The Chicago Public Library Foundation is an organization of extraordinary reach and vision, and I believe it has played a huge part in helping the Chicago Public Library remain a vital jewel in this city. I am a former teacher who became a writer of children's mysteries, and the CPLF first came to my attention when they gave me the 21st Century Award, in 2006. As a writer lucky enough to receive this wonderful vote of confidence, I feel the CPLF gave me a tremendous 'running start' in the field, and I can now see what a powerful gift their awards have become; each year they celebrate and stir together writers of life-long renown with those just starting out. The message is clear: they celebrate the written word, and their interest in both discovery of new talent and ongoing celebration of the better-known is infectious. There is a feeling of adventure, of relevance, and of edgy momentum to the CPLF's work in other areas as well; they have added tremendously to the everyday vitality of the CPL by supporting meaningful programs of many kinds for children and teens, drawing these younger readers into the library year-round and supplying ample electronic outreach as well. They are crucial in making the CPL one of the greatest assets Chicago offers its residents. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
The foundation is terrific, a judgment I can make based on my years as a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, with a personal interest in how libraries serve and strengthen their local communities. Here, off the top of my head, are some reasons to applaud their work. (1) They spread the word about what libraries do, bringing in people who need, but didn't know about, the wide range of services, including Internet access and training, that modern libraries provide. (2) They build a community of readers, as in their energetic One Book program. And (3) they give hope and pride to Chicago writers at their major fund-raising gala. This year I knew, in depth, the background stories of two of the 70 honorees. It took them both years of struggle to succeed. Then the mighty spotlight of the CPLF gala shone on them. It reinforced for me the best of what this country is all about. That includes encouraging our writers and artists to reach out -- and encouraging our communities to take the time to listen and understand their world better.