“The Albany Park Branch of the Chicago Public Library” by S.M. O’Connor

The Albany Park Branch of the Chicago Public Library, located on the south side of Foster Avenue between Kimball Avenue to the east and Bernard Street to the west in Albany Park on the Far North Side of Chicago, is a purpose-built library that replaced a storefront library.   The address is 3401 West Foster Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60625.  The Albany Park Branch Library serves the community areas of Albany Park (Community Area #14) and North Park (Community Area #13) on the far North Side of Chicago.  These are two of Chicago’s seventy-seven community areas.  The neighborhoods of Albany Park, Mayfair, North Mayfair, and Ravenswood Manor lie within the Albany Park Community Area, which is roughly in the center of the city’s thirteen northernmost community areas.  The neighborhoods of North Park and River’s Edge lie within the North Park Community Area, which derives its name from North Park University.  The North Park Community Area is due north of the Albany Park Community Area.  The name of the Albany Park Branch Library is misleading because it is in North Park, not Albany Park.

The old facility was a storefront library branch and its address was 5150 North Kimball Avenue.  The Albany Park Branch Library opened in that location in 1963. The branch opened a room to house a Korean collection in the spring of 1994. Today, the four featured collections of there are Arabic Language Materials, Korean Language Materials, Spanish Language Materials, and Fishing Poles.  The Community Meeting Room could hold up to 100 people, and could not be subdivided.  The Albany Park Branch Library has always been one block northwest of North Park University (formerly North Park College), which means North Park students can easily access it in the unlikely event they need a resource unavailable at Brandel Library.

The new facility is a purpose-built library building.  The new one-story, 16,300-square-foot full-service library is 6,000 square feet bigger than the old library.  The address of the new library is around the corner from the old library, but it occupies the same block.  To construct the larger library required the acquisition of an adjacent parcel of land to the west of the old library.

The Public Building Commission of Chicago (P.B.C.) oversaw the design and construction of this new facility on behalf of the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.).  Jackson Harlan, L.L.C. was the Architect of Record and Wight Construction built the library.  It is an example of the Prairie School style of architecture.

Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, Brian Bannon, Chicago Public Library Commissioner, and other officials broke ground on Friday, August 30, 2013.  “While the Albany Park Branch Library worked well for 50 years, it no longer fulfilled the 21st century service needs of a community that is home to thousands of residents,” stated Mayor Emanuel.  “The new library represents an investment in the future of this community – its children.  It will provide the necessary resources for children to be successful in school and for neighborhood residents to look forward to another 50 years of library services.”

“We are excited to be able to provide the Albany Park community a state-of-the-art library in order to better serve the needs of patrons in this diverse community,” stated Commissioner Bannon.  “I am sure they will appreciate all this new library offers – not only a larger building, but a larger collection, more meeting spaces, more access to technology and a focus on providing the children and teens of the neighborhood with the latest digital tools needed to be successful.”

“I am very excited about construction starting on the new library for Albany Park,” stated 39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino.  “I have many fond memories of studying at the old branch.  A library is now more than a place to shelve books, and the old building wasn’t designed to serve our community the way we need today.”

The new library features an open floorplan designed to allow in maximum daylight, noise-absorbing floors and ceilings, reading rooms, a multi-purpose community room, a dedicated teen space, two study rooms, and a reading garden west of the library building. The $15,000,000 construction project was funded through the Lawrence-Kedzie TIF District and was managed by P.B.C.

While the new Albany Park Branch Library was under construction, patrons of the old Albany Park Branch Library who registered before it closed were able to use the Northeastern Illinois University Library.  However, they could only read books on-site as they did not have borrowing privileges, the Reader’s Deanna Isaacs pointed out.

Albany Park is racially and ethnically diverse with large numbers of Latinos, mainly from Mexico or Guatemala, and Far East Asians, mainly from the Korean peninsula.  Many Korean-Americans residences and businesses are located on Lawrence Avenue.  The new Albany Park Branch Library has special collections in Spanish, Korean, and Arabic.

High school students can make use of the Albany Park YOUmedia digital learning lab, where they can record music, hone photography skills, and develop graphic design skills.  [Note that in a 2015 press release, the P.B.C. stated the YOUmedia digital learning lab was 1,200 square feet and in a 2016 press release the P.B.C. stated it was 780 square feet.]  It is open from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays, and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays.  The phone number is (773) 539-5450.

The grand opening occurred between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 13, 2014.  Mayor Emanuel,  Commissioner Bannon, and other officials attended the ceremony.  “While the Albany Park Branch Library worked well for decades, it no longer adequately fulfilled the 21st century service needs of a community that is home to thousands of residents.  This beautiful, modern building is a model for what a neighborhood library should be, representing an investment in the future of this community – its families and children,” stated Mayor Emanuel.  “It will provide the necessary resources for children to be successful in and after school and for residents to look forward to another 50 years of neighborhood library services.”

“One of our main focuses is to help Chicago Strengthen its Communities,” stated Library Commissioner Bannon.  “We are excited to be able to provide the Albany Park Community a state-of-the-art library that better serves the needs of patrons in this diverse community.”

“Nothing serves as an engaging community hub like a neighborhood Library,” stated Alderman Laurino.  “Nowadays, a library is more than a place to shelve books, and the old building wasn’t designed to serve us the way we need today.”

At the time of the grand opening, the P.B.C. stated, “With generous support from the Cindy Pritzker fund, through the Chicago Public Library Foundation, CPL built out the first early literacy and learning space at Albany Park to promote the five critical early literacy skills – Talk, Sing, Write, Read, & Play.  This will serve as a model for children’s areas in branches throughout the city moving forward.”

DNAinfo’s Patty Wetly noted John Glynn, Manager of the Albany Park Branch Library, played a role in the design of the children’s area. She also related his estimate that the size of the picture book collection had risen 30%.

In a 2015 press release, the P.B.C. stated, “The Albany Park Branch serves as a model for other branches system-wide with its specially designed interactive space for children from newborn to age five.  The design for the children’s area was guided by the program concepts ‘read, write, sing, talk, play’. The space is scaled down through the use of suspended ceiling planes.  Colorful and comfortable furnishing, full wall writing surfaces, look book bins, window seats, and an in-wall talk tube make the space ideal for younger patrons.”

In a 2016 press release, the P.B.C. stated, “The library also serves as a model for other branches with its interactive early learning space for children, specifically designed to enhance the formative learning years of children up to age five.  The design for the children’s area is guided by the five ways children learn: ‘read, write, sing, talk, play!’”

The new Albany Park Branch Library opened with abundant space for collaboration, more access to computers and printers, and a 3D printer.  The old library had ten computers and the new library opened with thirty-eight.  As with all public computers at C.P.L. facilities, these computers offer a library patron access to the Internet and the Microsoft Office suite of software applications that enables patrons to write or revise their resumes, do homework, create spreadsheets and PowerrPoint presentations, etc.  In addition to the public computers, the Albany Park Branch Library has free Wi-Fi so patrons who bring in their laptop computers, tablet computers, and smartphones can access the Internet.  The Albany Park Branch Library has a self-checkout counter to streamline the process of borrowing books and other items during busy periods of time.

The P.B.C. stated, “The library… features a reading garden that provides green space in a highly-populated, urban neighborhood.”  It was the P.B.C.’s goal that the Albany Park Branch Library receive LEED Gold Certification and LEED 2009, as well as achieve the goals of Sustainable Chicago 2015 and the Chicago Climate Action Plan.  The P.B.C. stated, “Sustainable design strategies on the project include a 50% green roof, permeable pavers and a rainwater capture system which serves to irrigate the library’s landscaping, conserve drinking water, support rainwater infiltration and restore the water table and reduce sewer loads.  The project site is located just a few blocks from the North Branch of the Chicago River in a neighborhood that has long embraced the river as an integral part of the community and which has worked to enhance the river through various civic and environmental efforts.”

      Outdoors the reading garden has private as well as group ‘reading time’ space.  Layered seasonal plantings, paving bricks, and sitting ‘stones’ are viewable from the interior reading room through the use of floor to ceiling windows that also provide the interior space with abundant natural light.  The reading garden and the landscaping around the library feature native and adaptive plant species which require less water.  The 2-level flat roof features 7,000 square feet of extensive green roof and a 4,000 square foot roof that captures rain water, which is stored below grade in over 6,000 gallon tanks for the irrigation of the plantings both on the roof and in the reading garden.

In 2015, the Friends of the Chicago River bestowed the Green Ribbon Award on the P.B.C. for the Albany Branch Library. “We are pleased to accept this award because it recognizes the PBC’s strong commitment to sustainable development, and building modern and environmentally friendly facilities that offer benefits to communities on many levels,” stated Erin Lavin Cabonargi, then-Executive Officer of the P.B.C. (and now Director of Development Services at Sterling Bay).

“We are excited that our partners at Public Building Commission are receiving this award for the Albany Park Library project,” stated C.P.L. Commissioner Bannon.  “We continually work with PBC to strengthen communities around Chicago and this honor is well deserved.”

The Chicago Association of Realtors bestowed the 2016 Good Neighbor Award on the Albany Park Branch Library.  “This special recognition underscores the overarching goal of our agency: to develop public buildings that serve as community anchors which, ultimately, catalyze positive community planning,” stated Felecia S. Davis, Executive Director of the P.B.C.  “This new library contributes to the vibrancy of the neighborhood and brings state of the art amenities to the community.”

“We try to be a ‘Good Neighbor’ by strengthening every Chicago community we serve; we are proud that the Albany Park library is being recognized as a cornerstone of the neighborhood,” stated Commissioner Bannon.  “The staff at Albany Park does an excellent job of engaging their patrons in quality programming and library service.”

The Albany Park Branch Meeting Room can accommodate up to eighty people.  It has six tables and eighty chairs.  The room has both a screen and a sink. One can apply to book the room up to three months before the event, but not less than seven days before the event.  The branch manager must approve the event.  An applicant will be notified whether or not his or her application has been approved within three days.

The Albany Park Branch Library is closed on Sundays.  It is open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.  The Albany Park Branch Library phone number is (773) 539-5450.


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