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Dec. 11 2009 - 2:43 pm | 261 views | 1 recommendation | 3 comments

Altgeld Gardens: a community with a liquor store, but no library

Altgeld's former library, which was closed after a steam pipe burst in March. The community is still waiting for a plan to reopen the facility.

Altgeld's former library, which was closed after a steam pipe burst in March. The community is still waiting for a plan to reopen the facility.

After the beating death of Derrion Albert, the community of Altgeld Gardens took a beating in the media. The young people at Fenger High School were described as depraved monsters, hardly recognizable as children and unworthy of help or intervention.

But imagine if the community you live in had a liquor store and a fast food restaurant, but no library and no grocery.

That’s what Altgeld’s dealing with.

The library was shut down in March after a pipe burst in the building where it was housed. The building is old, built in the 40s when Altgeld was constructed as housing for black war workers, and fixing the damage is expensive. City officials at the library, the Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Public Schools are looking for a replacement, and have some hope of a new plan being announced soon. But until then, no library for the kids at Altgeld.

Last week, I was down at Altgeld with resident and community advocate Cheryl Johnson. I asked her about the library closing and her thoughts on what its meant to the kids she works with in the community.

“If they want to do homework, if they want to look something up on the internet, they don’t have a place to do it,” she said. “What are you telling our kids? Your only future mindset is to be a prisoner.”

A library is such a basic city service. Police departments, fire departments, libraries, schools.

I hesitate to use the word “right,” but it almost seems like access to a local library should be some sort of right for kids who grow up in the city. A quiet, safe room with books and computers with caring adults interested in helping. In a neighborhood where most everyone is poor, books shouldn’t be a luxury.

Books were such a haven for me as a child. My sisters were so much older than I was that I spent much of my childhood like an only child, and reading was my favorite way to play. My third-grade teacher would let me stay in from recess to read and brought in special books she knew I would like. I devoured books, and read almost everything in the tiny library in our town.

For kids at Altgeld, who are already so isolated from the rest of the city, not having a library is a big deal. The resources your community provides shows you what your community hopes you will value and participate in. At Altgeld, there’s little for kids to participate in except wrongdoing.

The city is working on a plan to reopen the library. Both library and CHA officials told me they hope to have something to announce soon about when a new facility will open.

But sitting there at Altgeld, Cheryl asked me – if this happened in your neighborhood, how long do you think it would go on?

I don’t know, I said. But nine months later, I don’t think we’d still be waiting for an answer.

Let’s hope we have good news for these kids soon.


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  1. collapse expand

    thanks for posting. Cheryl Johnson and her mother Hazel have been great activists on behalf of their community. On top of all the pollution issues, now the children don’t even have a library?? Infuriating.

  2. collapse expand

    Grew up in The Gardens. The stores in the center have bad food, cheap cans of pop from Aldi were marked up 100%. Now I see the library is temporarily gone along with the high school that was meant for that community being turned into a Military Academy. It seems as if local govt. wants communities like this to fail.

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    I'm a journalist living in Chicago writing about poverty and public housing. I don't come from the streets - I grew up on a farm. But I'm passionate about urban issues and getting to know people who are completely different from me. I'm quirky, funny and friendly.

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