The Near North Branch has a lot of personal meaning to me. Despite only having been here a handful of times in the past, this is one of the areas of Chicago I know best. I’ve lived within about a 1 mile radius of this branch for about 7 years—throughout college and in my first two apartments. I attended church in the area and volunteered with after school programs in the communities nearby, so even driving to the library on January 13th was filled with nostalgia.
The Near North Branch is a busy branch, but it is clean and quiet. The silence is stunning, especially since it is located under the El and is next to a very noisy intersection. Now, I have to say, as much as I love the inside of the library, that the biggest asset here is the free parking. It is incredibly difficult to find parking, much less free parking in this area, so, a parking lot for library patrons is golden! I arrived soon after opening, and the computers were already filled. There is a lot of seating in the library, but the tables were largely filled with people working on laptops; several appeared to be looking at job websites. A steady flow of people came through the video section and checked out some movies. One of the most noticeable activities was the large number of people coming in to read the newspaper. People generally stayed or 20 or 30 minutes at a table with the newspaper, some a little longer.
Newspaper reading is a forgotten activity! These days, I still occasionally pick up the free RedEye and browse through pop culture, Chicago news, Sudoku puzzles, and local food specials. I used to read it everyday because there was a box right outside of my apartment on the way to the train. It was only 16 pages, but allowed me to reconnect with Beyoncé, the Bears, and local happenings all at once. The RedEye, rather unfortunately I suppose, even used to have a Thursday homicide tracker that I would check every week, but that section has since been disbanded. Then I got a smartphone, and CandyCrush and Facebook took over my commutes. You can read the RedEye here, it is always worth browsing through. In the library, though, people read the real newspapers. The big ones, you know, that have to be folded like 80 times. The Tribune and the SunTimes seemed most popular, but the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were among others available. I am always fascinated to see the different ways we “do” reading, and the library is a great place to observe this. Newspapers still get well read while at the same time other people use the free wifi to play games on their phones. Some people read from their laptops while others grab a few books from the shelves. I spoke with someone the other day who reminisced about microfische (a few libraries still have them), and realized how complex libraries are. The house so many different types of technologies and promote so many different literacy practices. Libraries are more than static locations with tomes of books. They are spaces in which a variety of types of reading are performed.