A few days ago I happened upon the George C. Hall Branch in Bronzeville/Grand
Boulevard. Actually, I saw pictures online and really wanted to come and see it. It is a beautiful branch, built in 1931. The large stone walls and the green roof give the branch a distinguished look. As you approach the front door, you walk in between the two wings of the library into a small courtyard; the walls seem so imposing and impressive. Inside felt historical with the dark wooden pillars, two wings filled with old bookshelves, a children’s area, and an auditorium.
This branch is a Chicago Landmark. It is named after a prominent African American surgeon and civic leader. Also, this branch was the first in Chicago to have an African American branch manager. Vivian Harsh also developed an African American research collection and played an integral role in promoting Chicago Black Literary Renaissance writers. Read more about her here. Bronzeville is such a vital neighborhood of Chicago. It was known as the Black Metropolis because it had a significant concentration of Black-owned businesses (and still does, especially along 47th Street). I could go on for sometime about Bronzeville and its historic influence, but you will just have to look it up. Many notable people are associated with the neighborhood or have lived here here including Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Louis Armstrong, and Bessie Coleman. It was amazing to reflect on the lives of some of these great leaders as I sat among the books in this small, but historic branch. Such an impressive building to honor such powerful and dynamic legacy of Chicago’s South Side.
The staff librarian was an older white guy. He looked very particular and was meticulously reading things on the computer. There were four or five others in the room reading books, working on laptops, and using their cellphones. A woman came in to use the computers and tried to print something. She kept pressing “print screen” and eventually asked for help why it wasn’t working right. Another staff librarian came by and explained to her how to print only the page needed. A teenage girl came in and asked about using the computer. She was from the high school a few blocks away. A few other teens came in, some with parents some without. A couple used the computers and it looked like they were doing homework. One teen, for example, used the computer for about an hour while her mom sat at a table looking at books or reading on her phone. Occasionally she would go over to check n her to see if she needed assistance. Eventually they asked the librarian to print something and the left.
The branch was pretty active. People came and went. One guy asked me for a phone charger, but I didn’t have one. He found someone who did and charged his phone. Another guy sat at my table. His breath smelled like alcohol and he immediately put his head on his arms on the desk. He was out. A little while later the security guard came up and started knocking on the desk. After about five times she turned to me an apologized. She told the guy to wake up, no sleeping is allowed in the library. He got a book, fell back asleep. The guard came back. She knocked again and gave him a warning next time she would kick him out. She left. He slept. When she came back she and the librarian told him he needed to leave to wake up. He got up, stumbled around, and went into a corner with the book he had taken off the shelf. The librarian exclaimed “What is he doing?! Is he putting the book back!? Ugh! I wish people would just leave the book on the table, putting it in the wrong place is worse!” (Dramatic, I know). Eventually the guy stumbled out. About 15 minutes later another guy came in rocking a red zip-up hoodie, jeans, high-top sneakers, sunglasses, and large Boze headphones. He was in his jam! And he was carrying a bucket. It was an empty bucket, like the ones you get with a gallon of ice cream (only a little bigger). He walked to the back of the wing, and everyone, I mean everyone turned their head to watch. Then he walked right back out to the foyer. Everyone looked at each other and people started laughing. It was pretty comical. Like I said, this was a pretty active branch.
This trip was wonderful. The library architecture was inspiring and the people are great.