Chicago Public Library Commissioner Brian Bannon and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were at the White House
Thursday accepting the National Medal for Museum and Library Service from First Lady Michelle Obama.
This honor comes just months after Chicago Public Library was ranked the best urban public library in the
United States, and the third best in the world, by an international study conducted by the Heinrich Heine
University in Dusseldorf, Germany.
These accolades come as no surprise to me, as someone who has
advocated for city resources and private investment in our Library for more than four decades.
Chicago has been blessed during that time with the confidence and support of three mayors who believed
deeply in the free and open access to learning that happens each day in our 80 Library locations. If you’ve
recently visited your local branch, you already know you are a card holder at one of the best library systems
in the country. With its visionary staff leadership, Chicago Public Library is more relevant than ever, providing
hands-on and technology-rich learning opportunities, exciting education and cultural programs, and opportunities
for skills development for a stronger workforce.
Alongside innovations like 3-D printers, vinyl cutters, and digital
design software, is increased access to books, e-books, music, video, and even early learning backpacks, that
can be checked out to go home with families to stimulate and engage the minds of our youngest children.
Because of investments by donors to the Chicago Public Library Foundation and Mayor Emanuel’s extraordinary support,
we now have expanded services for teenagers. Thanks to the generosity of the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, six new YOUmedia sites, staffed with mentors and a corps of
dedicated teen librarians, will open in 2014. The Mayor has championed facilities improvements and
several new buildings are on the drawing boards.
Teachers in the Library provide homework help in every branch, supplemented by 24-hour online tutoring.
And Foundation support has given the Library and the people of Chicago a vibrant, state-of-the-art new website.
Next month, Rahm’s Readers, the Library’s acclaimed Summer Learning Challenge, kicks off with free
and exciting programs that stop the “summer achievement slide” which happens to many of our children
when school is out of session. The Chicago Public Library provides eight weeks of challenging and fun Science,
Technology, Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) activities for kids of all ages.
Private support from the Chicago Public Library Foundation makes this program possible —
it takes just $10 for a child to participate. Last year 71,260 children read 2.1 million books and
logged 56,700,000 minutes of reading time — sending Mayor Emanuel and talk-show host Jimmy Fallon
into a frigid Lake Michigan for the Polar Plunge! Congratulations to the men and women of the Chicago Public Library,
Mayor Emanuel, and all Chicagoans who value and treasure their Library. The National Medal underscores
just how fortunate we are. Cindy Pritzker is Founder and Chair Emerita, Chicago Public Library Foundation,
and Director and President, Chicago Public Library 1984-1998