A few days ago I visited the Richard M. Daley Branch. This branch was interesting for several reasons, but what the Richard J. Daley Branch lacked in ostentatiousness, this branch picked up some of the slack. The building, from the outside, was more-or less plain. The lettering on the wall was falling off, and the semi-industrial feel of the area made the library feel a little off the beaten path. Because of the obvious namesake, King Richard the II, I would have expected a little more glamour and gold. Still, it was pretty clear this was a newer location, (built in 2011) and was LEED certified!.
It may sound like I am knocking the Daley’s a little but you would have to be from Chicago, or I guess well tuned to politics in the 60’s to understand. Richard J. Daley ran the Chicago “machine” in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. He organized and centralized power in a variety of strategic ways and was integral to the democratic party at the national level. Years later, Richard M. Daley took office, and like his father before him, he ran what seemed to be a tight ship. Chicago is supposedly a “weak mayor” city, in which the city council has a lot of power and the mayor does not, but the Daley’s completely debunked that! When you can localize control, you can manage with an iron fist, and this is what the Daley’s seemed to do. One example of this is when Daley, in 1995, took over the Chicago Public Schools. Sure, the state legislature and governor were ultimately responsible for this, but the power of the mayor to select a 5-person school board is still shocking! Even today this stands as one of the biggest thorns in our flesh as educators. Every year, every Teacher’s Union contract negotiation, and every election cycle people seem to beg for an elected school board. Alas, Daley centralized that power. Oh, and we can’t forget that Daley, unlike any other, found ways to assert his power. When he wanted Meigs Field, a small downtown airport converted to a recreational area, he ordered city workers, over night, without the public knowing, to destroy the runway! Imagine the audacity! The city wakes up in the morning and an entire airpot gone! Ok, to confess, I think this was the right choice. I love running on Northerly Island now, but Daley was A BOSS! Daley could be credited with many public works, including expanding the library system. Many of the branches I have been to so far were built during his regime…erm…tenure.
I was pleasantly surprised when I walked in. The vast open room with the raised roof made the space look very large. There were plenty of empty tables and somewhere around 24 computers in the middle. There were many more computers in the children/youth area. This is a YouMedia location, which means it has a robust youth program with computers, laptops, and other multimedia tools. Actually, this was pretty obvious to me as I walked around because there is student art everywhere. On one shelf there were a bunch of painted styrofoam heads. It was kind of cool to see the student work.
There were a fair number of people there. A couple sat at the table, with bags of stuff, chilling. They appeared to be homeless or displaced. They kept wandering around and eventually moved tables. Another woman was studying for the NCLEX exam. An older white woman met an older Black man at the table next to me and asked him how he was doing. He said “I’ve seen better days.” I couldn’t hear everything they were talking about, but it sounded like she was a social worker or social service contact. He brought bills, she told him what each one was for. He had her listen to his voicemail, and she told him he needed to call that number back to take care of whatever business it was. She talked him through the medical bills form Mile Square and also told him he could get mental health services at Thresholds at 5000 W. Roosevelt. They talked taxes. A cop came in, read the newspaper for a few minutes, used the computer real quick, and then left. A number of other people sat there as well. Usually when I come to the library, I work for 1.5-3 hours. I am pretty surprised at how many people stick around the whole time I am there. There is always some come-and-go, but people really do maximize their use of the library.
Overall, I really loved this branch. It was quiet, bright, colorful, and had a very spacious feel to it. Oh, and free parking.