This post was originally published May 2013. 

Today we are so pleased to welcome Amanda Meeks to the Library as Incubator Project. Amanda is the outreach coordinator for the Read/Write Library, located in Chicago, Illinois. A big thank you to Amanda for providing us with a fantastic overview of this community resource. Enjoy! ~ Laura

by Amanda Meeks

Photo by Christina Rago.

Photo by Christina Rago.

This year, as you plan your busy schedule for the annual ALA conference in Chicago, be sure to squeeze in a visit to the Read/Write Library, located on Chicago’s west side.  The Read/Write Library was formerly known as the Chicago Underground Library; the non-profit organization officially changed the name in 2011 in order to reflect their mission more accurately.

According to their website–and as evidenced by the democratic collection policy and ever-growing collection of non-circulating materials–the library aims to be an all-inclusive, open archive of Chicago-specific media, produced by and for the community. They provide a welcoming space for individuals, organizations and ideas to come together to foster creative connections and collaboration.

Founder, Nell Taylor, is a Chicago native who felt a strong disconnect with her city’s culture and decided that a library would be the perfect lens through which to examine Chicago’s local history and community connections.  Since 2006, the collection has grown from two boxes of materials in Nell’s apartment to over 2000 items including art journals, zines, broadsides, art books, newspapers, and even cookbooks from Chicago churches.  The library collection did not have a permanent home for several years and often operated via pop-up libraries at other organizations around Chicago.

A significant portion of the collection was damaged during the 2011 blizzard when the windows of the church where the collection was housed broke and allowed snow to drift inside.  After enduring that loss, the library took up permanent residence in the beautiful Humboldt Park neighborhood.  The library is entirely staffed by dedicated volunteers and librarians from around the city, many of whom are also artists, students, and folks interested in figuring out how they fit into the web of media-makers in Chicago.

Photo from the Read/Write Library's Facebook page:

Photo from the Read/Write Library’s Facebook page:

Photo by Christina Rago.

Photo by Christina Rago.

Read/Write offers a great deal of creatively driven programming and welcomes other organizations to utilize the space, such as the Letter Writers Alliance (LWA): An international organization dedicated to preserving letter writing as an art form.  LWA was started in Chicago and holds occasional letter writing socials at the library.  Other free and low-cost events include panel discussions on the creative process, theatrical interpretations of work found in the collection, crafting (known as the monthly Crafterday), puppet shows, and many more.

One truly unique program the library hosts is the Self Preservation Series, a monthly workshop which focuses on preserving anything from paper to moving image to, eventually, vegetables from community gardens.  Essentially, this series teaches community members of all ages how to preserve what is of value in their lives, be it creative works, personal histories, or food.

Photo by Christina Rago.

Photo by Christina Rago.

A visit to the library is a must, whether for an open, community event or simply to browse for inspiration within the collection.  The space is open to the public three days a week: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  The collection is also available through the online catalog, where you may search by subject, format, series title, publisher, keywords, and contributors.  However, I recommend trying out the “obscurity meter” and the “location” browsing methods in the catalog for an added level of serendipity.

Amanda Meeks is a recent graduate of Emporia State University’s SLIM program in Portland, OR and the Read/Write Library’s outreach coordinator.  For more information about the library, events, and volunteering please email her at

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