Made in Uptown: Bezazian Library

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.