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“Regardless of one’s age or background, forward-looking, responsive libraries are key to building strong communities, and that is what we are doing in this great city.”

– Darrel Hackett, President & CEO, BMO Bank

Strategy In Action

Together for Our Library’s Future

A girl smiling and pointing at her sticker art on the wall

“Regardless of one’s age or background, forward-looking, responsive libraries are key to building strong communities, and that is what we are doing in this great city.”

– Darrel Hackett, President & CEO, BMO Bank

Walk into any of Chicago Public Library’s 81 branches, and you might hear enthusiastic preschoolers engaged in a sing-along or see teens painting a mural. You might see people learning to use a computer for the first time, or you might attend a talk by a world-renowned author. All these resources – and more – are freely available to Chicagoans citywide.

But thanks to our community of supporters, our Library is so much more than a place to check out the latest bestsellers or try your hand at a fun activity. Preschoolers are learning social skills that will prepare them to start kindergarten on the right foot. Artistic teens have a safe place to express themselves and explore opportunities. New computer skills will help someone secure a higher-paying job or start an online business. Author talks bring together Chicagoans and might even inspire the next great storyteller!

By supporting the Library Foundation, you ensure that our Library can offer opportunities like these and many more to every Chicagoan in every neighborhood. Each day, donor-powered programs at Chicago Public Library bridge divides, connect communities, and support a more informed and engaged city.

Read on and learn what your support made possible.

Your Impact by The Numbers

Our donors activate real change.

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In 2019

Close The Academic Opportunity Gap

“Without Teacher in the Library, I feel like I’d be lost, and my son wouldn’t thrive in the way he does at school.”

– Parent

The pandemic highlighted stark divides that persist in Chicago and hamper our city’s efforts to educate all children equally. While research suggests that some of the academic ground lost due to the pandemic has been regained, students of color and lower-income students are facing significant challenges to getting back on track. The donor-powered programs to the right will ensure that students citywide have the chance to not just catch up but flourish in school.

The 81 Club

Chicago is at the forefront of removing barriers to Library access for its students. Thanks to the 81 Club – a new partnership between the Library and Chicago Public Schools – CPS students and their teachers now have automatic access to Library programs and resources. By eliminating the requirement of additional documentation to obtain a Library card, the 81 Club helps students discover all that our Library has to offer and provides a foundation for all of the Library’s youth-serving programs. At the launch of the program in the 2023-24 school year, more than 26,000 students and 1,500 educators had activated their 81 Club accounts.

  • “The 81 Club opens literal and figurative doors to opportunities for youth by connecting Library staff with students and educators on a new scale. When students come in with their classes, they see the possibilities of the Library, that the Library is a place for them, and that we want them there…with every visit, we break down barriers and redefine what the Library is.”
  • – Julie Koslowsky, CPL Director of Teen Services

Early Learning

Children who start kindergarten ready to learn are more likely to continue thriving. But early learning opportunities can be difficult to access due to cost, travel distance, and other factors. Donors like you ensure that research-informed, high-quality programs and activities are available for free to families in every neighborhood so that all children can build a foundation for lifelong learning. Nearly 190,000 children and their families were served by the Library's Early Learning programming in 2023, from storytime to learn and play activities to expert-led workshops for caregivers.

  • “My granddaughter, Caroline, learned to associate images and words at the Library. She also learned to talk here thanks to storytimes by Ms. Ana. ”
  • – Jin song, Grandparent, Harold Washington Library Center

ScienceConnections

STEAM-related skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and technology literacy are crucial for today's students and tomorrow's workforce. ScienceConnections, the Library's fun, informal STEAM programming series, helped more than 1,600 K-8 students get hands-on with STEAM this year. Kids don't even have to visit a branch to participate! Grab & Go Kits provide materials and instructions for at-home activities, like creating your own stethoscope, and Discovery Packs filled with activities, experiments, and related books provide science learning for busy families on the go.

  • “Last week, we potted plants and learned about worms. Next week, we’ll release butterflies. I can’t wait!”
  • – Narislam, Budlong Woods branch

Summer @ CPL

For more than 20 years, donor-powered summer programming has helped children sustain and build their academic gains during out-of-school time. The 2023 Celebrating 150 Years theme invited 37,610 children and their families to celebrate the Library's 150th anniversary, learn more about CPL's year-round resources, and enjoy connecting with their neighbors. Activity Guides were available in English and Spanish at all 81 branches, and collaborations with the Chicago Parks District, Art Institute of Chicago, and other local partners contributed to a breadth of fun learning experiences for all children.

  • “Summer @ CPL is nice because it not only helps my son set goals and meet them but also avoid the summer slide.”
  • – Dora, Albany Park branch

Teacher in the Library

Our donors allow the Library to bring in accredited educators, many of whom live or work near the branches they serve, to provide free, individualized academic support to K-12 students in their communities. What's more, nearly half of students attend the program frequently and build trusting relationships with Teachers and Library staff along the way that help them improve in school. Teachers in the Library provided more than 24,000 tutoring sessions last school year, both in-person and online.

  • “Because of Ms. Terry, my son has hit the 3rd percentile at school and has received straight As for two quarters in a row. Thank you for this program.”
  • – Niki, Bucktown branch
Two girls share a laptop arm in arm

Activate Connection
& Creativity For All

“A space like the Maker Lab gives people the freedom to learn new things with no judgement and no other requirement besides curiosity.”

– Daliah Silver, CPL Maker-in-Residence

Chicago is home to a world-renowned arts and culture scene. However, barriers like cost and distance can put opportunities for creativity and connection out of reach for many, and our whole city misses out as a result. With your support, the following programs aim to bring vibrant cultural activities to every neighborhood, opening the door for us all to hear different perspectives, meet new people, and strengthen our communities.

Community Cinema

Movies connect and inspire us. But with the average price of movie tickets and streaming services on the rise, and with nearly 15% of Chicagoans lacking a stable home internet connection, not everyone gets to experience the power of film. The donor-powered Community Cinema program makes popular films available to the public year-round through free screenings at Library branches. In addition, Community Cinema partners with CPL's Heritage Committees to offer themed screenings based around events like Black History Month, Women's History Month, and LGBTQ+ Pride Month. More than 11,000 Chicagoans attended 2,000 free screenings in 2023, making it one of the most well-attended Library programs and demonstrating its values to Chicagoans of every age.

  • “Our 31 Days of Horror Film Fest has become our most anticipated slate of programming for the entire year.” ”
  • – Lisa, Branch Manager at Portage-Cragin

Community Connections Fund

Chicago's neighborhoods have constantly changing needs, and the pandemic caused many Chicagoans to become disconnected from their neighborhoods and civic life. Through the Community Connections Fund, donors help ensure that branch librarians and staff can respond to the needs of their communities and reconnect with their fellow Chicagoans—whether through concerts, local author events, pumpkin-carving contests, family foam parties, and much, much more! In 2023, 71 branches received $1,500 mini-grants to conduct programs, activities, and outreach opportunities tailored to their individual community.

  • “Many of the families who attended our children’s craft sessions mentioned it was their first time back to the Library since COVID.”
  • – Scottsdale Branch staff

Maker Lab

Thanks to donors like you, our Library has been home to Chicago's only free makerspace for over a decade. Today, with makerspaces available at multiple locations across the city, adult Chicagoans can experiment with technologies like 3D printers and laser cutters, take part in workshops led by our Makers-in-Residence and other experts, learn about entrepreneurship, and connect with others who have similar interests. In 2023, Maker Lab offered 570 free classes and workshops attended by more than 3,000 participants on topics ranging from quilting to coding to computer design software.

  • “I had never heard of a public library having these tools, but I think it provides a wonderful opportunity, especially for younger people, to learn about these engineering processes and build things.”
  • – Christopher Swenson, Maker Lab user

One Book, One Chicago

One Book, One Chicago brings together tens of thousands of Chicagoans each year in a "citywide book club" to discuss thought-provoking topics. Throughout its 20-year history, One Book has explored themes such as climate change, architecture, and book bans. This year's selection There There by Tommy Orange, was the first One Book pick written by a Native American. The gripping novel was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2019. On November 15, Orange was interviewed in front of a packed house at the Harold Washington Library Center by author Donna Seaman. The wide-ranging conversation covered Orange's entry into fiction writing, life in Oakland, CA, and the importance of uplifting Native voices.

  • “What I hope for is for the door not only to be open but for the dam to burst and for this flattened stereotypical single image of us as this feathered sad thing on a horse with our head slung over to be completely obliterated and to restore our humanity by giving us all the nuance that we’ve always deserved.”
  • – Tommy Orange, 2023 One Book One Chicago author

Special Collections

Thanks to donor support, the Library is expanding opportunities for the public to access the materials and resources available through Special Collections, which preserve Chicago’s incredible history and elevate historically underrepresented voices and stories. Two catalytic recent investments in the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection – the largest African American history and literature collection in the Midwest – will increase access and activate Black history-related art and archives housed at the Library. And, in 2021, the Library acquired a collection by Japanese photographer Akito Tsuda documenting the Pilsen neighborhood in the 1990s. The photo collection, which preserves the neighborhood’s working-class history and Mexican American heritage, will form the basis of a major public exhibition and related programming slated to open in summer 2024!

  • “[This collection] is important because Black people and Black history is important…everything and everyone has a history and a story.”
  • – Raquel Flores-Clemons, Director, Harsh Collection

Voices for Justice

One of the many ways that Library Foundation donors help elevate diverse voices across our city is through the Voices for Justice speaker series. Quarterly events bring authors, activists, artists, and others into the Library for topical conversations about issues important to Chicago and the world. In 2023, speakers included journalist and biographer Jonathan Eig; assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and New York Times Opinion writer Esau McCaulley; and author, filmmaker, educator, and historian Peron Rami.

  • “A big focus of mine when I started in Chicago was to make sure we hosted a series that is directly responsive to the interests of the community and calls more attention to issues of social justice.”
  • – Commissioner Chris Brown

YOUmedia

Amid a backdrop of whirring sewing machines, crackling microphones, colorful artwork, and lots of laughter, a creative community is formed at the Library every day. Because of our donors, our Library is able to invest in unique environments where teens can pursue artistic interests, experiment with technology, hang out with friends, and most importantly, be themselves. YOUmedia welcomed 24,275 visists to its 30 teens-only Library spaces in 2023, and more than 3,400 middle and high-school age teens were supported to participate in creative programs like the Teen Winter Art Challenge and Radical Fit Fashion Series, to take on leadership through paid internships and teen-led events such as Gamers Universe, and to learn about college and workforce opportunities through the popular Design Your Life After High School series.

  • “I felt like I built a lot of interpersonal relationships here. I will be studying business in college, and I know that networking and connecting is a really big thing, so this helped me network and make friends at the same time.”
  • – Glenn, Gamers Universe teen intern

Bridging the Digital Divide

“It’s an honor to be doing this. When I found this job posting, it drew my attention because I know how welcoming a space like the Library is for people trying to learn. I wanted to be a part of it and utilize my skillset to help people and my community.”

– Michael, CyberNavigator

The know-how to access and navigate the digital world is fundamental to our city’s health, education, and economic resiliency. Yet research shows that as many as 15% of Chicago’s households are without even a home internet connection. The digital divide, which impacts everything from our students to the workforce to public health, disproportionately affects low-income families and people of color. Our Library has been a longtime leader in working to increase the number of digitally connected, information-literate, and civically engaged Chicagoans. Together with our donors, we’re working toward a healthier, more equitable, and more connected future.

 

Chicago DigitalLearn

“Use a computer to do almost anything!” is the cheerful greeting that awaits users of our Library’s Chicago DigitalLearn program, which helps anyone, anywhere, build skills and confidence online. The platform currently offers more than 30 beginner-friendly and bilingual video modules that guide individuals through topics ranging from identifying online scams to applying for the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal initiative to provide low-cost at-home internet service. More than 1,800 lessons were completed on the platform in 2023 on topics such as Intro to Email, Getting Started on a Computer, and Basic Search.

  • “I helped Anastasia set up an account on Chicago DigitalLearn and had her go through the ‘Using a Mac’ course. She said the course was very helpful and said she wanted to check out some of the other courses on the DigitalLearn website.”
  • – Calvin, CyberNavigator

CyberNavigators

In the digital age, literacy - in all its forms - is more crucial than ever. Through one-on-one coaching and assistance on digital topics, CyberNavigators are helping Chicagoans build their confidence using digital devices and navigating online. In 2023, donor support made it possible for our CyberNavigators to provide more than 19,000 Library users with assistance across 17 high-priority branches on topics including using a web browser and applying for jobs online. In fact, nearly 2,000 job applications were submitted last year thanks to the CyberNavigator program!

  • “CyberNavigator Amy never makes you feel embarrassed! We’re all on different levels of our journeys, but she never makes you feel dumb for your questions.” ”
  • – Josephine, Sulzer Regional

Professional Skill-Building

Since 2021, the Library has offered free and open access to LinkedIn Learning for all cardholders. This on-demand library of instructional videos cover the latest business, technology, and creative skills and trends and helps individuals achieve their full potential. An individual subscription to the platform can cost as much as $360 annually, which is cost-prohibitive for many people. But thanks to the power of our Library, more than 4,000 Chicagoans have used LinkedIn Learning to date to enhance their professional skills.

  • “At 60, I didn’t know I could still learn. But every day I go to the Library, I learn something new.”
  • – Larry, Portage-Cragin branch

Events

Night in the Stacks

Night in the Stacks is back! The Library Foundation Associate Board’s annual “party with a purpose” returned to the Harold Washington Library’s Winter Garden for the first time since 2019, raising more than $130,000 for Library programs.

Get Carded Series

In 2023, the Associate Board also brought back their popular “Get Carded” event series to encourage Library support. Two sold-out 2023 events, Words & Whiskey and Trivia Night, raised critical awareness about the programs donors support at the Library, welcoming 125 attendees to learn more about the Library and Library Foundation.

Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards

This annual event celebrates the storytellers, artists, and civic leaders who invite us to see the world and imagine the future in ways we never knew possible. In 2023, more than 500 of Chicago’s civic leaders joined us in person to honor Rebecca Makkai, Richard Hunt, Bob Wislow, and Colson Whitehead. With legendary Chicago newscaster Bill Kurtis as our host, the event’s focal point was a powerful conversation between Carl Sandburg Literary Award honoree Colson Whitehead and NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon.

Thanks to generous supporters, the Awards raised more than $1.2M for the Library’s lifelong learning programming. A free live broadcast has allowed 10,000 Library lovers (and counting!) from around the world to access the inspiring content this event is so known for.

See (or relive!) all the 2023 Library Foundation Awards action here.

150 Years and Counting

Chicago Public Library celebrated a big birthday in 2023 – 150 years of serving our city! From a collection of a few thousand books to the bustling 81-branch system we know and love today, our Library has supported generations of Chicagoans to become lifelong learners and is a point of civic pride. Donors played a key role in helping the Library commemorate this momentous milestone, from a citywide birthday party on June 10 to a stunning mural on the Kennedy Expressway to a new podcast, Library for the People, that shared just a few of our Library’s stories and topped international podcast charts. If you haven’t yet, listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

We Salute Our Donors

Chicago Public Library thrives when the community invests in its success. We are profoundly grateful to the philanthropists, businesses, and foundations whose support makes the Library’s transformative work possible. Thank you.

Every gift begins with a story. Learn why Kahlil Crawford supports CPLF.

OUR COMMITMENT TO EQUITY AND TRANSPARENCY

We believe that achieving change in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) requires us to invest thoughtfully in Library programs, engage collaboratively with our community and our Library partners, and develop a workplace culture that values and supports every employee. In 2021, we created an Equity Action Plan in partnership with experts at Ethos Talent. Four core principles now guide us both internally and in our ongoing efforts to support impact, equity, and connection across Chicago Public Library:

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INVESTING IN EQUITABLE ACCESS TO LIBRARY RESOURCES

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FOSTERING A CULTURE OF LEARNING AND TRANSPARENCY

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RECOGNIZING AND WELCOMING CONTINUED GROWTH

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CREATING THE SPACE FOR CHICAGOANS TO SHARE THEIR LIBRARY STORIES AND RESPECTFULLY SHARING THEM WITH OUR COMMUNITY

In 2023, we advanced our Equity Action Plan by building the following more equitable and transparent practices:

  • Completed 2022-23 continued learning series for all staff facilitated by Ethos. Series topics included Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, Understanding and Preventing Microaggressions, Leading and Influencing DEIB Outcomes, and DEIB Strategic Roadmapping for Collaborative Conversations.
  • Built out a robust communications calendar that showcases diverse and inclusive stories from across our communities.
  • Invested in staff professional development through financial support for ongoing learning and network participation, as well as twice annual performance discussions and growth plans with direct managers.

In 2024, our full staff team will be involved in developing the next short, mid, and long-term goals for the Equity Action Plan.

Leadership