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Early librarians' concentration on building a large collection for loan purposes and advocacy of the expansion of direct library service led to the development of the branch library system. Their intention was to extend service outside of the Central Library directly into the community.


[Deposits Department, Central Library]48K
Deposits Department, Central Library, ca. 1900s.

As early as 1874, the Delivery Station system of outposts was designed to carry out into the communities a minute portion of the Central Library's book collection. Having no collection of its own, the Delivery Station was a place where patrons could call for a specific book that was delivered by horse-drawn carriage to a storefront near their home. The stations were chiefly in stores and were administered by store personnel.

[Delivery Stations Location Map.]48K
Reproduction from a scrapbook. Delivery Stations Location Map, n.d.

In the 1880s, the Deposit Station advanced extension services one more step. Deposit Stations included local candy or drug stores, where owners were paid a modest sum for accepting books for delivery and retrieval. "Special" Deposit Stations included businesses, churches and factories where books were available to employees or members. In 1909, the Deposit Stations accounted for two-thirds of the entire circulation of the Chicago Public Library.

[The Bohemian Room, Toman Branch Library]27K
The Bohemian Room in the Toman Branch Library, ca. 1940.

The next step in branch development was the branch reading room. The reading room in most cases was a leased space that contained a small non-circulating book collection and modest quarters designed for the in-house patron. The typical reading room could be found in Chicago's many community park field houses or on the upper floors of businesses. In 1891, Jane Addams provided space for a reading room in the Butler Gallery of Hull House, for the benefit of Chicagoans.


Timothy B. Blackstone Memorial Branch Library]28K
Timothy B. Blackstone Memorial Branch Library, ca. 1904.

In January 1904, Mrs. Isabella N. Blackstone presented the Chicago Public Library with funding to construct its first branch library in memory of her late husband, Timothy Beach Blackstone. Blackstone served as president of the Chicago Alton Railroad from 1864 until 1899, and was one of Chicago's leading philanthropists.

Located at 4904 S. Lake Park Avenue in Hyde Park-Kenwood, the
Blackstone Memorial Branch Library is an imposing sight. Modeled after the famous Erechtheum of the Acropolis, the building is in pure Ionic-Grecian style. The greyish-white Concord graphite building has Ionic columns, solid bronze doors and a magnificent rotunda with a dome in the Tiffany style. The dome is embellished with decorative panels by the Chicago painter Oliver Dennett Grover. Renovation was begun on this historic building in 1977, and the Chicago Public Library held a rededication ceremony on November 18, 1980, marking the completion of the work. The branch library continues to serve the Hyde Park community over 90 years after its construction


[Henry E. Legler]18K
Henry E. Legler, the
Chicago Public Library's
third Librarian.

In the early 1900s, the Chicago Public Library began a program of reform that focused the eyes of the library world on Chicago. The designer of the plan, Henry E. Legler, was appointed Librarian of the Chicago Public Library on October 11, 1909. He was well-known as an aggressive advocate of the expansion of library service. In 1916, Legler presented his Library Plan for the Whole City. A landmark in library history, the plan called for an extensive network of neighborhood library locations throughout Chicago. The goal of the plan was to bring "library service within the walking distance of home for every person in Chicago who can read or wants to use books."

[Staff in front of Legler Branch]42K
Staff members of the Chicago Public Library branches assembled at the Henry E. Legler Regional Library, 1926.

Legler's commitment and interest in the extension of library service is clear from his many public speeches. In 1907, he spoke to the American Library Association:

The great world movement which is gathering accelerated momentum with its own marvelous growth, we call library extension. . . . There is no other governmental enterprise --not excepting the public schools --that so epitomizes the spirit of democracy. For democracy in its highest manifestation is not that equality that puts mediocrity and idleness on the same level with talent and genius and thrift, but that equality which gives all members of society an equal opportunity in life that yields to no individual as a birthright chances denied to his fellow. And surely if there is any institution that represents this fundamental principle and carries out a policy in consonance, it is the public library. Neither condition nor place of birth, nor age, nor sex, nor social position, serves as a bar of exclusion from this house of the open door, of the cordial welcome, of the sympathetic aid freely rendered.

Legler retired in 1917, and in 1918 his assistant, Carl B. Roden, was appointed Chief Librarian.

In the 32 years that Roden served as Librarian (1918-1950), the branch library system increased 50 percent; the staff more than doubled; the book stock increased threefold; circulation doubled; and total expenditures rose more than 400 percent.

Chicago Public Library bookmobile making playground stops, 1939, n.d.

In 1951, under the direction of Chief Librarian Gertrude E. Gscheidle, the Library expanded its service to Chicago's neighborhoods by modernizing the traveling branch system. In less than eight months of operation, the traveling branch system of bookmobiles circulated almost 100,000 books to neighborhoods without full branch services.


Wrightwood-Ashburn Branch Library.

Beginning in the 1960s, a significant number of neighborhood branch libraries were constructed or were established in leased storefronts or reading rooms. By 1985, there were 76 such locations throughout the City. After the new Harold Washington Library Center opened, the Library turned its attention to renovating existing library buildings and replacing leased storefronts and reading rooms with full service branch library buildings designed to meet the reading, research and information needs of Library users.


[Mayor Richard M. Daley and children]
Mayor Richard M. Daley and children at the opening of the Chicago Bee Branch Library, May 4, 1996.

One of the strongest proponents of the Chicago Public Library in the modern era has been Mayor Richard M. Daley. Since taking office in 1989, Mayor Daley and the Library have overseen the opening of an unprecedented 30 new or renovated Chicago Public Library buildings citywide, replacing leased storefront libraries and park district reading rooms. According to Mayor Daley,

By investing in libraries, we invest in the most important mission we have today--the education of our children.

On November 13, 1996, in another show of support unprecedented in any major American city today, the Chicago City Council approved Mayor Daley's and the Chicago Public Library Board's request for a new, three year, $50 million capital improvement plan. Under this plan, Library Commissioner Mary A. Dempsey will direct the construction, expansion and/or renovation of 20 additional Chicago Public Library capital projects. This capital improvement plan will ensure that all areas of Chicago are served by modern, fully equipped and inviting neighborhood branch and regional libraries.


Conrad Sulzer Regional Library, 4455 North Lincoln Avenue.

Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, 9525 South Halsted Street.

The need for a regional library was first addressed by Henry Legler in 1916. He believed that several regional libraries with more comprehensive collections than the neighborhood branches would provide patrons with greater library resources within a reasonable distance. The first regional library, the Henry E. Legler Regional Library, was established in 1920. Today, the Chicago Public Library maintains two regional libraries that offer a full range of children's and adult collections, programming and Internet access. The Conrad Sulzer Regional Library opened to the public in late 1985. Located at 4455 N. Lincoln Avenue, the Sulzer Regional Library replaced the Hild Regional Library and serves the North Side of Chicago. Designed by the architectural firm of Hammond, Beeby and Babka, the Library is an example of neoclassical architecture. The two-story structure measures 65,000 square feet and includes an auditorium that can seat 200, an expanded browsing area and a Neighborhood Historical Room housing the Ravenswood-Lake View Historical Collection.

The Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, named after the "Father of Modern Black Historiography," opened its doors in December of 1975. The two-story, 62,000-square-foot building features a 182-seat auditorium and two conference rooms, where a variety of workshops, programs and seminars are held. These rooms also provide meeting spaces for the community's many cultural and educational organizations. Woodson Regional Library is also home to the Vivian G. Harsh Collection of Afro-American History and Literature. Named in honor of the first African American woman to head a branch of the Chicago Public Library, the Harsh Collection is one of the largest repositories of information on the Black experience in the Midwest.


A plan of service for Chicago's young people began in the original Central Library with the opening of the Thomas Hughes Room on March 30, 1907.

[Story hour in Welles Park]20K
Story hour in Welles Park, ca. 1950s.

[Summer Reading Game]
Summer Reading Game, 1997.

[Story hour at the Henry E. Legler [Regional] Library]33K
Story hour at the Henry E. Legler [Regional] Library, ca. 1930s.

As service to young people grew in importance, the Library began offering a variety of specialized services to children and young adults, including artists, authors, editors and others interested in children's literature. During the Library's early period of expansion, many new programs were developed that focused on building a close relationship between neighborhoods and their branch libraries. Children's Services was at the top of the program list. Of particular interest and enjoyment for young people were the Story Hour programs. Today, these services continue in the many programs for children. Since 1977, the Library has sponsored the Summer Reading Game. This program, designed to keep children reading through the summer months, is just one way the Chicago Public Library has continued to provide an informative, educational and entertaining environment for children.

The award-winning Blue Skies for Library Kids project, funded by the Chicago Community Trust through the Chicago Public Library Foundation, combines the efforts and skills of community leaders, businesses and library staff to create innovative programs for the children and families in their communities. These collaborative efforts have resulted in programs ranging from library-sponsored baseball teams to job readiness and mentoring workshops. Currently, 18 library locations participate in the Blue Skies program. Three Blue Skies projects received National Excellence Awards from the American Library Association in 1995, and five projects received the National Excellence Awards in 1997.

NatureConnections, also funded by the Chicago Community Trust, through the Chicago Public Library Foundation, brings the world of nature and history to children, caregivers and teachers through book collections and programs on the natural sciences and the environment.

Last Updated: 08/2000

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