Honoring the Past, Imagining the Future: Chicago Public Library Celebrates 150th Anniversary

Chicago Public Library Launches its 150th anniversary celebration with special programming, interactive activities and exciting events for all Chicagoans to enjoy throughout the year.

CHICAGO — Chicago Public Library (CPL) is pleased to launch a year-long celebration of its 150th anniversary. Throughout 2023, CPL will commemorate a century and a half serving Chicagoans of all ages as they seek opportunities to learn, play, discover and explore.

“Throughout these 150 years, Chicago Public Library has been a trusted resource for people of every age and ability, speakers of all languages, and residents in each neighborhood,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “This trust has always enabled CPL to connect our residents with the resources and opportunities they need to achieve their goals and to contribute to our city’s diverse and vital communities.”

CPL is celebrating this extraordinary milestone by hosting a series of citywide activities, exhibitions, and events. These events will highlight CPL’s storied history, while hailing its status as an internationally recognized library of the present and future. An essential aspect of the anniversary celebration will be sharing the stories of some of the countless people who have contributed to the enduring success of the library.

“For the past 150 years, our exceptional staff, partners, city leaders and of course, our Chicagoans, have come together to create an international library leader,” said CPL Commissioner, Chris Brown. “My team and I are honored to celebrate our city's library during this important milestone, and we look forward to continuing to reimagine what a library can be.”

A year of storytelling

During 2023, a year of celebration, CPL will tell compelling stories through exhibitions at ten historic neighborhood branches. Select branches will display historic images of their space and community, giving visitors an introduction to the branch’s history and its broader role as a beloved neighborhood library. Additionally, CPL's history exhibit will be displayed at Harold Washington Library Center and will feature never-before-seen photos from CPL’s archives and special collections. A visual timeline can be viewed here. Another form of storytelling will be CPL’s first podcast series that explores untold stories and captivating chapters of Chicago Public Library, transporting listeners into the past while providing insights into to the future. The podcast launches on all major distribution sites in June, and CPL will release a new episode every other week through August.

Books and literary features

CPL revealed the top 150 books throughout CPL’s history with a series of lists from librarians for children, teens and adults. CPL accepted suggestions from library staff and came up with a diverse mix of great books to recommend – and books for which there are ample copies to reduce significant wait times for readers. Popular and significant authors of CPL’s 150 history will also be featured and brought back to CPL’s mainstage events throughout the year. These events will be held at Harold Washington Library Center and streamed on CPL’s social media sites. Ever wonder how books circulate through the library? In the Secrets of CPL, listeners will be taken behind the scenes to see how CPL moves books. Additional content will include discovering the most interesting secrets in CPL’s archives. Aspiring young writers will also be able to enhance their skills with special writing workshops for tweens. The workshops will be held throughout the year to encourage young future Chicago authors. A selection of produced writing from the workshops will be added to the library's collection, so youth can point to their work in CPL with pride.

Cultural events and activities

In collaboration with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and the Poetry Foundation, CPL is hosting the first Chicago Poet Laureate program. Chicagoans are invited to submit their nominations for Poet Laureate through January 18, 2023. The nominee can be a poet in either written or spoken traditions. To nominate a poet, complete the nomination form here. The poet laureate will tentatively be announced in April 2023 at Poetry Fest. Partnering with artist Tim Youd, CPL will present Tim's live public art performance as he types a selected novel by a Chicagoan in a significant place related to the novel and the library. The completed work will be displayed and permanently added to CPL's public art collection. Additionally music lovers will enjoy a string quartet celebrating the lives and contributions of Black composers whose works live in the library by bringing awareness to their stories and legacy through a mainstage performance and several neighborhood performances.

Brief history: Chicago Public Library opened in 1873 in a water tank that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Begun with a donation of 8,000 books form the people of Great Britain, CPL grew quickly. From these modest beginnings, expansion continued as it became clear that a single, central location was not enough. Horse-drawn carts soon began to deliver books to deposit stations in stores and businesses around the city. Reading rooms were established in park field houses. And a 1916 plan from Chief Librarian Henry Legler sought to build brick-and-mortar branches within walking distance of every Chicagoan’s home. Now, there are 81 locations, in 77 distinct neighborhoods. Just as CPL has adapted over the past 150 years to effectively connect Chicagoans with materials, the library has also responded to community needs with innovative programs and services. From world language materials purchased since the 1800s, to archives documenting Chicago history, to YOUmedia, Summer Learning Challenge and the recently announced The 81 Club, CPL is an international leader in library services.

To learn more, please visit chipublib.org/150. The page will be updated regularly with information about anniversary events, activities and resources to celebrate all aspects of CPL and the communities it serves. Stay engaged and in celebration with CPL on social media by using #CPL150.

About Chicago Public Library

Since 1873, Chicago Public Library (CPL) has encouraged lifelong learning by welcoming all people and offering equal access to information, entertainment, and knowledge through innovative services, programs, and technology. Through its 81 locations, the Library provides free access to a rich collection of materials, both physical and digital, and presents the highest quality author discussions, exhibits, and programs for children, teens, and adults. For more information, please call (312) 747-4300 or visit chipublib.org. To follow CPL on social media, visit us on Twitter (@chipublib), Facebook (Chicago Public Library), or Instagram (@chicagopubliclibrary).