The Henry E. Legler Branch of the Chicago Public Library is located at 115 South Pulaski Road in West Garfield Park (Community Area #26 on the map of Chicago’s community areas) on the West Side of Chicago. The eponym of the Henry E. Legler Branch Library was the third Librarian of the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.), Henry Eduard Legler (1861-1917) the first and second Librarians having been, respectively, Dr. William Frederick Poole (1821-1894) and Frederick H. Hild.
Legler was the first chief librarian to take a civil service examination. He was born in Palermo, Sicily on June 22, 1861 and was educated in Swiss and American schools.
In 1873, his family moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin. He worked as a reporter in La Cross and Milwaukee.
Legler served one term in the Wisconsin General Assembly from 1888 to 1890. He then served as Secretary of the Milwaukee School Board – we would now call Superintendent of Schools –from 1890 to 1904.
In 1890, he married Nettie M. Clark of Beloit, Wisconsin. He wrote Leading Events in Wisconsin History, published by The Sentinel Company in Milwaukee in 1898.
In 1904, he founded the American Library Association (A.L.A.) publication Booklist and served as editor until 1916. At one point, he served as Chairman of the ALA Publishing Board.
From 1904 to 1909, he served as Secretary of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission (WFLC). He served concurrently as Secretary of the University of Wisconsin Extension Division without salary.
In 1905, he was elected Chair of the League of Library Commissions. That same year, he started the Wisconsin Library Bulletin.
He founded the WFLC’s library school, which evolved into the School of Library and Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The CPL Board appointed him the Librarian on October 11, 1909.
Legler was instrumental in bringing the ALA headquarters from Boston to Chicago in 1909. The previous year, the ALA Executive Board had voted to move to Chicago and in 1909 the CPL offered the ALA free space. He served as President of the ALA in 1912-13.
Legler opened deposit stations in businesses, hospitals, and schools. In 1916, Legler issued a proposal seemingly inspired by D.H. Bennett’s Plan of Chicago (1909), published by the CPL, A Library Plan for the Whole City: Proposed System for Regional and Auxiliary Branches.
It called for regional districts and an extensive network of neighborhood libraries. Legler delegated implementation of the proposal to his assistant, Carl Roden, who succeeded Legler as Librarian of Chicago in 1918 and held the office until 1950.
Charles Rounds profiled him in Wisconsin Authors and Their Works, published by The Parker Educational Company in 1918. Legler wrote a book Library Ideals, which was published posthumously in 1918 after his son edited it.
Legler was one of eighteen people profiled in Pioneering Leaders in Librarianship, published by the ALA in 1953. There is an entry on him in Dictionary of American Library Biography. On October 22, 2009, the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center inducted Legler into the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame.
The Henry E. Legler Branch Library was formerly the Henry E. Legler Regional Library, and the CPL’s first regional library. [Today, the CPL has two regional libraries: the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library (formerly Frederick H. Hild Regional Library), located at 4455 North Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square on the Far North Side and the Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, located at 9525 South Halsted Street on the Far South Side.] It is profiled in the AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition as the Chicago Public Library – Henry E. Legler Regional Branch.
Alfred S. Alschuler (1876–1940) designed the Henry E. Legler Regional Library (1919) in the Beaux Arts style. It opened October 11, 1920
R. Fayerweather Babcock painted the WPA mural Wilderness, Winter River Scene that depicts Fr. Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) – who discovered the Chicago Portage with Louis Jolliet (1645-1700) – dealing with American Indians. This branch also houses two pieces funded through the Percent for Art Ordinance administered by the City of Chicago Public Art Program.
Elizabeth Catlett carved the wood sculpture Floating Family. Kerry James Marshall painted the mural Knowledge and Wonder. After undergoing a major
renovation, the Legler Branch Library re-opened on July 31, 1993.
The Community Reading Room can accommodate 160 people. It cannot be subdivided.
The Legler Branch Library is open from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The phone number there is (312) 746-7730.