I pushed a little further south on January 10th trying to maximize the final days of my break. The West Pullman Branch is on 119th street, and is a LEED certified building! I always get excited to see sustainable practices, especially when it comes to public spaces. The library is quite open, with the majority of computers in the center of the main room under a raised ceiling rimmed with windows. This allowed a lot of natural light to fill the room. The book stacks were off to the sides, so you can see straight across to the front foyer from most tables. Murals about the history of the Pullman Porters hang prominently above the computers and other art pieces were scattered throughout the building. A security guard wandered around. About half of the computers were in use. A dozen or so people sat among the tables. It was quiet.
I sat in the back of the room at a table. A guy was watching something on his tablet at the table behind me and two women were studying at the table in front of me. When I say “studying,” I mean they were serious.The textbooks the were using were easily 1000+ pages and there were several of them. They also had snacks and coffee. They were bunkered down. I arrived about 11:30, and they were getting ready for lunch. Before they left the pulled the security guard aside to make sure no one would take their books and move them while they were gone. The security guard clearly wasn’t getting it. They literally had to spell out “We are coming back. Don’t let them move all our books.” Finally, I just gave up for them. “I’ll watch them. Don’t worry. No one is going to take your seats.” There was like 10 other tables. Well, sure enough. They left. Then a bazillion more people started to come in. The tabes quickly filled with older men reading newspapers and a few people using their laptops searching for jobs (I get a little nosey sometimes and look at their browsers). Then a guy came and sat down at their table!!! What was I going to do?! Ok, just breathe. He didn’t move their stuff yet. He clearly knew they were coming back. I was in the clear. Luckily about 30 minutes later he moved on, just before the women came back. Whew!
A guy started yelling at one of the computers, complaining, quite loudly, that no one was helping him. The librarian came over to assist and also told him about the computer classes they would have the next day in the morning. This is when it really hit me. The library is much more of a community center and a comprehensive service for information sciences than anything. Books sat all around me, but it was this interaction of the librarian patiently assisting someone at the computer that really gave me a glance at just how important community libraries are. The continued dissemination of information is vital in our society, but the digital age has advanced all too quickly and unfortunately many people were left behind. Patiently, the librarian helped the man navigate through a few websites. He stayed on the computer the rest of the time I was there, well except when the power went out around 2pm. Yes. The power went out. It was really windy outside, and apparently power had been knocked out for the entire block. The librarian assured us that we could stay, though she didn’t know when it would come back on. This meant no wifi, but at least I could tether my computer to my iPhone and work that way. Eventually power was restored.
There weren’t many kids at this branch, unlike the other branches I had visited. Even after school there wasn’t the expected flood of adolescents fighting over computers. There was, however, a very unique mix of people and activities. The police, for example. Two officers hung out at the resource desk for a while then made their rounds talking to each patron. The were passing out cards, and I didn’t realize it until they got closer to me they were recruiting. They talked to a guy a few tables away, telling him all about the accolades, pay, and requirements of CPD. They gave him a stack of cards. I really think he was rolling his eyes, but he listened while they gave their spiel. Then they went to the women at the table in front of me. He handed them a card, told them to apply. One of them snickered, gave him the card back and said “We are studying for the bar exam, we will not be working for you.” To which he replied “Oh, but we hire lawyers too!” Good try man, good try. But they weren’t having it, “Not this kinda lawyer.” I giggled off to the side watching the uncomfortable situation of this guy trying, really really hard to give his pitch. His partner, a female officer, came and also started sharing her experience and pay and that they were trying to hire more minority officers. Oh, by the way, I was the only white guy in the library. After a good five minute exchange, the officer just told them to tell their friends or pass out the cards to other people. I tried to act busy, because I knew I was next. I wasn’t sure what the tactic would be for me, since I clearly wasn’t going to fit their stated target of recruitment. The officer came over pointed at me with one of those cheesy double finger points and said “How do you like you job?” Oh, how I wanted to mess with him really bad and ask “What job?” But, I just said “Well, you know, its fine but I’m always looking” because I wanted to hear his pitch. No pitch. He handed me the card and said “Apply!” HA! Ok officer! Ok! No need for professors on the force? I looked down at the card though and saw the starting pay, I was halfway through the application before I stopped myself!
This library was a great experience. This is Chicago. People from all walks of life coming together in one building. Power going out. People helping people. Oh, and of course, the ever present police force on their service rounds.