It took six months longer than originally expected, but the North Austin branch library, 5724 W. North Ave., quietly re-opened on the afternoon of July 2 — nearly eight months after it closed for renovations.

Officials said the delay was due to the fact that the bookshelves in the children’s section were in worse condition than expected and replacement bookshelves took much longer to arrive than originally anticipated. Even when the shelves did arrive, it took another three weeks to get all the materials on the shelves, they said. 

Other improvements included exterior masonry repairs, tuck-pointing, roof repairs, new flooring, lighting upgrades, repainted interiors and new holds shelves. The teen section got new furnishings, and the bookshelves in the adult section were spruced up. 

North Austin branch manager Arystine Danner said that she and her staff tried to make the best of the situation. The staff members had been temporarily reassigned at other branch libraries, where they picked up some ideas they plan to implement now that their branch reopened. They are planning to hold a reopening party some time during the third week of July, and a group of patrons is organizing a welcome back party of their own on the last Wednesday of the month.

The library was originally supposed to reopen on Feb. 1. At the time, library spokesperson Patrick Molloy said that he wasn’t sure why the delay happened. 

In an April 7 interview, Andrea Kelly, CPL Deputy Commissioner for Neighborhood Services, offered an answer.

“Old shelving was wooden and it’s become degraded,” she said. “[North Austin branch] is getting brand-new metal shelving.”

Danner said that she and her staff were sent to other branch libraries, with some going as far south as the Woodlawn branch and as far north as the Uptown branch. Most of them eventually wound up in West Humboldt Park’s North Pulaski branch — further east on North Avenue.

“We were able to see what other branches were doing, so whatever we liked that they did, we’re going to adopt here,” Danner said.

Some of those ideas were practical. Before the renovations, if the patrons wished use to the library bathrooms, they had to ask a clerk at the circulation desk to buzz them in. 

The problem was that the bathroom on the children’s side of the library isn’t visible from the circulation desk, and further away from the desk than the adult side. As the result, kids who wished to use the restroom had to walk to the circulation desk and run back to the restroom. 

But North Pulaski library had a key that patrons could get from the front desk, which, Danner thought, would make things easier for kids.

She also liked West Town staff’s idea of having reference staff handle guest passes, which allow patrons who don’t have library cards to use library’s computers, instead of having clerks do it.

For July, most of the programming will be directed toward children and teens.  Write About it, the only writing group meeting on the West Side, is expected to start up again, though the meeting time will be different. 

Teen librarian Ann Eleven, who runs the group, will no longer be working in the branch on Wednesdays. In an e-mail to members, she suggested Tuesday or Thursday afternoons, as well as Fridays and Saturdays. As of July 6, the new times hadn’t been settled on.  

Once August starts, the adult programming will ramp up. Danner said that she was looking to start a book club focused on cook books, in addition to the existing book club, and a cursive writing program. She also hopes to hold a fair for local entrepreneurs. In September, the branch’s crocheting program will start up again. Danner hopes to start a quilting program in either August or September.

While the experience in other branch libraries was valuable, Danner said, she’s glad to be back in North Austin library.

“It feels wonderful,” she said. “It’s good to be back here.”


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...