This summer, West Garfield Park’s Legler branch library quietly became the only regional library on the West Side. As a result, the library’s hours have been extended and it’s now open on Sunday. But the most significant changes are still ahead and they’ll require that Legler be closed for roughly a year, according to Chicago Public Library spokesperson Patrick Malloy.
Once it reopens, the library will have new, expanded children and teen areas, the city library system’s first-ever in-house art studio and more meeting rooms and computers. Once all of that is in place the library will hold a grand reopening, said Malloy, who added that the library would likely close sometime after October.
Molloy said that the library system has made some preliminary plans for North Lawndale’s Douglass branch library, 3353 W. 13th St, which is currently going through its own renovation; and Austin branch library, 5615 W. Race Ave., which was renovated last year, to get expanded hours while Legler is being renovated.
“Because we just opened regional [library] services on the West Side, we wanted to make sure we have temporary services in place,” Malloy said. “And once we line those up, we are going to get a start date for construction.”
While the North and South Sides have their own regional libraries, which boast longer hours and more services than regular branch libraries, the West Side hasn’t had one since Legler — which was once a regional library — became a branch library in 1970s.
In the fall of 2018, then-mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he wanted to return Legler to its regional status and that the city would sell “Knowledge & Wonder” — a painting by world-famous Chicago artist Kerry James Marshall created specifically for Legler — to try to help fund the transformation. The former mayor’s plans prompted swift public backlash, including stinging criticism from Marshall himself, and Emanuel cancelled the plans.
In Feb. 6, the library system announced that renovations would proceed thanks to a $4 million grant from the Illinois State Library. The city would pitch in $7.5 million to cover the rest of the costs. Malloy said that CPL hasn’t gotten any extra state funding for Legler from the recently approved capital bill.
In a recent interview, Malloy confirmed that the library system’s plans haven’t changed much since then.
“It will be a first location with a built-in art studio — that’s going to be a big new feature,” he said. “We’re going to have expanded YouMedia [teen multimedia] space and a children’s library that will be built based on what we learned from renovating the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library at the Harold Washington library.”
Echoing an earlier interview, Malloy said that, given how much of Legler’s space is underutilized, the library system has more opportunities to add modern features.
“The library is going to have better lighting, more modern, 21st century layouts and flexible spaces,” he said, adding that it would include more computers, more meeting spaces that residents will be able to reserve for free, and generally more books and other materials.
Malloy said that “Knowledge & Wonder,” which is currently being stored off-site, will be returned to Legler once the library is renovated and reopened.
In a recent interview, longtime West Garfield Park resident Bertha Zagore said that she felt that Legler was a great community asset, but that it had room for improvement. She specifically mentioned an elevator breaking down as an example.
“This building has a lot of potential to be a real resource to this community,” Zagore said. “Our community needs a library, but there are some mechanical things that they need to be working on.”