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

The Back of the Yards Branch of the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.) is at the southwest corner of 47th Street and Hoyne Avenue in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in the New City Community Area on the South Side of Chicago, which is #61 on a map of the city’s community areas.  This is the fourth iteration of the Back of the Yards Branch Library, and the third to bear this name.  It opened on Monday, August 26, 2013.

The third iteration of the Back of the Yards Branch Library was a storefront library that was located at 4650 South Damen Avenue.  [I posted my first article on it on Examiner.com Chicago on August 26, 2010.]  That iteration of the Back of the Yards Branch Library occupied a double storefront in the Yards Plaza Shopping Mall at 47th Street and Damen Avenue.  It opened on February 23, 1998, and was dedicated on March 21, 1998.

This was not the first iteration of the Back of the Yards Branch Library, as it replaced a smaller storefront facility. The second iteration of this branch – the first to be called “Back of the Yards,” opened in 1977 on West 47th Street.

The first iteration of this branch opened in 1972. It was called the New City Branch Library and was housed in a storefront on the 4600 block of South Ashland Avenue.  Five years later, the branch was renamed the Back of the Yards Branch and moved to a location on West 47th Street.

The Featured Collection at the third iteration was the Spanish Language Collection.  The Community Meeting Room held up to sixty people and cannot be divided.  The phone number there was (312) 747-8367.

It closed in 2011 due to repeated flooding.  On Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the new Back of the Yards High School at 2111 West 47th Street scheduled to open in 2013 would be a dual-use structure that would also house a new library branch.

Chicago Sun-Times City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman reported on Wednesday, June 13, 2012 that the new Back of the Yards High School set to open in 2013, a college prep school “devoted exclusively to the rigorous International baccalaureate diploma program,” would also house a branch of the Chicago Public Library.[1]

According to a Chicago City Hall/Chicago Public Building Commission press release, the Back of the Yards High School would be the second C.P.S. neighborhood high school after Senn High School in Edgewater to Back of the Yards “to become a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate (IB) school, offering the challenging curriculum to students in the neighborhood.  The expansion of IB Programmes is part of the city’s continuing effort to provide high quality school options for every student in every neighborhood across the city of Chicago. This decision was made after discussions with stakeholders in the communities served by Back of the Yards.”  Ms. Spielman related there will be a total of five such schools.

The press release also contained a description of the curriculum this school would offer.  “In a wall-to-wall IB school, every freshman and sophomore student will participate in what is called the Middle Years Programme (MYP). At the completion of sophomore year, students can proceed to either the full Diploma Programme, opt for an IB certificate where students can take one or more IB classes, opt for an IB career related certificate or fulfill an IB core requirement. Ultimately, every student at Back of the Yards will touch the IB Programme in some way.” Note the British spelling “programme” in that statement.

A number of suburban and exurban public libraries I have profiled were originally operated in public schools or former school buildings, but this new cooperative venture between the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Public Library was something new.  The nearest precedent that comes to mind is the cooperation between the Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Library necessary for the first iteration of the Gage Park Branch of the Chicago Public Library to have been housed in the Gage Park Fieldhouse from 1928 to 1955.

“By partnering together, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Public Library are ensuring the Back of the Yards high school will become a community anchor for both students and residents in the community, who have been without a library for a year,” stated  Mayor Emanuel in the press release.  “This innovative approach will provide residents and students with the library they deserve.  Not only will the library be an anchor for the community, it will be designed to ensure students have what they need to succeed in the high school’s new challenging IB curriculum.”

Ms. Spielman wrote that the combination public high school/public library in Back of the Yards neighborhood “marks the start of what could be a groundbreaking partnership” between the C.P.S. and C.P.L.  She pointed out that 50% of the civil servants Mayor Rahm Emanuel laid-off with his first budget were C.P.L. staff members, which prompted Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey to resign.

“This is about innovative thinking and optimizing taxpayer dollars to give our students the absolute best educational experience,” stated C.P.S. C.E.O. Jean-Claude Brizard in the press release. “We are delighted that more students will have the opportunity to explore the vast resources available through the Chicago Public Library, turning this neighborhood school into a year-round learning center.”

“Co-locating the public library with the new school will increase the resources available to students, but also provide residents with a new full-service library, open six days a week, that will offer the full complement of early-childhood reading programs that are instrumental to student success,” stated the new Library Commissioner Brian Bannon in the press release.  “Students will have the benefit of teacher librarians and public librarians to support academic and personal interests, and the opportunity to mentor younger children and gain community service hours within their school building.”

Ms. Spielman noted, “The library will have its own entrance, teen-only space and public reading garden.  It will be open six days a week and staff during school hours” by CPL librarians “working alongside a full-time CPS teacher librarian responsible for ensuring that the library collection meets the needs of the IB curriculum.”

At a news conference on Tuesday in the library of the Caesar Chavez Elementary School at 4747 South Marshfield Avenue, Mayor Emanuel said, “I consider this a great idea, an innovative idea.”  He added, “We’ve brought them [the CPS and CPL] together because our mission is the same: teaching our children, serving as a community center for our families and our children.”

Ms. Spielman reasonably asked, since big city public schools are secure facilities with metal detectors, surveillance cameras, police and security guards, while public libraries are “open to everybody,” how will staff prevent library patrons be prevented from entering the school?  Mayor Emanuel argued, “That’s an engineering issue and that’s easily accomplished.”

Ms. Spielman wrote Library Commissioner Bannon said he would work with the Chicago Public Building Commission “to design the new library with security in mind.” The school at 2111 West 47th Street will be built to accommodate 1,200 students.

According to the press release, the Back of the Yards High School “will also include a gymnasium, natatorium with 6 Lane Pool, multipurpose room/athletic studio and fitness/weight room.  Outside, the school will feature a combination soccer and football field with bleachers, softball diamond, tennis courts and an outdoor reading garden. The new Back of the Yards High School was designed to achieve a Silver rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Schools Rating System.”

STL Architects, Inc. was the architect of record and the general contractor was Sollitt/Brown & Momen JV.  The Chicago P.B.C. stated, before the announcement that this would be a dual-use facility, “This project will implement the new CPS Urban Model High School (UMHS) prototypical design to serve 1200 students. This 212,285 SF, three floors plus lower level, steel frame and masonry construction building will include music, art, and athletic functions.”[2]

Mayor Emanuel joined Commissioner Bannon and local officials on Saturday, September 7, 2013 to dedicate the new Back of the Yards Branch of the Chicago Public Library at 2111 West 47th Street, adjacent to the new Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School.  This new, 8,300-square-foot branch, co-located on the high school campus, provides the Back of the Yards community with its first full-service library since the previous rental location closed.

“Libraries and schools have a strong connection as places of learning and community anchors. This innovative approach provides the community with a library that they’ve eagerly anticipated, and students the critical resources needed to reach their full potential in the digital age,” stated Mayor Emanuel. “This project demonstrates the city’s continuing commitment and investment in our children and our neighborhoods, while also reducing the financial burden for taxpayers.”

The C.P.L. stated, “The neighborhood library combines with the new Back of the Yards High School to serve as a community campus, extending learning and discovery to all residents. This full-service CPL branch will include enhanced teen-focused collections and digital learning amenities to support the work of the high school. Additionally, the branch will offer neighborhood children access to early literacy programs through morning story times and lapsits, as well as providing parent training on the importance of reading.”

“This location allows us to offer Back of the Yards residents a full-service 21st century library in order to better serve the needs of patrons in this community,” said Library Commissioner Brian Bannon. “We know how much this community loves its library, and the branch will offer more access to technology and a focus on the teens in the neighborhood and a media lab for technology training. We are happy to be able to open this in time for the beginning of the school year.”

The C.P.L. stated, “The branch library has its own separate public entrance. It includes a community room, a media lab for technology training and 25 public computers. As with all CPL public computers, these all offer patrons access to the Internet and online and computer reference databases, as well as Microsoft Office suite of productivity software, allowing them to write resumes, do homework, create spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and more.”

There are areas for adults, teens and children. The new teen area, with a teen librarian, reflects a growing trend of libraries providing physical space dedicated to nurturing teens’ values, identity, and the new skills necessary to grow and thrive. Teens will be offered a variety of STEM-based and financial literacy programs, as well as book clubs, Teen Tech Week and Teen Read Week.

The branch also offers the services of a Teacher in the Library, a certified teacher on hand after school to assist students with homework. This program is supported by the generous private contributions through the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

The Chicago P.B.C. managed the construction of the Back of the Yards campus on behalf of Chicago Public Library.  Mayor Richard J. Daley (Daley the Elder) founded the Chicago PBC in 1956.  Mayor Emanuel is now the Chairman of the Chicago P.B.C.  It erects buildings for the City of Chicago, Cook County, the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, and the City Colleges of Chicago.

“As stewards of the public fund, the PBC promotes both economic and environmental sustainability in each project we take on,” stated Erin Lavin Cabonargi, then-P.B.C. Executive Director (and now Managing Director at Hibernian Advisors). “As such, this facility has been developed to be a multifaceted community anchor, designed to achieve a LEED Silver Rating and contracted in a way that allowed us to achieve a diverse and local workforce and business participation.”

The Back of the Yards Branch 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. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

High school students can borrow laptop computers, play video games, and use other digital media at the Back of the Yards YOUmedia.  It is open from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The phone number is (312) 747-9595.

This schoolyear, students have been available to drop into C.P.L. facilities for homework help since Monday, September 10, 2018.  Thanks to grants to the Chicago Public Library Foundation, there are certified teachers and trained homework helpers available at libraries, but hours vary by location, so contact the library before dropping in.  Online homework help is also available every day from 2:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. through Brainfuse.

Like all C.P.L. facilities, the Back of the Yards Branch has Wi-Fi.  It has bike racks.  There is no parking lot like there would be at a suburban public library, so only street parking is available.  The Featured Collection is the Spanish Language Collection.

The Back of the Yards Branch is one of only ten C.P.L. locations that are Citizenship Corners.  One can take E.S.L. lessons.  There are also citizenship workshops.

The large meeting room holds up to thirty-two people, the small reading room holds up to ten people.  While the large meeting room has six tables, thirty-two chairs, a lectern, and a screen; the small meeting room has four tables, ten chairs, a screen, and a sink.

Applicants may book meeting rooms up to three months in advance, but not later than seven days before the event.  Applications for meeting room use are not confirmed until approved by the branch manager.  Applicants will be notified if their requested have been approval within three days.

The address is 2111 West 47th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60609.  The phone number is (312) 747-9595.  The e-mail address is backoftheyards@chipublib.org.

[1] Fran Spielman, “Back of the Yards High School to share library with neighbors,” Chicago Sun-Times, 13 June, 2012 (https://www.pressreader.com/usa/chicago-sun-times/20120613/281582352701142) Accessed 10/30/18

[2] Mayor Richard J. Daley (Daley the Elder) (1972-1976) founded the Chicago P.B.C. in 1956.  Mayor Emanuel is now the Chairman of the Chicago P.B.C.  It erects buildings for the City of Chicago, Cook County, the Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, and the City Colleges of Chicago.

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