Read/Write Library–originally the Chicago Underground Library–opens in style on Friday in a brand spankin’ new space. According to executive director Nell Taylor, this library is different from most. “We’re a library that’s read/write, instead of read-only,” she explained to me over the sound of an accordion playing on Cafe Ballou’s speakers. “You can actually come in and add something you’ve written to Chicago history.”
The name was changed from the Chicago Underground Library to Read/Write Library just this year. According to Taylor, this was to reflect two things: inclusiveness and focus. Besides the name, not much else has changed. The Chicago Underground Library was established to keep track of independent media in Chicago; everything from zines to books to art journals. If it were even remotely Chicago-related, regardless of quality, the Chicago Underground Library would take it. With the help of volunteers and librarians at institutions spread throughout the city, Read/Write Library has amassed a vast catalog of publications, most of which you can see on the Read/Write Library website. The variety in their catalog is easily apparent, seeing that they support everything from Chicago fiction publisher Featherproof Books, to Columbia College Chicago student-made zine, Mad Licks and much, much more.
After amassing this vast and diverse catalog, Taylor, in her own words, “soon became interested in what the big picture of Chicago is.” Taylor and her group of volunteers also noticed, “some really fascinating social trends that made the city seem a lot smaller.” It was these observations, along with the response some had to the name of the Underground Library (let’s face it, that name makes it sound like they’re going to be handing out communist literature outside of a McDonald’s), that helped convince them to change the name to Read/Write Library.
That’s not all that inspired the name change though, it came after the Chicago Underground Library decided that they needed to move after having their collection nearly destroyed during last winter’s blizzard (or, more accurately, last years blizzmageddon). Taylor got lucky, finding a new Humboldt Park location the organization could afford with a landlord willing to help in any way he could. This included the creation of a small stage in the new location, which will get tested out at their opening on Friday, the 11th.
Despite having library in the name, Read/Write Library’s new location isn’t exactly supposed to mirror your stereotypical, stuffy library. Taylor, with what she’s learned from the Chicago Underground Library, built the new space with a few simple questions in mind: “what would a community work base look like? What would a place where people want to be around objects about Chicago’s history look like?”
You can see the answer to those questions at Friday’s opening, which has a specific purpose according to Taylor: “to get people to interact with the materials. We want people to feel like this place really belongs to them.”
The event, which will include readings, performances, crafts and games, and even live Jazz from their neighbor, Studio 914, sounds like it will do just that.
“There will be no shushing,” Taylor says.
Which might make some library-lovers wonder, “no shushing? That is chaos! What kind of library is this?”
Simple, dear reader: a pretty damn good one.