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Look inside Uptown’s Bezazian library and you’ll find a bustling hub of programs, services, and events that works to serve & empower Uptown residents. I spoke with Branch Manager Mark Kaplan about his work keeping the library relevant in today’s digital age and his plans for its future.
Named for Harold A. Bezazian, the World War II lieutenant who gave his life to protect his troops in the Philippines, the idea for the library came from Harold’s sister-in-law Florence, herself a life-long Uptown activist. Its construction was funded in part by John Bezazian who insisted the library be located in the area where his son Harold grew up. And while its modernist 1957 facade may seem dated, the library’s commitment to meeting the community’s needs is as strong as ever. For example, in the mid-1980s a previous manager secured funding for books in Chinese, Vietnamese, and Russian. But as local demographics have shifted, so have the library’s collections and its foreign-language content has moved elsewhere. Today, the Bezazian hosts many events and programs for all ages and needs. There is weekly a Mother Goose Story Time, an early-literacy initiative that draws about 30 families weekly. There’s also the Cyber Navigator, a technology tutor that teachers adults and seniors computer basics to help bridge the digital divide. Plus, there’s the Chicago Writing Alliance, a weekly writing group, Inspired Youth, a non-profit that helps Uptown youth with their homework, a graphic novel book club, and more.
The Bezazian also frequently partners with local non-profits, including the Southeast Asia Center, Vietnamese Association of IL, Chinese Mutual Aid Association, and Refugee ONE for ESL classes and other programming. Recently, the North Side Credit Union held a first time homebuyers’ seminar here and others frequently use its conference room.
But as libraries become more digital, Mark works hard to ensure the Bezazian remains a destination worth visiting. To that end, its been offering small business and start-up programming such as lectures with local food entrepreneurs My Chocolate Soul, Phoenix Bean Tofu, and others. In 2017, the Bezazian also launched the “Bibliobike,” which is taken to nearby farmers’ markets & schools to distribute free children’s books.
Recently, a Friends of Bezazian library group launched and anybody can join. Already they’ve been helping fund some programs – like the Bibliobike – holding book sales, and advocating for the library. Most recently, the group was instrumental in restoring the mural on the library’s east wall, with funding from SSA #34.
Mark, celebrating 10 years as Branch Manager, is excited for the library’s 2018 slate of programming. Plus, through a partnership with Presence Health, it and the Uptown Branch are slated to receive a full-time social worker to better serve the community.
So stop in! Come in for a workshop, to get some work done, reserve their space for a meeting, or even check out a book.
This content was written while I was Program Manager at Uptown United, an agency working to nurture a diverse, vibrant, thriving and strong Uptown. [/two_third][one_third_last padding=”0 20px 0 0″][su_spacer] [su_spacer][/one_third_last]