Chicago Literacy Alliance offers country’s first shared workspace for literacy groups June 1, 2015

Roomeo and Juliet. Froomkenstein. A Roomsin in the Sun. Each of the 14 conference rooms in Chicago Literacy Alliance’s new Literacenter is named after a literary classic with a twist. Just taking the stairs is a literary journey. The risers — the vertical space between every step — are adorned with book titles, from “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte to “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison.

Chicago Literacy Alliance is an organization run by people who love books, and its new space — the country’s first shared workspace dedicated to literacy — incorporates its mission in multiple ways through design and furnishings. The $2.4 million Literacenter project involved converting and renovating 38,352 square feet, with IFF providing a $350,000 loan to buy and install the furniture and equipment.

“CLA members represent the entire spectrum from early childhood literacy through K-12, adult literacy, and English language learners,” said Executive Director Mike Ban, one of six employees added to the formerly all-volunteer staff as a result of the project. “Literacenter is the perfect place for them to come to find others who share the same vision, who have common information needs, and who want to grow together so they can improve the state of literacy in Chicago. That’s why one of our early funders told us that what we’ve done is create the physical manifestation of Chicago’s and CLA’s commitment to literacy.”

The Chicago Literacy Alliance is an association of agencies operating in and around the city to help meet literacy needs for people of all ages and backgrounds. The organization is dedicated to increasing the combined impact of its member groups by providing opportunities for creative and effective collaboration. CLA members are donating over 1.5 million books each year; offering over 90 percent of programs and services for low-income students and families; and serving 14,400 pre-K children, 186,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and 30,000 adult learners.

Being in the same setting will foster collaboration, stronger affiliation among agencies, and potential for mergers, such as the one facilitated in 2013 between Book Worm Angels and Open Books by Chicago Literacy Alliance and the most recent one in 2014 between Boundless Readers and Working in the Schools. Its 31 members to date in the new space include two anchor tenants, WITS and Open Books, the latter of which will operate its award-winning bookstore on the first floor.

A grand opening will be held June 10, during which Chicago Literacy Alliance will dedicate one of its largest conference rooms — dubbed The Brothers KaRoomazov — to IFF for its role in helping to launch the project. The Literacenter provides space to member organizations in all stages of development. It has conference rooms ranging in capacity from four to 100 people, classrooms, cubicles, event space, and office resources and support — all at prices significantly below market, allowing organizations to devote more of their budget to programs.

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