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Chicago Public Library Thu Oct 17 2013

When Was the Last Time You Went to the Library?

imagescpl.jpgWhen you think about it, the library really shouldn’t have to advertise. Essentially it’s an institutionalized version of that friend who’ll always loan you a good book, except in this case that friend has the best book collection ever. Harold Washington alone houses 9 stories of resources, both literary and technological. And have I mentioned the entire operation is free? Yet findings continually show that between the ages of 22 and 40 library patronage plummets.

So what is it going to take to put libraries back on the map for post-grads? Chicago Public Libraries have found a young-adult-advocate in the Junior Board, a sect of the Chicago Public Library Foundation composed of volunteers dedicated to bringing young professionals back to the library. Acting and founding president Suraj Patel helped to concoct the idea during consulting work he did for the Foundation. “I did a year-long project with them, and then we were asked for a five-year strategic plan,” he says, “and part of that plan was to create the Junior Board.”

“I think a lot of people use the library when they’re students, when they’re in school, and then they don’t for a while,” says Paul Bruton, Junior Board president-elect. “Then they use the library again because they’ve got kids. But in between, there’s people who aren’t taking advantage of all the library has to offer… [The Junior Board is] trying to raise awareness about the programs that the Foundation promotes, and also getting young professionals or twenty-and-thirty-somethings involved in library programming.”

To spur such involvement, the Library Foundation Junior Board has begun organizing networking events and author talks in an effort to draw the young adult crowd, as well as raise funds for the Foundation. All net funds raised go directly to the Chicago Public Library Foundation, where they are put to good use, promoting Teachers in the Library programming, Cyber-Navigators, and the Summer Learning Challenge, among other initiatives. “We end up funding a lot of programs that the library wants to do, but doesn’t have the tax dollars for,” says Patel, citing the creating of video editing suites in multiple Chicago libraries.

When I ask Bruton how he got involved on the Junior Board, he answers that he found it while searching for volunteer opportunities on Google—a somewhat ironic medium considering internet search engines have proven a major opponent to library attendance. This is an unfortunate reality, as it makes information a buyable commodity, and imposes upon knowledge socioeconomic limitations.

“There tends to be this attitude that libraries aren’t needed anymore because of the internet. You know, you can just Google whatever you want. And some people can, but when you think about the fact that you would need to own a computer and have internet access, that costs money,” says Bruton. “I think we’re in an age when information is really important, and access to information is really important, and making it so that anybody of any age, or at any stage in life or socioeconomic standing, that they have that access if they need it.”

Interested in supporting the cause, and getting more young professionals out to this information resource hub? Now’s your chance to get involved: The Chicago Public Library Foundation’s Junior Board has just launched the Junior Board Society. The foundation is looking to people who are part of the Junior Board Society as advocates and supporters of the Library Foundation. Advocates because they are learning about Foundation-funded programs first hand, from experience, and spreading the word; and supporters because by joining the Junior Board Society they’re actively funding these great programs.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Tshirt_2011.jpgIn exchange for an annual gift of $150, members will be on the receiving end of some serious perks. Among these include priority invitations to all Junior Board events, as well as the option to reserve seating for author discussions at the Library. On October 23rd is the Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner, honoring Isabel Allende and Michael Lewis, tickets for which are sold to Junior Board Society members at a 75% discount.

And, of course, what swag bag would be complete without a complimentary T-shirt? (The design, pictured left, apparently went like hotcakes at Printers Row LitFest earlier this year.)

Any last bits of advice on how to get involved? Patel suggests, “Make sure you have a library card.”

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