Behind Uptown’s Bezazian Library’s modest modernist facade is a bustling hub of programs, services, and events that serve and empower Uptown residents of all ages and backgrounds. Uptown United 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, and its construction was funded in part by John Bezazian who insisted it be located in the area where his son Harold grew up. And while a lot has changed since it opened in 1957, the library has always been committed to meeting the community’s needs. 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 did the library’s collections and its foreign-language content has shrunk to meet more–current needs.
Today, Bezazian hosts many events and programs for all ages and needs. A weekly Mother Goose Story Time, an early-literacy initiative, draws about 30 families. There is also the CyberNavigator, a technology tutor who teaches adults and seniors computer basics to help bridge the digital divide. Plus, there is the Chicago Writing Alliance, a weekly writing group, a graphic novel book club, and Inspired Youth Tutoring, a non-profit that helps Uptown youth with their homework.
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, it’s been offering small business and start-up programming such as lectures with local food entrepreneurs from My Chocolate Soul, Phoenix Bean Tofu, and others. In 2017, Bezazian also launched the “Bezazian 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 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
Literature Review Excerpt: Ethnic Enclaves’ Health Impacts
At a time when cities the world over are becoming more homogenous, ethnic enclaves stand out as beacons of culture, diversity, and economy. Whether it’s a Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy, or India Square, most cities will have several geographically defined areas where there is a noticeable concentration of one or more minority, a definition that also includes gay villages. These areas can be residential or commercial, but are typically both, exhibiting specialized businesses serving the nearby populace. And while many of these places are historically a manifestation of prejudiced societal norms that have pushed certain groups of people to live together, today, these enclaves have evolved to be key marker’s of a city’s vibrancy and diversity, and are now often found in tourist books and cities’ marketing materials, even when they are often in tracts of land that were once deemed otherwise undesirable or ill suited for habitation. For example, Chicago’s own Chinatown was displaced from the city’s downtown in the 1900s when the land it occupied became too valuable under the guide of keeping “vice” and “crime” out of view, but today it’s one of the country’s key ports of entry for Asian transplants that’s viewed as a must-see destination and cultural experience.
Despite ethnic enclaves’ long histories and emergent status as engines of culture, planners and policy makers are divided in trying to understand and quantify enclaves’ continued popularity and impacts on their host cities. There is also a somewhat limited amount of research on this topic – thanks in part to varying definitions of what constitutes an enclave. Research that intersects understanding ethnic enclaves and health – in particular if and how ethnic enclaves benefit the health of their residents – is even more limited. Despite this, these places continue to grow, swelling with both new transplants and second and third-generation residents. To highlight the implications of these trends, I consider the findings of five recent studies about enclaves across America.
Numerous buildings have either broken ground or are proposed for construction in Uptown. Cedar Street, a prolific North-Side developer has three projects underway near Argyle, including a $150 million project to convert an existing office building and surface lot into several hundred apartments.
But, despite being transit-adjacent and eligible for parking requirement reduction due to Chicago’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) ordinance, much of the current zoning does not permit taking advantage of this as it is zoned -2, rather than the TOD-eligible -3 zoning.