In 1989, as a result of the construction of the new Central Library, the Chicago Public Library Foundation was formed as an independent, nonprofit educational organization dedicated to working with the City of Chicago in a public/private partnership benefiting the Chicago Public Library. Support from the Chicago Public Library Foundation is instrumental in enhancing book collections, online information access and innovative programs for Chicagoans of all ages.
The move into the new building began July 5 and was completed August 24, 1991. Mayor Richard M. Daley, the Library Board and Commissioner John Duff dedicated the building on Friday, October 4, 1991. After an open house on Sunday, October 6, 1991, the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center opened for public use on Monday, October 7, 1991.
In 1994, Mayor Daley appointed Mary A. Dempsey as commissioner of the Chicago Public Library. In 1995, under the guidance of Commissioner Dempsey, the Library’s staff wrote a new Mission Statement and developed its first Five-Year Strategic Plan to rebuild the Library by improving its infrastructure in five critical areas: staff development and training, technology, funding, capital planning and materials acquisition.
The mission statement, developed by the Library’s staff, is central to all Library operations and is its guiding principle:
“We welcome and support all people in their enjoyment of reading and pursuit of lifelong learning. Working together, we strive to provide equal access to information, ideas and knowledge through books, programs and other resources. We believe in the freedom to read, to learn, to discover.”
In 1995, the Library upgraded its automated public access catalog and circulation system and added online research databases to all public access catalog terminals in all libraries. That same year, the Library established its Internet homepage offering patrons access to a wide range of the Library’s information and bibliographies and serving as a gateway to the Internet. In support of the Library’s goals, Bill Gates, chairman and CEO of the Microsoft Corporation, announced a $1 million gift of software and training for the Chicago Public Library.
The first Strategic Plan called for all Library staff at all levels to participate in annual staff development programs in public service, library policies, librarianship, computer skills and information retrieval. Since 1995, library employees have been offered thousands of hours of professional development activities and training classes. Included among those opportunities is the annual All Staff Institute Day.
The Chicago Public Library has also created a broad range of free programs for adults and children, including author readings, story hours, exhibits, and dance and musical performances. Programs include One Book, One Chicago, the Summer Reading Program, Adult Book Discussion Groups, the Chicago Book Festival, Money Smarts and Law at the Library lectures. The Library also works with many of Chicago’s museums and cultural institutions, creating partnerships such as the Great Kids Museum Passport program and Words and Music program to provide City of Chicago library patrons with free access to Chicago’s cultural venues.
One of the strongest proponents of the Chicago Public Library in the modern era has been Mayor Richard M. Daley. Since taking office in 1989, Mayor Daley and the Library have overseen the opening of an unprecedented number of new or renovated Chicago Public Library buildings citywide, replacing leased storefront libraries and park district reading rooms. Library Journal honored Mayor Daley for his support and advocacy by selecting him as its first “politician of the year.”
On November 13, 1996, in a show of support unmatched by any other major American city, the Chicago City Council overwhelmingly approved the request of Mayor Daley and the Chicago Public Library Board for a new, three-year, $65 million capital improvement plan. Under this plan, the Library and City constructed or renovated 52 neighborhood library locations. Beginning in 2000, the City invested an additional $44 million in neighborhood library construction. These capital improvement plans ensured that all areas of Chicago are served by modern, fully equipped and inviting neighborhood and regional libraries. This improvement in infrastructure represented 65 percent of the city’s neighborhood libraries or 52 new or renovated buildings since 1989.