I finally made it to the West Town Branch (see previous post). I tried to visit a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn’t find the parking lot. It was cold and I didn’t want to find street parking and walk, so I gave up. Today was great weather, so I parked a few blocks away and walked over. It is a store front building, so quite a bit different from some of the other libraries I had previously visited with their library-looking architecture. Actually, this library was under scaffolding, protecting pedestrians from the crumbling terra-cotta walls, so the view was rather obstructed. It wasn’t until I crossed the street later in the day that I realized the library was in the Goldblatt Bros. Inc. building. I have passed by this so many times, but never really stopped to appreciate its architecture and history. The Goldblatt family immigrated from Poland in the early 1900s to the West Town neighborhood, one of the largest Polish neighborhoods in Chicago. Two brothers began a department store which eventually grew into a chain of 15 locations. It offered goods at low prices, but eventually succumbed to competition (read more here). The architecture is very Chicago-esque, and actually includes several buildings connected to one another. Several city services are now located in the building. I couldn’t help but wonder what the building would have looked like in its former glory; the wear and tear is quite evident (read more about the building and its most recent restoration efforts).
Before I walked into the building I passed under hanging strips of fabric. I still don’t know why they were there. The inside of the library looked like a storefront, but was pretty large. There were many people there, but they were spread out across the room. Compared to other libraries, this one had many more computers, and over half of them were designated for teens. There was a large Young Adult section, and a pretty significant teen area as well. I came in at 1:05 pm, so all of the teens were in school. I guess I didn’t know what I was getting into, though, when I sat at a table and started writing. There were about 6 or 7 other people scattered in my area, all working on laptops or reading (one guy was napping). At 1:15, the teens started coming in.
The teen section filled up quickly with a couple groups of youth. A few others came in and worked on the computers. One or two sat at the tables and desks and started working on homework in the form of math worksheets. I was very impressed that as the number of teens grew, the volume remained a steady silence. By 3:00 though, there were 30-40 teens in room. The silence was over, but the volume was still relatively low. I couldn’t believe it! I have worked with middle and high schoolers for years and I have never seen more than 5 of them in one place without mass chaos breaking out! I really can’t explain it, but a few tossed a basketball to each other, and it never touched the ground, hit another person, or made a noise! Two girls put in “volunteer hours” by washing and repainting a window with window paint. People floated from group to group. They talked, but I couldn’t hear them. No visible or audible arguments. They just existed. Maybe you aren’t as impressed as I am, but the other adults and I sat there doing our work, with teens everywhere, and weren’t even bothered! Ok, I am equally impressed by the adults. We all know that most adults loose patience with teenagers in like 2 minutes, but all of these adults just sat there like nothing was going on.
Now, don’t get me wrong, these students were typical youth. The boys made their googly-eyes at the girls and tried to get their attention. They tried to show off their moves, of which they had none. The girls either worked on homework or acted too-cool to fall for the boys’ shenanigans. The boys smiled until they turned their back and walked away with that slightly defeated look. Don’t worry, their confidence wasn’t broken, because about five minutes later they returned. Did I mention that this was happening inches from my shoulder? Imagine a front-row seat to reliving your freshman year of high-school—no thanks!
Apart from being completely impressed with these kids, I was equally impressed with the library as a safe place for them to come, do homework, use the computers, and hang out; all with minimal supervision. There weren’t security guards policing the place. The librarians seemed to help kids from time to time with checking out book and using other resources. Never once did they have to tell the kids to be quiet or anything—more than I can say about some adults at other branches.
In other news, take a look at some possible new plans the mayor has regarding the future of libraries and public housing.