I finally decided to replace my library card while I was at the Roosevelt Branch. I have probably had 3 or 4 cards since I have lived in Chicago, but unfortunately I would lose them or they would expire. The current policy is that the card needs to be updated every 3 years. I actually don’t remember the last time I had updated mine. I had a keychain card from years and years ago, but it had expired. The library card policies are pretty simple. Have a Chicago address and ID, and you can get one. If your ID has your address on it, it is a done deal. However, if it doesn’t, then you need a photo ID and a piece of mail with your address. Simple, right?
Nope, when are things ever simple? Sure, it is simple enough for me, but what about for people that don’t have an ID, or an address for that matter? While I was getting my card, there was a man trying to get his as well. He said he just got out of prison a short while back and was at a shelter. He had no state-issued photo ID and he had no address. This is actually a very common problem. According to Illinois Policy, nearly half of ex-offenders will end up back in prison within 3 years, but among ex-offenders who are gainfully employed, that percentage drops to 18%, so there has been quite a bit of talk about improving access to state ID for ex-offenders and people who are out of prison on parole. A new public act will take effect on July 1, 2017 that is aimed at improving this process. The library system is willing to work with people who have no state ID. In fact, they require a photo ID, which doesn’t have to be a state ID, and a second form of ID with an address and name, such as a letter from a social service agency. Other city and state services, on the other hand, are much more difficult to navigate. This is yet another reason why I love the library system, because it allows free access for people to use the internet, look for jobs, take advantages of technology and skills classes, and several other services. It even has a system to allow as many people as possible to get a card for more traditional services.
I remember using the library when I was young. I was SO excited and proud when I got my first library card. Technically I had two, one from Memphis, Michigan and one from Richmond, Michigan. Richmond’s library was a lot nicer, but Memphis was a nice little two-room library as well. For a town of about 1,000, that’s pretty much what you would expect. Richmond’s library card was pretty plain. I can’t really remember. Maybe it was blue? Maybe laminated? But Memphis’s card was really cool! It had a metal chip in it! I really have no idea what this technology is called, but this link will take you to an image of something similar. My mom kept it in a small paper sleeve. I wasn’t allowed to touch it outside of the library. To my mom, the library card was practically sacred.
While my mom and dad would make seemingly random stops at the bookstores and let us browse, and even buy books, my mom was huge on the library. She would take me and my brother to the library, and let us loose to explore (remember…it was two rooms). I love encyclopedias and would pull them off of the shelves. Science books with pictures mesmerized me. I even remember trying to read the books in the adult section because my curiosity was insatiable. Nothing, though, really stuck out to me more than when we spent the summer driving out to find the “bookmoblie” in Memphis. We walked into this colorful trailer that was filled with books. Kids from all over were there and we snatched up the books. It was done through the library system, so we would return it next time. I thought we were pretty special, but really bookmobiles actually have a long history of making books accessible. Even a short Google search will bring you to some explanations of the history of bookmobiles such as this.
Libraries have a history of providing (and prohibiting) access to books. In one of these posts I will dig into that history a little more. Right now I just want to underscore how the Chicago Public Library, like that bookmobile in Memphis, provides a public space for the exchange of literature, of ideas, and of lives. The library system is a public asset, perhaps one of the most important public assets we could ask for. As I sat in the Roosevelt branch, looking at my new library card—on January 20th, inauguration day—I was reminded about how important it is for us to support and fight for our public institutions. My mom and my dad provided me lots of books, but the public provided us with libraries. The public provided us access to worlds we wouldn’t have been able to reach, to ideas we wouldn’t have been able to think, and to people we wouldn’t have been able to meet. Like so many other public institutions, the library helped formed who I am. Therefore, in a time when that which is “public” is under attack, I will continue to support and fight for the sustaining of and equitable access to these institutions. I am happy to see that the Chicago Public Library attempts to provide as wide of access as possible to the people of Chicago.