HUMBOLDT PARK — Read/Write Library, a community hub filled with forgotten media that tells the stories of Chicago’s neighborhoods, is leaving its longtime home on Humboldt Park’s California Avenue.
With only a couple of weeks before the library has to move out, founder Nell Taylor has launched a campaign to fund a new location, hopefully nearby.
“Our plan is to reopen in spring 2022, and we need your help now to ensure that our vibrant, urgent, one-of-a-kind programs reach more people than ever in the next 10 years and beyond,” Taylor wrote in an Instagram post last week.
Founded in 2006, Read/Write Library houses a vast collection of community media, with everything from church cookbooks and self-published novels to student artwork and works by incarcerated people — “publications spanning 100 years that would otherwise not be seen,” according to its website.
In recent years, the library has become a gathering place for people looking to learn more about forgotten bits of Chicago history. Before the pandemic, the library regularly hosted classroom visits, community meetings and other events for viewing and research. Taylor and her team also bring pop-up libraries to other states and rural towns.
For the past decade, the library has operated out of a ground-floor storefront at 914 N. California Ave. after years of bouncing around across the city, from the old shared artist space in the Congress Theater to a Lakeview church, Taylor said.
For the most part, the Humboldt Park storefront has served the library well, Taylor said, allowing the program side of the business to grow. But the space has greatly deteriorated in recent years, she said.
Read/Write’s landlord did not respond to requests for comment.
Taylor said the landlord recently gave her two options: She could renew her lease for higher rent, but the landlord wouldn’t make any repairs, or she could move out by the end of the year. The second option was the best and only option, she said.
Now the journey begins to fund Read/Write Library’s new chapter.
Taylor hopes to raise $100,000, with a promised match of $50,000 from larger funders, to open a new location and pay employees “what they deserve,” she said. So far, the library has pulled in about $20,000 in small donations, which means Taylor and her team have about $30,000 left to raise to bring the project to life.
“Help us weather this crisis and emerge stronger in a new, accessible space, supported by staff and facilitators who are paid equitably for their talent and passion in bringing to life the stories that have been left out of the record,” Taylor wrote on Instagram.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Read/Write crew will pack up the library with help from neighbors. While it’s painful to say goodbye to the California Avenue spot, Taylor said she’s hopeful Read/Write, the only library of its kind in the world, will flourish in its new home.
Taylor said she’s focused on finding a location in Humboldt Park, where she’s from.
“It’s really heartbreaking because we’ve put so much into [the California Avenue location] and we’ve verbally heard so much support for so many years,” she said. “We’re very, very deeply connected to the community and we really want to stay in Humboldt Park.”
To donate to Read/Write Library, go here.
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