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“I experienced firsthand that libraries serve a lot of functions in society. I always say that libraries helped raise me.”

– Chicago native and Director of Smithsonian Libraries and Archives Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty

Strategy In Action

Empower Every Chicagoan

“I experienced firsthand that libraries serve a lot of functions in society. I always say that libraries helped raise me.”

– Chicago native and Director of Smithsonian Libraries and Archives Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty

Each day, Chicagoans of all walks of life turn to the Library for information and connection. With its citywide footprint of 81 branches, Chicago Public Library has remained committed to supporting Chicagoans in the pursuit of lifelong learning for nearly 150 years—and, as of 2022, all branches are now open seven days a week, furthering the Library’s commitment to access.

Your steadfast support and generosity helped to amplify this commitment. Thanks to you, the Chicago Public Library Foundation can invest in above and beyond Library programming that responds to Chicagoans’ ever-changing needs and interests.    

In a year marked by challenges both new and persistent, Library programs continue to make a real difference in the lives of Chicagoans from every neighborhood.



In 2021, we further defined our commitment to empowering every Chicagoan with a new Equity Action Plan created in partnership with Ethos Talent. Four core principles will guide us both internally and in our ongoing efforts to support impact, equity, and connection across Chicago Public Library:









Your Impact by The Numbers

Our donors activate real change.

Dollars Raised
Total Donors
Patrons Served
Live from the Library Views
Free virtual activities for Chicagoans of all ages
Grab & Go Kits delivered to kids, teens, and adults

Community-Responsive Programs That Make a Difference

The Chicago Public Library Foundation works to create equitable access to the resources we support at the Library by making thoughtful investments in programs that are tailored to Chicagoans’ needs. In 2019, the Chicago Public Library Foundation identified three priority investment areas to support more equitable access to information and opportunity across our Library system and allow you to invest in new and ongoing initiatives that have a positive impact.





Close The Academic Opportunity Gap

2021 was turbulent for Chicago children and families. COVID-19 related disruptions to schools and childcare centers left many families without access to consistent learning opportunities. Due to deeply-rooted systemic inequities, including unequal access to broadband internet, lower-income children and children of color continue to face the most significant obstacles to educational opportunity in Chicago.

We all have a role to play in dismantling inequities and closing the academic opportunity gap. The following donor-powered programs leverage our Library’s citywide footprint, vast free resources, and commitment to lifelong learning to ensure that all our city’s children have the support they need to succeed in school and life.



The Chicago Public Library Foundation works to create equitable access to the resources we support at the Library by making thoughtful investments in programs that are tailored to Chicagoans’ needs. In 2019, the Chicago Public Library Foundation identified three priority investment areas to support more equitable access to information and opportunity across our Library system and allow you to invest in new and ongoing initiatives that have a positive impact.





Early Learning

For Chicago’s youngest children and their families, the lack of opportunities for in-person learning and connection over the last two years has been especially challenging. 2021 marked year two of the Library’s new five-year early-learning initiative. Nearly 50,000 patrons, including children ages 0-5 and those who care for them, were served by the Library’s Early Learning programming—from storytime to learn and play activities to Library sing-alongs. More than 11,000 free Grab & Go kits featuring activities to foster literacy and curiosity were distributed across Library branches in 2021.

  • “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

Live from the Library

In spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused Chicago Public Library to close its doors for the first time in its nearly 150-year history. Thanks to your support, storytime went on—virtually! Live from the Library features live-streamed storybook readings with Chicago champions such as President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Dolly Parton, and, of course, our beloved children’s librarians.

  • “My son misses storytimes at the Library with his friends. This program is a great opportunity for children to connect with the Library and their love for reading. It's a great bonding for the entire family too! ”
  • – Evelyn, Parent, Douglass branch


STEAM-related skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and technology literacy are crucial to navigating the 21st century and today’s workforce. ScienceConnections, the Library’s STEAM-programming series, is designed by experts to support children in building these vital skills for the future. Librarians also distributed 14,000 STEAM Grab & Go Kits to young patrons and families that included fun and challenging activities like growing seeds without soil and building a rubber-band-powered rover.

  • “It's amazing to see firsthand how children are learning 21st century critical skills and enjoying them—phones down, all communicating, playing, and solving problems together!”
  • – Sarah, Children's Librarian, Albany Park

Summer Learning Challenge

Every summer, this award-winning Library program promotes reading and learning at home, in the branches, and throughout Chicago. This year’s theme, Start With Art, drew in more than 60,000 participants with online and in-person events, partnerships with Chicago cultural institutions like the Art Institute, and activities designed to encourage creativity and critical thinking. You helped the Library offer both in-person and virtual activities, giving families and children the opportunity to partake in the summer fun at their own pace.

  • “We participated in several programs including create club, writing club, and Sunday discovery club. Our son learned so much about art and just enjoyed being creative. The librarians are very engaging online and just as helpful in person. ”
  • – Parents, Budlong Woods branch

Teacher in the Library

For more than two decades, this beloved Library program has continued to provide high-quality, 1:1 and small group homework help to Chicago’s students. This year, we have relaunched our in-branch program in the fall while continuing our virtual sessions, allowing Chicago’s students and families to access academic support online or in person. Our Teachers help students complete their schoolwork, build strong study skills, and review concepts covered in their classes—all free of charge.

  • “My son started attending the Teacher in the Library program three months ago. From having math anxieties, he is now consistently getting A's on his math assignments, quizzes, and exams. ”
  • – Parent, Richard M. Daley branch

Activate Connection
& Creativity For All

We all deserve the opportunity to express ourselves, connect with others, and share our voices. But for too many Chicagoans, access to these opportunities is limited or out of reach. Chicago Public Library invites Chicagoans from every neighborhood to come together and explore new ways of imagining and creating new possibilities not only for their own lives—but also for our city and the world.

The following programs empower Chicagoans with inspiration, cutting-edge creative tools, and opportunities to collaborate so that we can all be part of building our city’s future.




Each year, YOUmedia gives thousands of teens the opportunity to safely explore their creative interests, connect with peers, and build 21st-century skills. This year, your support allowed Teen Librarians to offer a variety of virtual and in-person programs attended by more than 5,000 teens. Highlights included a summer mural project at the Whitney Young branch; kits from Radical Fit, YOUmedia’s fashion and design program that embraces craft, making, and DIY while providing a safe space for teens to discuss gender equity and identity; ChiTeen Lit Fest, a week-long gathering to celebrate literary arts created by teens, for teens; and programs to support teens in navigating the transition to adulthood.

  • “Thanks to the skills I learned in YOUmedia, I am now designing prosthetic coverings for 30 kids. I can't believe that my art is helping others. ”
  • – Mariah, YOUmedia participant, Whitney Young branch

Maker Lab

The Library’s Maker Lab locations and programming have helped hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans connect with other creative minds and bring their imagination to life. Thanks to donor support, the Library can provide free and open access to cutting-edge technology such as 3D printers and laser cutters, step-by-step instructions for a range of creative projects, and distinct activity kits for new and experienced Makers. In 2021, the Library also welcomed two Makers in Residence, who activated the Library’s collections and technologies in new ways to commemorate those impacted by COVID-19 as well as Chicago’s urban ecology.

  • “Libraries continue to find new and different ways to serve the communities—like with the Maker Lab! There's a need because people don't always have access to creative spaces like these. ”
  • – Faith, Maker-in-Residnce Fall 2021

One Book, One Chicago

One Book, One Chicago connects Chicagoans from across the city and engages us all in conversations about big ideas and challenging topics. The 20th season of this imaginative program was centered on the award-winning debut novel Bedrock Faith by Chicago native Eric Charles May. Set in a fictional South Side neighborhood, Bedrock Faith served as a launchpad for 148 events about Chicago’s history, community, and belonging—including a virtual walking tour around the city’s diverse neighborhoods.

  • “I really enjoyed this. Been here all my life and have never seen these places. Looking forward to learning about another slice of Chicago's community.”
  • – Patron

Bridge the Digital Divide

With online learning, telehealth, and remote employment on the rise, Internet access and digital literacy are more vital today than ever before. Yet, 40% of lower-income households in the U.S. are without home broadband services or a traditional computer. Many adults and older adults also lack the skills they need to navigate our increasingly digital world effectively and safely. The Library Foundation is committed to bridging the digital divide by activating the Library’s citywide footprint and by supporting free and user-friendly resources that are accessible from any computer or mobile device.


Chicago DigitalLearn

Chicago DigitalLearn is an online learning platform designed to help adult learners build crucial digital literacy skills. To accommodate Library users’ busy lives, DigitalLearn lessons are available on-demand, 24/7. In 2021, nearly 300 DigitalLearn courses were completed, with 98% of participants returning to learn more. Popular topics included “Intro to Email” and “Getting Started on a Computer.”

  • “I've been going to the Library for computer courses. Thanks to their support, I have decided to apply to college and take GED courses.”
  • – Chicago DigitalLearn user

Adult Professional Development

In 2021, the Library began offering free and open access to LinkedIn Learning, an on-demand library of instructional videos covering the latest business, technology, and creative skills. Available to all Library cardholders, it provides personalized course recommendations and is designed to help individuals achieve their full potential.

  • “Every step is a win.”
  • – Larry, patron, Portage-Cragin branch



In 2021, the Library Foundation’s Associate Board launched our inaugural Read-A-Thon fundraiser! From April 5 through May 21, bookworms from across Chicago challenged themselves to read as many books as possible, all while supporting Library programs. The event, with its popular 90s theme, drew in nearly 500 readers and raised more than $85,000 to support Library programming. 

Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards

Each year, we celebrate those who invite us to see the world in ways we never knew possible. In November, more than 6,000 Library lovers from Chicago and around the world joined us in-person and via livestream for the Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards, which honored Theaster Gates, J. Nicole Brooks, and Amy Tan.

Legendary Chicago newscaster Bill Kurtis joined us once again as our host, and the event featured an intimate conversation between our Carl Sandburg Literary Award honoree Amy Tan and NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon. Thanks to our generous supporters, the event raised more than $1.5M for the Library’s lifelong learning programming.

See (or relive!) all the 2021 Library Foundation Awards action here.


We Salute Our Donors

Chicago Public Library thrives when everyone, at every level invests in its success. Now more than ever, we are profoundly grateful to the individuals, businesses, and foundations whose support makes the Library’s extraordinary work possible. Thank you.

Every gift begins with a story. Learn why Lilliane supports CPLF.