Chicago’s public computing library

The public computing library has been measured empirically as the public library with public access computers. To better understand it theoretically, history is needed and the case of Chicago Public Library is valuable. Chicago has passed through three stages: agrocommercial town 1833-1871, industrial metropolis 1872-1980, and now post-industrial information city. Library service has evolved accordingly: from social libraries to public library per se to public computing library. At each stage elites and grassroots both inside and outside the library applied their energies, guiding the library’s evolution. Aspects of earlier periods are recapitulated in the public computing period. Particular innovators include, for example: masses of 1880s strivers, newspaper readers in all languages, pressing into the early public library; the mobilized communities and librarians of the 1930s who shaped two radically new branch libraries while being the first to articulate intellectual freedom; a computer-maven branch librarian who attracted patrons to the first public computer and library BBS in 1981; and today’s flow of un- and underemployed crowding the public computers to apply for work, meeting kindred spirits in the library ready to help.

The Historical Origins of Chicago’s Public Computing Library was presented on April 12th, 2013, by Kate Williams, assistant professor of Library & Information Science at the University of Illinois.

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