New pub­lic li­brary ‘at cen­ter of com­mu­nity’

China Daily (Canada) - - DEPTH - By JIAN PING in Chicago For China Daily

Chicago’s new pub­lic li­brary branch in Chi­na­town, a con­tem­po­rary glas­sand-steel build­ing with many en­er­gy­con­serv­ing fea­tures, stands out amid brick struc­tures that host nu­mer­ous Chi­nese restau­rants, hair sa­lons and other small busi­nesses. It has been buzzing with ac­tiv­i­ties and pa­trons since its open­ing last Au­gust.

“Our new li­brary con­nects the older sec­tion of Chi­na­town on Went­worth Av­enue and the new Chi­na­town Square along Archer,” said Si Chen, Chi­na­town li­brary branch man­ager. “We are the cen­ter of the com­mu­nity.”

The 16,000-square-foot, two-story li­brary fea­tures a par­tially cov­ered “liv­ing” roof, feng shui-in­flu­enced in­te­rior de­sign and ex­pan­sive views of the city.

Li­brary ser­vice to the Chi­na­town com­mu­nity be­gan in 1972 in a small store­front on Went­worth Av­enue, ac­cord­ing to the li­brary’s web­site. An 11,000-square-foot rental fa­cil­ity was ded­i­cated on Sept 28, 1990. The branch serves as a cul­tural and in­for­ma­tion cen­ter for those seek­ing in­for­ma­tion about the Chi­na­town com­mu­nity and Chi­nese cul­ture.

Early in the morn­ing, soon af­ter the li­brary opened its doors, a num­ber of strollers were lined up be­side the wind­ing stair­case lead­ing to the sec­ond floor. A dozen or so tod­dlers gath­ered for sto­ry­telling in a com­mu­nity room, with their par­ents or grand­par­ents sat around and lis­tened as well.

“We come once a week,” said Tammy Ngai, 35. She brought her 3-yearold daugh­ter, Katie, and mother.

Ngai said they moved to Chicago from Hong Kong last year and have at­tended ac­tiv­i­ties at the li­brary ever since.

“The sto­ries are told in Man­darin or English,” con­tin­ued Ngai. “I want Katie ex­posed to both lan­guages.” They speak Can­tonese at home.

Katie ex­tended three fig­ures with her right hand, in­di­cat­ing her age.

On the li­brary’s ground floor, a large space is des­ig­nated as the chil­dren’s area and is equipped with wood­blocks, toys, and pic­ture books in both Chi­nese and English. As many small chil­dren gath­ered to play, their par­ents so­cial­ized nearby.

Next to the chil­dren’s area is a sec­tion for teens, also called “YOU­me­dia”. It is par­ti­tioned by an acous­tic green cur­tain that can be pulled to the side.

“Many teenagers come here af­ter school to do home­work, ex­plore and learn dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy,” said Chen, point­ing to the cab­i­nets where the equip­ment is stored, in­clud­ing a 3-D printer. Chen said the li­brary pro­vides a cer­ti­fied teacher to help the stu­dents.

On the other side of the build­ing, there is an adult area that con­jures an at­mos­phere of a ca­sual café. It’s flooded with nat­u­ral light and com­plete with bilin­gual mag­a­zines and three com­put­ers.

“We of­fer ESL (English as a Sec­ond Lan­guage), Chi­nese begin­ner and com­puter classes,” Chen said. “We also have a lo­cal group play­ing Chi­nese opera here twice a week, a tai chi group prac­tic­ing ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing, and a book dis­cus­sion group that meets once a month.”

On the sec­ond floor, an area with round­tables and chairs bus­tled with peo­ple. Chen said some se­niors come to play chess here ev­ery day.

“With opera per­for­mance, chess play­ing and chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties, our li­brary is not the tra­di­tional quiet place,” Chen said, smil­ing. “Ad­di­tional group rooms are pro­vided for those who want to read or have meet­ings.”

About 1,000 pa­trons visit the li­brary each day, an in­crease of 25 per­cent com­pared with the old li­brary.

Chen said that the Chi­na­town li­brary had been the busiest branch in the Chicago Li­brary Sys­tem in the past and is even busier now be­cause more peo­ple are drawn to the open space and user-friendly set­ting.

“Even tour buses to Chi­na­town are mak­ing a stop here now,” Chen added. “Tourists come to see the li­brary’s unique de­sign and use the com­put­ers and other ser­vices we pro­vide.”

De­signed by ar­chi­tect Brian Lee of Skid­more, Owings & Mer­rill of Chicago, re­cently won a na­tional de­sign award from the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects and the Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion. The li­brary pro­vides open space in the mid­dle, em­brac­ing the Chi­nese court­yard tra­di­tion, and a rooftop gar­den vis­i­ble from the nearby el­e­vated CTA Sta­tion.

Chen said that Chicago’s Chi­na­town is boom­ing with new life and busi­ness, and the li­brary has be­come and will con­tinue to be a com­mu­nity cen­ter.


The Chicago Pub­lic Li­brary Chi­na­town Branch opened in Au­gust 2015. The build­ing’s ar­chi­tect, Skid­more, Owings & Mer­rill, re­cently won na­tional de­sign awards from the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects and the Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion.

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