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The Branch Library System (Chicago Public Library)

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 6 months ago

The Branch Library System -- as developed by the Chicago Public Library


As urban areas grew and populations shifted, the public library often had a hard time serving all of its diverse patrons. To account for this problem, chief librarian of the Chicago Public Library Henry Legler authored a plan to solve this system in the future Chicago library. The branch library was more localized and therefore more able to serve a specific neighborhood. The Chicago Public Library, although not the innovator of the branch system, was certainly at the forefront of the branch library movement. In 1916, a plan was proposed to the Chicago Public Library Board to implement a far-reaching branch system within the city, published in a pamphlet called “A Library Plan for the Whole City: Proposed System of Regional and Auxiliary Branches.” It called for five regional branches: Ravenswood (far north side), Garfield Park (northwest side), Loop (downtown and part of the northeast side), Englewood (near south side), and South Chicago (far south side). Within these regions, 70 auxiliary (or local) branches would be equally distributed based on where they were most needed; at the time of the proposal 35 such branches existed. Additionally, 60 deposit stations would be located in more sparsely settled sections of town (currently 28 existed). Similarly, 100 special deposit stations would supply books to YMCA houses, Eleanor Clubs, Organizations of Foreign Groups, Institutions, and similar groups that would make use of such a supply. Furthermore, each regional branch would have a substantial Reference Collection and floating collection of 50,000 volumes to distribute among the auxiliary branches as requested via a daily delivery service. Each was also required to have “suitable collections of books in foreign languages, for redistribution to local centers where foreign groups are located” (Library Plan for the Whole City).


Implementation of such a system would greatly improve library service within the city. This way, every person in the city of Chicago who read or desired to use books would be in walking distance of their home of some sort of library service – either a regional or auxiliary branch or a deposit station. Historically, over half the population was compelled to “ride on street cars forth and back, an average of ten miles” just to get such a service. So long as the City Council approved $500,000 to be used in the next five years, which it eventually did, the plan could be put into effect. At the Library Board of Directors meeting on 27 November 1916, president Max Henius declared that “the plan is so elastic that any changes of population in any particular locality… will not interfere with its development along logical, systematic, or economical lines” (Board Proceedings). Nor would any change in territory within the growing city upset such a plan. The Board approved the plan unanimously 8-0. Today, such systems within larger urban libraries are not uncommon, but back in 1916 it certainly was quite the innovative plan.




Chicago Public Library, A Library Plan for the Whole City: Proposed System of Regional and Auxiliary Branches. (Chicago: Chicago Public Library, 1916).


Proceedings from the Chicago Public Library Board of Directors Meeting, 27 November 1916.

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