPL, Alderman Osterman, and the Chicago PBC working together, the new branch library opened in time provide Edgewater residents to take part in the revamped Summer Learning Program. The 2013 Rahm’s Readers was redesigned to encourage more children to participate and provide additional activities for children to grow and learn, with the 2013 summer’s focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math (STEAM) skills.

The branch also offers the services of a Teacher in the Library, a certified teacher on hand after school to assist students with homework, and a CyberNavigator, who provides one-on-one assistance to help patrons better understand technology. Both programs are supported by the contributions from private donors through the CPLF.

The new library branch has collections in English, Russian, Hindi and Spanish, including books, eBooks, newspapers, magazines, educational and entertainment DVDs and databases for online research. In addition to the fifty public computers and four laptops for use in the library, the library also offers free WiFi for personal laptops and devices. Programs include book discussions, ethnic heritage celebrations, financial planning seminars, early childhood programs, family story times and book clubs, games and Duplos, crafts, cultural programs, holiday celebrations and other programs of community interest.

The CPL announced on June 12, 2013, it would open the CPL Innovation Lab at the Harold Washington Library Center (H.W.L.C.). Already used by a variety of industries from retail to banking to universities, innovation labs offer organizations a place to test new ideas for services, programs and products. The idea was that the third-floor space in the HWLC would allow CPL to quickly experiment with new ideas and approaches in order to be more visitor-focused and able to adapt to the community’s changing needs.

The first innovation experiment in the space is the Maker Lab, part of the growing movement of hands-on, collaborative learning environments in which people come together to share knowledge and resources to design, create and build items. The CPL became the first large urban library to experiment with a maker space.

Made possible with a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to the CPLF, the Maker Lab opened to the public from July 8 through December 31, 2013. While a number of maker spaces exist in Chicago, this would be the first free maker space open to the public.

Created in partnership with the Museum of Science and Industry, the CPL’s Maker Lab offered the public an introduction to technology and equipment which are enabling new forms of personal manufacturing and business opportunities. The CPL initially believed the Maker Lab would need to be evaluated six months after it opened "to determine the fit with the Library’s mission and the ability to bring the project, or elements of it, to a wider audience in the neighborhood branches."

The Maker Lab offers access to a variety of software such as Trimble Sketchup, Inkscape, Meshlab, Makercam and equipment including three 3D Printers, two laser cutters, as well as a milling machine and vinyl cutter. In addition to Open Lab hours during which patrons can work with staff members to master new software and create personal projects, a variety of programs and workshops will be offered throughout the seven day schedule of the Maker Lab. Family workshops would be offered every Sunday afternoon to foster invention, creation and exploration of STEAM, the focus of the 2013 Summer Learning Challenge.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer Chicagoans the opportunity to learn firsthand new technologies and skills used in today’s manufacturing at the library,” said Commissioner Bannon. “The Maker Lab is the first of several ideas we plan to test over the next few years in the Innovation Lab, as we focus on expanding access to 21st century ideas and information to our communities.”

In developing the space and the programs, the CPL created an advisory board comprised of City Colleges of Chicago, Northwestern University's Department of Mechanical Engineering, Columbia College Chicago, the Westport Public Library, Arts Alliance Illinois, the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum, The New York Public Library, the Ann Arbor District Library, and Pumping Station: One and FreeGeek Chicago. All these organizations lent advice to the process as well as programming elements.

It was in early June that mayor Emanuel and Commissioner Bannon announced Rahm's Readers would be overhauled. The CPL stated, "Rahm’s Readers was redesigned to encourage more kids to participate and provide additional activities as opportunities for kids to grow and learn, and this summer’s program will focus on... STEAM...skills."

“Studies show that children lose up to three months of math and science learning during the summer months, so incorporating STEAM skills into the already important reading program made perfect sense,” said Mayor Emanuel. “This new and improved Rahm’s Readers promises to bring even more of Chicago’s children into the library and its partners this summer, keeping them actively learning over their summer breaks. I know the kids of Chicago can beat last year’s total by reading more than 2 million books and have a great time doing it.”

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