Public library to open with Obama Presidential Center

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a press conference announcing a new Chicago Public Library branch that will open inside the Obama Presidential Center. – Aaron Gettinger

Staff Writer

In a first-of-its-kind development, the Obama Presidential Center will host a branch of the Chicago Public Library (CPL). Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Obama Foundation and CPL officials made the announcment earlier today at the Blackstone Branch Public Library, 4904 S. Lake Park Ave.

“I’m not here just as a representative from the Foundation, but also as a parent whose family has benefitted from and been regular friends and patrons of our public libraries,” said Obama Foundation Chairman Martin Nesbitt, noting both his and his children’s use of the Blackstone branch. He compared the inclusion of a public library in the OPC to finding the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. “The very idea of a public library underscores so much of what we’re doing at the Foundation to support civic engagement.”

CPL Commissioner Brian Bannon detailed the library branch’s planned amenities, from children’s programming, like that planned at Blackstone over the summer, to recording studios and communications facilities to computers and digital trainings, not to mention “a world-class collection” of books.

“It will be fully outwardly faced, as all our public libraries are,” said Bannon. He highlighted CPL branches’ role as neighborhood cultural conduits and expressed happiness that Obama’s legacy will be expressed through the library branch in the OPC and beyond. He said the branch will “be an artery to help us deepen our work and collaboration with the Obama Presidential Center” and thanked the Obama Foundation for “donating” a library to CPL.

Currently, the library does not have an official name.

Speaking as a friend and former colleague of and chief of staff to Obama, Emanuel said that having a CPL branch in the OPC is an expression of the former president’s way of “thinking new, thinking fresh, thinking about neighborhoods and communities and doing things not because of the way they were but the way they should be.”

Emanuel said, “To have a reinvention of the presidential library—not as an island, isolated from the neighborhood, but integrated into the community in its full capacity, not just to look at the past … but to research and envision a future.”

Emanuel added that the new role of a presidential center, “as something that lives and breathes and is part of the DNA of a neighborhood, community and city is a testament to the spirit of President Obama and what he did for eight years in this country.”

The library inside the OPC will be CPL’s 82nd branch; the first was the Blackstone library itself, which opened in 1904.