Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon and local officials on Saturday, September 7, 2013 to dedicate the new Back of the Yards Branch of the Chicago Public Library at 2111 West 47th Street, adjacent to the new Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School. This new, 8,300-square-foot branch, co-located on the high school campus, provides the Back of the Yards community with its first full-service library since the previous rental location closed.
“Libraries and schools have a strong connection as places of learning and community anchors. This innovative approach provides the community with a library that they’ve eagerly anticipated, and students the critical resources needed to reach their full potential in the digital age,” said Mayor Emanuel. “This project demonstrates the city’s continuing commitment and investment in our children and our neighborhoods, while also reducing the financial burden for taxpayers.”
The CPL stated, “The neighborhood library combines with the new Back of the Yards High School to serve as a community campus, extending learning and discovery to all residents. This full-service CPL branch will include enhanced teen-focused collections and digital learning amenities to support the work of the high school. Additionally, the branch will offer neighborhood children access to early literacy programs through morning story times and lapsits, as well as providing parent training on the importance of reading.”
“This location allows us to offer Back of the Yards residents a full-service 21st century library in order to better serve the needs of patrons in this community,” said Library Commissioner Brian Bannon. “We know how much this community loves its library, and the branch will offer more access to technology and a focus on the teens in the neighborhood and a media lab for technology training. We are happy to be able to open this in time for the beginning of the school year.”
The CPL states, “The branch library has its own separate public entrance. It includes a community room, a media lab for technology training and 25 public computers. As with all CPL public computers, these all offer patrons access to the Internet and online and computer reference databases, as well as Microsoft Office suite of productivity software, allowing them to write resumes, do homework, create spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and more.”
There are areas for adults, teens and children. The new teen area, with a teen librarian, 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 will be offered a variety of STEM-based and financial literacy programs, as well as book clubs, Teen Tech Week and Teen Read Week.
The branch also offers the services of a Teacher in the Library, a certified teacher on hand after school to assist students with homework. This program is supported by the generous private contributions through the Chicago Public Library Foundation.
The Chicago Public Building Commission (PBC) managed the construction of the Back of the Yards campus on behalf of Chicago Public Library. Mayor Richard J. Daley (Daley the Elder) founded the Chicago PBC in 1956.
Mayor Emanuel is now the Chairman of the Chicago PBC. It erects buildings for the City of Chicago, Cook County, the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, and the City Colleges of Chicago.
“As stewards of the public fund, the PBC promotes both economic and environmental sustainability in each project we take on,” said PBC Executive Director Erin Lavin Cabonargi. “As such, this facility has been developed to be a multifaceted community anchor, designed to achieve a LEED Silver Rating and contracted in a way that allowed us to achieve a diverse and local workforce and business participation.”
The Back of the Yards neighborhood is south of Bridgeport, and roughly extends south from 39th Street to 55th Street, and west from Halsted Street to the railroad tracks along Leavitt Street. As the name suggests, Back of the Yards is a (residential) neighborhood south and west of the site of the former Union Stock Yards and adjacent meatpacking plants.
It is in the New City Community Area, which is #61 on a map of the city’s community areas. Canaryville is also located in New City.
This hub of interrelated businesses constituted, until the 1950s, the largest livestock yards and meatpacking center in the United States. The neighborhood was formerly part of the town of Lake, which was annexed by Chicago in 1889.
The original inhabitants were Irish and German butchers. They were joined over time by Czechs, Lithuanians, Poles, and Slovaks, most of whom were Catholics who worshipped in ethnic parishes. The first Mexican residents arrived in the 1920s. By the 1970s, Back of the Yards had become a predominantly Mexican (or Chicano) neighborhood with an African American minority.
During the Great Depression and World War II, two important organizations were founded in the neighborhood. The first was a labor union, the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee, later known as the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA-CIO) that campaigned for higher wages, stable employment, and the recognition of civil rights in meatpacking plants.
The second was a coalition of neighborhood and parish groups, the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council (BYNC), founded by Saul Alinsky and Joe Meegan in 1939. They rallied neighborhood leaders (starting with parish priests) to clamor for greater investment of resources in the community by the plant owners and city government to make the neighborhood more pleasant and combat juvenile delinquency. Alinsky later made it the model for community organizing across the U.S.
This is the fourth iteration of the Back of the Yards Branch Library, and the third to bear this name. The previous iteration, which I wrote about three years ago, was a storefront branch library in the Yards Plaza Shopping Mall at 47th Street and Damen Avenue.
The third iteration, which occupied a double storefront, closed in 2011 due to repeated flooding. It replaced a smaller storefront facility on West 47th Street.
The second iteration of this branch – the first to be called “Back of the Yards,” opened in 1977 on West 47th Street. The first iteration of the branch was called the New City Branch Library and was housed in a storefront on the 4600 block of South Ashland Avenue.
“By partnering together, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Public Library are ensuring the Back of the Yards high school will become a community anchor for both students and residents in the community, who have been without a library for a year,” stated Mayor Emanuel in a press release last year. “This innovative approach will provide residents and students with the library they deserve. Not only will the library be an anchor for the community, it will be designed to ensure students have what they need to succeed in the high school’s new challenging IB curriculum.”
Today, the Chicago Police Department was able to announce arrests were made in the horrific shooting of thirteen people – including a three-year-old boy – in Cornell Square Park in Back of the Yards last Thursday. Last night, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Bryon Champ, 21, of Chicago and Kewane Gatewood, 20, with three counts each of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm, as reported by ABC-7 News.
Yesterday, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy declined to comment when asked about the arrests while he was at a police academy graduation ceremony. To be fair to him, under his leadership, the CPD has been able to curb violence. The CPD believes murders are down 20%, shootings are down 22%, and overall crime is down 15%.