The Chicago Public Library

chicago public library
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I’ve been a Chicago Public Library cardholder since I was in kindergarten. That’s right, be jealous. Until I was nine, my summers revolved around the Jefferson Park branch’s children’s reading program. I sped through Junie B. Jones and Goosebumps books until I reached the designated goal and received my free, always oversized, t-shirt. To put it simply and dorkily, I’ve been in love with the Chicago Public Library for sixteen years.

Since its major website revamping, patrons are able to place up to five items on hold at a time from the comfort of their laptops and pick the items up at whichever library branch they want. They can return these items at any, of the over seventy, city branches. Every branch has free WiFi. The recent rise of e-readers has made eBooks available for checkout and download on the library’s website. Audio books, DVDs, CDs, and the obvious paperbacks, newspapers, and magazines, are available to anyone with a valid library card. But, so what? You can get that kind of stuff at nearly any local library. What makes the Chicago Public Library so special? A whole flipping lot!

The most surprising privilege a Chicago Public Library card allows you: fishing equipment­—rods, hooks, accessories. The equipment is available only at certain branches, including Humboldt Park and Albany Park. The most financially rewarding privilege: free museum passes. Every branch library carries passes to every museum in the city. From the Alder Planetarium to the Chicago Botanic Garden to, even, the Brookfield Zoo. Museum passes are limited, can only be obtained for one week, and cannot be renewed. Unlike the rest of the library’s materials, museum passes need to be returned to the library from which they are borrowed from.

As if that wasn’t enough, each summer, the library has a selection of free lawn tickets for Ravinia concerts available. These tickets are offered to patrons 18 and older. The limit is two tickets per concert and four tickets per day, per patron. Tickets are available at all library locations. A variety of library locations also offer classes on computer skills, job searching, financial planning and money related tips, legal issues, and after school tutoring for children.

Besides services, the library offers an array of events. For the book lover, the most exciting of these events has to be the library’s author conversations and readings. I’d have to use two hands to count how many of my literary heroes I’ve gotten the opportunity to hear speak thanks to the Chicago Public Library.  A great time to take advantage of author events is during Chicago’s annual Printers Row Lit festival, annually in June. For one Saturday and Sunday Harold Washington Library hosts back to back author readings that has featured the late Studs Terkel, young adult favorite S.E. Hinton, and many more. Some events are in conjunction with the library’s citywide reading program, One Book, One Chicago but many aren’t. When One Book, One Chicago chose Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and Toni Morrison’s Mercy as their spring 2009 and fall 2010 picks, both authors conducted library sponsored, open to the public readings. Still, many author events take place at random throughout each year.

The easiest way to figure out who is coming to the library and when is to check out the library’s website at the beginning of each month. Many author events, like Cisneros and Morrison’s were, require tickets. These events are still free but, in order to obtain a ticket, you have to call the library in which the event is taking place at or use an online ticket ordering service. If tickets are necessary it will be stated in the description of the event and directions will be given.

While city budget cuts have had an effect on each branches hours, all branches remain open Monday through Saturday. Regional branches, Sulzer and Woodson, along with Harold Washington, are also open on Sundays, from 1:00pm-5:00pm. To take full advantage of everything the Chicago Public Library has to offer, all you need is a library card.

If you’re a Chicago resident and over 14 years old, you can stop into any library branch and complete an application. Along with your application, you need to provide a valid Illinois Drivers License or ID that contains a Chicago address. If you don’t have a valid Drivers License or ID, bring in two pieces of identification like an electric bill or personal check. One of these non-photo based forms must have a current Chicago address on it. Not a Chicago resident? No worries. Chicago Public Library cards are available to anyone who possesses a library card from a library part of the Illinois Intersystem Reciprocal Borrowing Covenant. From the list provided by the Chicago Public Library, this covenant includes the entire Chicagoland area and stretches as far as Rockford and Mattoon. Like Chicago residents, you can stop into any branch and must provide valid photo identification.

There’s no excuse. Go, get your card and take advantage of everything the Chicago Public Library has to offer. You know, they’ve got a lot more in there than some dusty books!

Erin Nederbo

About Erin Nederbo

Erin is a current writing major at Columbia College and a native of Chicago's Jefferson Park. Surrounded by Cubbie blue, she is often hassled by friends for being a White Sox fan. During winter, she keeps warm by eating Italian beef, dreaming of 16 inch softball, and reading Sandra Cisneros. Her creative writing can be found in Hair Trigger 33 Magazine.

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