A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Bringing the Library Home: Mixed Income Housing and Libraries

by on November 16, 2016

When I was a child, the library was my escape. I couldn’t always afford to buy books. Often while others were out playing I was immersed in a stack of books borrowed from the library. They included everything from sci-fi to biographies of people I admired. The library was a home away from home for me, and I would ride my bike there as often as possible. The books I read inspired me to be a writer, and are in large part the reason I am an author. The ride there was two miles each way, no small trek for a kid on an old ten speed. I often wished I lived closer, or could move the library closer to my house.

Libraries are different now than they were then. More than just books and a reference section filled with microfiche, magazines, and newspapers for research, they are community centers. Most offer Internet access and computers. Many offer makerspaces and other educational programs. Ideally, everyone would have access to a library close to home.

It’s happening in Chicago. Thanks to a partnership between the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), mixed income housing developments will house small libraries. “This is leadership and creativity at its best,” said Molly Sullivan, senior director of communications and media relations for the CHA. “We follow the lead of Mayor Emanuel on this. We will join a few other cities like Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Brooklyn [and] New York in [building] actual libraries that are co-located in publicly supported housing.”[1]

It’s a good financial decision, as building the libraries will be more affordable and they will be more accessible to patrons. The libraries will not just be mini-libraries filled with books either. They will all sponsor programs in their respective neighborhoods.

Social Workers

As part of the community outreach, social workers who specialize in providing social services for parents and children will conduct parental training and other workshops at the libraries. These workshops are designed to help patrons deal with everyday stresses associated with balancing work, children, and other family obligations. At the same time, libraries face other challenges. The same things that make them great leave them vulnerable, and keeping them safe and drug free can be a challenge. In this effort, social workers are often like first responders, helping detect issues and direct patrons to where they can get help.

Early Childhood Active Learning Spaces

Children will have access to great resources like makerspaces, technology, and the Teacher in the Library program. Undergraduate education students will assist children with their homework during after school hours. This not only provides children with more resources, but also develops a pipeline for “teachers in training” to gain hands-on teaching experiences. Libraries will work with local university teacher certification programs, as well as other programs which require students to acquire a certain number of  service learning hours. University of Illinois at Chicago was the first institution to participate in the program.

Teen and Adult Technology Support

The library will of course offer technology and teacher support to teens as well. Adult programs will also be offered including everything from financial counseling and job search support to writing resources, guides, and classes. Neighborhood artists and authors will be encouraged to showcase their work through events and workshops. Programs will on environmental responsibility also are planned.

Not only are these kinds of libraries good for the neighborhoods where they are located, but they are serving as a model for other library districts all over the country. The days of large central libraries may never be gone entirely, but small satellite branches in the neighborhoods where patrons live certainly seems like an affordable solution to making libraries readily accessible.


  1. The Columbia Chronicle, “Mixed Income Housing To Be Co-located With Libraries.”

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