Over the past four years, the Galewood-Montclaire Library has been located in a 400 square-foot room in the field house of Rutherford Sayre Park at 6871 W. Belden Ave.
It contains four book racks and a pair of librarian’s desks. There are kids’ coloring tables and, just outside, an adjacent playground and splash pad.
Since the library opened, there have been several noticeable improvements made to the facility, including a computer, located on one of the librarian’s desks and primarily used for book searches, and a functioning dropbox for books. But while the library may be suitable to the children who frequent it by the hundreds each month, many adult residents of Galewood feel that the building is severely inadequate for their needs.
“I know there are budgetary considerations, but building a new Galewood-Montclaire Library is something that needs to be addressed,” said Tom Drebenstedt, a member of the Galewood Residents Association.
“I know that [29th ward] Ald. Christopher Taliaferro is still in the process of getting his office organized, but we hope that once he adjusts to the role, he can come to the table and discuss this matter with the Park Advisory Council, as his predecessor did.”
Drebenstedt said that recently ousted alderman Deborah Graham was very vocal in her support for building a new Galewood library and the project even became a topic of debate during the runoff election between Taliaferro and Graham. Both candidates were vocal in their support of a new building.
Since the election, however, talk among elected officials of a new library building for Galewood and Montclare has been rather muted. Residents say there’s not been much movement from the new alderman on the issue.
“It’s basically an early childhood and literacy facility and in many ways, it has made a lot of its limited space,” said Neal Wankoff, owner of Prairie IT Services.
“But there is still a need for a facility that can be accessible to all members of the Galewood community, with the same amenities we associate with other Chicago Public Libraries, like Wi-Fi capability, weekend hours, a strong selection of books and regular events — all of which the current facility is lacking.”
The Galewood-Montclare Library was originally housed on Grand and Sayre before closing in 2010 due to a lengthy dispute with the building’s landlord over $70,000 in property taxes and assorted fees owed to the city. Consequently, the library was relocated to its present location as a temporary solution until plans for a new facility materialized.
The library was only supposed to be at Rutherford Sayre Park for a few months, but a project to relocate it to a larger location never emerged and Galewood-Montclare Library remains the only one in the area, despite its incompatibility with the needs of its adult patrons.
Wankoff has been involved with the initiative to bring a new library to Galewood for over three years and even organized a “Check-Out” event in 2013 to highlight the shortcomings of the library at the time. The event entailed 1,000 residents of the community each checking out a book — essentially checking out the entire stock of the library at one time. The purpose of the event was to shed light on the lack of titles offered by the library.
The event proved successful, prompting senior library staff to invest time and funds into the library to make it more accessible to users. The library also received a range of cosmtic treatments: the room was painted; water leaks were sealed;and a dropbox was finally installed. In addition, weekday evening hours were extended to accommodate parents who may want to take their children to the library after work.
The improvements were marginal, but given the city’s financial crunch, Wankoff said he understands why building an entirely new facility might not be on the forefront of Taliaferro’s mind.
“I’m aware that the funding may not be available to invest in a new library right now, especially when you consider the millions that will be required in land and maintenance costs. Additionally, [Ald. Taliaferro] needs an opportunity to get settled into the position before he can look into the issue.”
The concern over the financial feasibility of building a new library at present is not lost on the Chicago Public Library’s Director of Public Affairs Patrick Malloy, who acknowledged the need for a new facility in the Galewood area, but says that it simply is not possible at this juncture.
“In an ideal world, we would have the funding for a new facility and a site to build it on,” said Malloy. “But with the lack of funding we have to basically work with what we have for now.”
Malloy says that there are libraries near the Galewood neighborhood that residents can still use. The West Belmont and Dunning libraries are each between 1.7 and 2.4 miles away.
“We do want to make sure that we are cued up for monies once they become available again,” said Wankoff, who adds that, although the public outcry throughout the Galewood area for a new library has died down from its fever pitch two years ago, his interactions with community residents in recent months confirm a persistent desire among residents to see a fully functional community library in their own neighborhood area.
Ald. Taliaferro’s office was not available for comment for this story.