BACK OF THE YARDS — For years, parents like Consuelo Martinez have lobbied for Back of the Yards to have its own standalone library, securing more than 1,000 signatures in support of their effort.
Since Back of the Yards College Prep Academy opened in 2013, students and neighbors have shared a dual-use library on the school’s campus at 2111 W. 47th St. although access was limited. After a bombshell Tribune report on CPS’ handling of sexual assault allegations in 2018, security on campus became even tighter, making it more difficult for neighbors and students to access the library on school days.
Now, after years of lobbying public officials, parents’ plan to bring a public library to Back of the Yards is one step closer to reality.
In late May, State Rep. Theresa Mah secured $15 million in state funding for capital projects to help fund a new standalone public library in Back of the Yards.
Students deserve an exclusive library with resources dedicated for school use, while Back of the Yards neighbors deserves their own library like other neighborhoods across the city enjoy, Martinez said.
“We shouldn’t have to travel to Chinatown or Brighton Park [to access a library], it should exist here in our community,” she said.
Mah credited the local school council’s advocacy, a movement that was backed by the high school’s administration, as the key to helping her secure funding.
Before the Back of the Yards Library opened at the high school, the library moved around to various locations across the South Side neighborhood, Mah said. At one point, it was located at a shopping center at 47th Street and Damen. Then it closed for a few years before reopening at the high school, Mah said.
When the public library at the high school was first opened, it was “touted as an innovative collaboration with Chicago Public Schools and Chicago Public Library,” Mah said.
“But after some time it didn’t work out as well as city officials had hoped… At a certain point it became impossible for the high school and the community to use the library at its full capacity,” Mah said.
Locked doors to the library in the wake of the CPS sexual assault investigation forced students to leave school grounds to enter the library through its public entrance.
In 2019, parents pitched Mah on the need for a standalone library.
Mah, who helped organize for a freestanding library in Chinatown, told Back of the Yards parents she’d support their efforts.
Now that some funding has been secured, Mah said her office will meet with Chicago Public Library officials to discuss how to move the project forward. A library spokesperson confirmed library and city officials plan to meet with Mah.
“It really needs a lot of investment. It’s been neglected for years, and I think a library is so important for the community,” Mah said.
Martinez lauded Mah for fighting for the library. The $15 million might not be enough to build a new library but it’s a major step forward in the group’s fundraising efforts, she said.
“Like other high schools in the area, our students deserve their own library and our community deserves a library — a fountain of knowledge,” Martinez said in Spanish. “Libraries are a safe place where mothers can take their children to learn … They also create more opportunities for our community.”
“If there are more fountains of knowledge like libraries where we live, that brings more opportunities for residents of the community, too,” she said.
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