Maria Zakrzewska: Connecting CPL and the Polish Community

Maria Zakrzewska is a Polish American librarian whose time at CPL in the 1990s through the mid-2010s significantly impacted the library's engagement with Chicago's Polish community.

Zakrzewska began her career in Poland as a philologist and lecturer. In 1988, Zakrzewska emigrated to the United States, where she began taking ESL courses and volunteered at CPL’s Portage-Cragin Branch. After she received a master’s degree in library science, she accepted a position as a reference librarian in the Foreign Language Department at CPL’s Harold Washington Library Center.

During her 20 years with CPL, Zakrzewska was a tireless champion of initiatives to create services to connect Chicago’s Polish community with the public library. In 1995, she won a major state grant to expand CPL’s collection of Polish-language materials. To promote awareness of the collection, she wrote numerous articles in Chicago-area Polish newspapers such as Polish Daily News and Monitor. That same year, Zakrzewska founded CPL’s Polish American Services Committee (PASC) and served as its chair for 15 years.

In 2000, Maria received an Outstanding Public Service Award from the Illinois State Treasurer. She also earned an entry in Polak w świecie (Poles abroad), an encyclopedia of notable figures of the Polish diaspora, and her work is described in the scholarly monograph, The New Chicago: a Social and Cultural Analysis.

Since her retirement from CPL, Zakrzewska has returned to scholarly pursuits, while continuing to contribute to CPL’s history. She recently authored Chicago Public Library Serving the Polish Community, an article on the history of CPL’s engagement with the Polish community, that was included in the 2020 book Polacy w Chicago (Poles in Chicago).

Read more blog posts about CPL's history in celebration of the library's 150th anniversary.