Two months after Austin Branch Library, 5615 W. Race Ave., reopened after months of renovations, the Chicago Public Library’s board of directors held its April meeting inside of the branch’s auditorium.

The library board rotates its monthly meetings between its main location at the Harold Washington Center library downtown and various branch libraries throughout Chicago. The April 17 meeting marked the first time the board met in any West Side library since at least 2016. 

At the start of the meeting, branch manager Jo Anne Willis pointed out the library’s recent physical improvements, noting the newly opened skylight, the new circulation desk and faster Internet. She said that attracting teens has been a challenge — one that they are addressing head-on. As part of the renovation, the library added a teen area, hired a part-time teen librarian and organized more teen-orientated programs.

Austin branch library closed for renovations last September before reopening in February, roughly three months later than scheduled. The library was able to secure Tax Increment Financing district funds, which allowed it to make more repairs than it originally planned.

Willis told the board that the Austin library has improved its fiber optic cables that provide internet connection for both the library’s public computers and its Wi-Fi network. 

The library also made some minor changes to better accommodate teenagers. Now, teen materials are in the southeast portion of the main space and library staff moved some furniture to create a space where teens can hang out. They also hired a part-time teen librarian who, Willis told the board, “has been amazing.” 

“The whole idea is to get teens into the library,” she added. “That has been a challenge.”

To help attract teens, the library has been doing “Fades 4 Days,” where volunteer barbers give free haircut to any interested youths ages 13 to 18. The program is held every second Monday of the month, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. 

The library also expanded its teen programs. Every third Monday of the month, it holds a Hearthstone: Fireside Gathering event, where teens who play Hearthstone digital card game can meet up to play and learn. The library also hold yoga classes on Monday afternoons, between 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and it holds one-off events such as April 21 rap and poetry open mic that featured poet and librarian Roy Kinsey.

Library Board President Linda Johnson Rice said that has impressed with the newly refurbished library, especially with the skylight and the auditorium.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the library did retrieve TIF funds, contrary to what an earlier post indicated. AWN regrets this error. 


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...