Austin Branch Library, the oldest library within the Austin community area, reopened on Feb. 5, almost three months behind schedule. The library closed on Sept. 25, 2017. While it was originally scheduled to reopen on Nov. 11, 2017, the reopening date got pushed back several times.  

According to Patrick Molloy, Chicago Public Library’s director of government and public affairs, this was because the library got extra funding through Tax Increment Financing, which allowed the Chicago Public Library system to do more renovations than originally planned. 

Meanwhile, the North Austin branch library, which closed for renovations on Dec. 18, 2017 didn’t reopen on Feb. 1, as originally scheduled. During the interview that took place that day, Molloy said that he wasn’t sure why the delay happened, but that he would research the matter. He didn’t respond by this issue’s deadline.

Austin Branch Library originally opened in 1929. It previously went through major renovations in 1979 and 1981. As previously reported by Austin Weekly News, the latest round of renovations was originally supposed to include opening up the sealed skylight over the circulation desk and putting in a new high-performance glass to let more light in. 

The circulation desk itself was supposed to be replaced with something more modern. The plans also called for other, smaller fixes. The windows will be sealed to prevent water from getting in and the interiors will be repainted and get new carpets.

Molloy said that the library was able to use TIF funding to make more repairs than that, including more roof work and more interior improvements, but he didn’t elaborate on what they were.

“I think we started looking at additional improvements to [the library] as we kept going,” Molloy said. “The budget grew and we were able to do a lot more interior work.”

The fliers that were released on Feb. 2 said that the the branch would have new, faster public computers and a new “teen space.” While all Austin branch libraries except Galewood-Montclare branch have dedicated children sections, this marks the first time an Austin library had one for teens. That said, it wouldn’t be the first one on the West Side – West Garfield Park’s Legler branch has had YouMedia, a multimedia space geared toward teens, since 2015. 

Molloy said that, overall, the renovations wound up costing around $1.6 million. According to the City of Chicago’s TIF online portal, $1 million of that came from Austin-Madison TIF, which includes the branch library. 

While Austin branch library officially opened on Monday, Feb. 5, at 12 p.m., Molloy said it was a “soft” opening. 

“Wednesday [Feb. 7] is really the day when we’re going to try to put in a lot of programs,” he said.

The flier that was released following the interview states the Re-Opening Celebration will kick off at 3:30 p.m. It will include refreshments, a book giveaway for kids, kids activities such as button-making and a meet-and-greet with the newly appointed Teen Associate librarian, who will be supervising the new teen space. 

Chicago Sinfonietta, an orchestra that sets out to promote and recruit “diverse” musicians, will perform at 4 p.m. Everybody in attendance will have a chance to win tickets to one of their concerts, and kids will get a chance to get up close and personal with the musical instruments thanks to an “Instrument Petting Zoo.” 

Molloy said that there will still be some minor interior touch-ups and repairs. He emphasized that they won’t significantly affect the patron experience.

Meanwhile, the North Austin branch was originally scheduled to reopen on Feb. 1. When the day came, the CPL website listed it as open, and all of the activities for February were still listed. But in an e-mail sent out that afternoon to members of the branch’s Write About it writing group, Ann Eleven, the librarian who runs it, wrote that it wouldn’t reopen until Feb. 26. 

During the Feb. 1 interview, Molloy was unable to confirm the re-opening date. But as of Feb. 3, the CPL website changed the branch status status back to closed for the renovations, and all of the activities scheduled on dates before Feb. 26 were canceled.

According to Molloy, the renovations included exterior masonry repairs, tuck-pointing, roof repairs, new flooring, lighting upgrades, and “upgrades to the circulation desk and the restroom.”


Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...