After more than a year of renovations, West Garfield Park’s Legler Regional Library, 115 S. Pulaski Rd., reopened on Dec. 21, without much fanfare.
The renovations were meant to make the West Garfield library a full-fledged West Side regional hub, similar to the North Side’s Sulzer Regional Library and the South Side’s Woodson Regional Library.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the library’s new amenities – such as the new Maker Lab, most YOUmedia teen services equipment and the new auditorium – will be unavailable to the public until the pandemic subsides.
Still, the Chicago Public Library system ultimately decided that opening Legler, even at limited capacity, would benefit the community.
Patrons can check out books and other materials and use library computers, and the library staff plans to hold virtual events starting next year.
Artist Kerry James Marshall’s “Knowledge and Wonder,” a painting the city contemplated selling to pay for the renovations before the public backlash forced it to reverse course, is back on display on the library’s second floor.
The library system is still trying to decide whether to hold an official opening at a later date. For now, the staff is hopeful that, as the community finds out about the reopening, they will take advantage of what Legler has to offer.
When Legler closed for renovations, it was scheduled to open sometime this year, although no firm date was set. Renovation work continued throughout the pandemic.
During the Oct. 28 city budget hearing, acting library Commissioner Mary Ellen Messner mentioned that Legler was expected to reopen in “mid-November.”
In a Nov. 20 interview, Chicago Public Library system spokesperson Patrick Malloy said that the city’s estimate was optimistic, and that there was “absolutely no chance of anything happening before December.”
There were two factors affecting the opening date, he explained at the time. The library system wasn’t sure how long it would take for the remaining renovations to wrap up and they didn’t want to reopen a branch while COVID-19 positivity rates were rising.
Over the next few weeks, the library system continued to weigh its options. According to city of Chicago data, the city’s positivity rate has been declining since Dec. 12.
In a Dec. 23 interview, Molloy said that the decision came fairly quickly. Messner ultimately decided that the community would benefit from having the library open in time for the winter holidays.
According to Legler staff, the library quietly reopened on Dec. 21. An announcement went up on CPL website on Dec. 23, touting both the library reopening and the fact that it’s been 100 years since Legler originally opened on Oct. 9, 1920.
“Through the years, Legler Regional has been a social and educational hub for Westside residents,” the announcement stated.
“This renovation encourages the lifelong learning at the core of Chicago Public Library’s values. While the neighborhood around the library has drastically changed in many ways in the past hundred years, Legler staff have always strived to meet the needs of the community.”
Legler opened with the standard system-wide COVID-19 precautions. Seating is limited, multiple hand sanitizer stations have been added throughout the building, and Plexiglas protects staff at the new checkout desk and the service desks.
In the expanded computer lab, which occupies the former auditorium space on the second floor, only one-third of the computers has been turned on, to allow for social distancing.
The expanded children’s section has more books, but the toys are off-limits. In the YOUmedia teen area, the video game area in the north end is closed, and teens can’t use the recording studio, the vinyl cutter, the hot pressing machine or the 3-D printer.
Teens can check out materials and hang out, but the capacity is limited to four. And while normally, teens would be able to check out laptops using their library cards, they now can only use them inside the YOUmedia space.
What was to be Legler’s most unique feature – the artist in residence space on the first floor – is closed altogether. So is the new auditorium in the basement, the Maker Space on the second floor, the wellness room on the first floor and the new meeting rooms.
Sharonda Washington, Legler’s head library clerk, said that the library hasn’t seen many patrons, “probably because they don’t know we’re open yet.” But she said that, even with the COVID-19 restrictions, the branch has much to offer.
“It feels good [to reopen],” Washington reflected. “I’m happy with the renovations. It’s new and exciting. I’m sure once more people start to come in and see, they will like it, too.”
Legler Regional Library is currently open at 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Thursday; 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday through Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
For the most up-to-date information on Legler hours and online events, visit https://www.chipublib.org/locations/42/.