Exhibit: Stories We Tell: The History of the Chinatown Branch

The Stories We Tell: The History of the Chinatown Branch exhibit is on display at the Chinatown Branch from March 1 - August 31. Stories We Tell is an exhibit series celebrating 150 years of Chicago Public Library at branches around the system. This exhibit was curated by Rae Berg, former branch manager of the Chinatown Branch.

How It Started

The beginning of library service for the Chinatown area consisted solely of a stop on the bookmobile route that visited various neighborhoods across Chicago. The weekly stop at 201 W. 23rd Street experienced growing circulation numbers over time but did not offer a selection of books in Chinese. 

Knowing that they were being underserved, neighborhood advocates from the Chinese American Service League (CASL), the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago, representatives from St. Therese and Haines schools and residents of the neighborhood pushed for increased services and a larger, more relevant collection. This years-long campaign resulted in the first dedicated branch for the Chinatown community: a 1,500 square foot storefront branch that opened on April 28, 1972 at 2134 S. Wentworth Avenue. It was a start, but it was only the beginning. 

Growing Into the Community

Again, community members rallied support for a larger, full-service library that would truly speak to the needs of the community. At over 12,000 square feet, the second Chinatown Branch opened on September 29, 1990, at 2353 S. Wentworth Avenue. The new library became a spot to highlight Chinese culture, tradition and identity and featured fu dog lions gifted from The People’s Republic of China. However, with the community being such active library users, this space was also outgrown. 

The third and current branch now is truly a focal feature of the Chinatown community, representing a hybrid gateway for residents from east to west. This branch opened on August 29, 2015 at 2100 S. Wentworth Avenue. At 16,000 square feet, it features a dazzling feng shui style interior, energy efficient glass and an exterior steel frame, with excellent views of the city as well as a green roof for community members to enjoy inside and out.

Do you have any memories of the library in Chinatown? Let us know on social media by tagging #CPL150.

About CPL 150 

Chicago Public Library is 150 years young! Since first opening our doors in 1873, we've served all Chicagoans with free and open places to gather, learn, connect, read and be transformed. Join us in celebrating 150 years of serving our communities. Learn more by visiting chipublib.org/150.