The Frederick A. Douglass Branch of the Chicago Public Library opened in 1910 as the Lawndale Branch. It was located at Millard Avenue and 23rd Street. In 1914, the Lawndale Branch closed and the Douglas Park Branch opened at a different location (3527-29 W.12th St.). Some time later, the name was changed to Stephen A. Douglas Branch, (U.S. Senator from Illinois who was skillful in debate and in passage of legislation). A new building for the library was erected at 3353 W. 13th Street. The current building officially opened Sept. 30, 1930. On Oct. 11, 1970, the name was changed to honor Frederick A. Douglass, a famous African-American abolitionist, writer, and speaker.
Just as the name changed through the years, the Frederick Douglass library’s public services have changed through the years. The public services were all contained within the walls of the building. But today, the services offered to the public are both inside and outside the building.
On the inside there are meeting rooms. There is a multi-purpose room and an auditorium available for public use. An organization or group may inquire about scheduling for the use of these rooms.
Recently, free Wi-Fi access to the World Wide Web was added. A patron is given a brochure, which has instructions on how to start using the Wi-Fi service.
There is an Adult Book Club and discussion group that meets once a month. The Chicago Public Library selects a book to read each month. Book Club members read the selected book and discuss it the following month. During the monthly discussion, the opportunity is presented to tell others your opinion. This month’s selection is The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.
As interesting and stimulating as the Adult Book Club is, the same can be said for the other adult programs. Frances Nance, a nurse, at the Lawndale Christian Health Center gives a monthly lecture on various health issues, such as sugar diabetes, high blood pressure, and self-breast examination. Another adult program that meets once a month is the North Lawndale Greening Committee.
Kenneth Nelson, head librarian at Douglass Branch, said he intends to get more seniors involved in the adult programs and to have more adult programs.
Because of the changing demograhics, Mr. Nelson anticipates having longer hours at the library. New housing developments have brought residents with interest in reading, studying, and researching into the North Lawndale Community. “The library hours have been stable for a long time,” he said, “but we will be happy to take on later hours to accommodate people coming in after a work day.”
When I interviewed Mr. Nelson, we sat at a table in the Adult Reading Room. I commented on the brightness of the room. Mr. Nelson told me the room and the entire library was recently painted. He said he had two reasons for pushing for the white walls on the first floor. He wanted the rooms to have light enough for reading and studying.
I asked Mr. Nelson about the outside garden across the alley from the library. He said it is called the Storybook Garden and it was built in 1992. A winding yellow brick path leads to a gazebo near the center of the garden. A few feet away is a bench. Facing south on the side wall of a building is a mural titled, “I Dare To Dream.” At the top of the mural are portraits of famous black Americans. The living persons are Michael Jordan and Mae Jemison. The persons of past years are Frederick A. Douglass, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King, and Harold Washington. At the bottom of the mural are three depictions of fairy tales: They are “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” “Ananzi the Spider,” and the “Wizard of Oz.” The mural in the Storybook Garden was repainted in 2004. Various tall trees and shrubs surround the borders.
The garden is available throughout the year for activities directed towards children. During the summer, volunteers read stories to the children; in the spring, there is an Easter Egg Hunt; and in the month of December, children decorate the trees with Christmas lights.
The latest technology, updates on current health issues, and a beautiful Storybook Garden make the Frederick A. Douglass Branch a modern library and a great asset to the North Lawndale and neighboring communities.
The Douglass Branch is open Monday, 12-8; Wednesday, 10-6; Tuesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday, 9-5; Sunday, closed. Call 312/747-3725 for additional information.