Chicago Literacenter


This May, the OLC spent three powerful days meeting with staff and members of the Chicago Literacy Alliance (CLA), an organization with a very similar mission and approach to our own. Seeing CLA’s work mirror our own in so many ways affirmed the value of what we’ve built together in Oakland and helped push our thinking about what’s possible to deepen our impact.  

In 2015, CLA opened the Literacenter, the nation’s first and only (so far!) shared nonprofit workspace dedicated to the cause of literacy. By offering this space to their members at significantly below-market rates and maximizing efficiency through sharing amenities and achieving economies of scale, the CLA offers significant cost-savings and value to organizations working to increase literacy in Chicago.

CLA staff and resident members were generous in sharing their perspectives with us on how the Literacenter benefits their organizations and advances their missions, mainly by:

  • Promoting organizational growth, sustainability, and efficiency that results in expanded and more effective programming.
  • Fostering a sense of community, deepening organic collaboration, and sparking new partnerships across the field to deepen alignment, coordination, and impact.
  • Creating mixed-use space for operations, programming, and convening: staff could walk down the hall from their offices to tutoring sessions with clients, coalition advocacy strategy meetings, volunteer trainings, and peer learning circles with colleagues.
  • Raising visibility and legitimacy to the cause of literacy and the many efforts to address it.

Our time at the Literacenter sparked our exploration into developing a nonprofit literacy center as the next evolution of the OLC’s approach to our mission. Over the coming months, we will be conducting a feasibility study into this powerful opportunity to establish a permanent footprint for literacy in Oakland and ensure that literacy service providers have the capacity to do their work in collaboration and with the greatest lasting impact in our community.

What does the space look like? 

The CLA consists of 51,000 sqft of shared work spaces, 23 meeting and conference rooms, and three large event spaces used by over 140 different nonprofits all working to advance literacy in Chicago in some capacity. The space spans four floors and CLA’s motto is for everything in the space to be ‘fun, functional, and intuitive.’ Each room is named after a book but with a pun tied into it, our personal favorite: The Room on Mango Street. The CLA provides copiers, personal phone lines, ability to reserve event spaces as well as smaller meeting spaces, common areas for co-working and tutoring sessions, two kitchens for catering events, and tech support.

Want to learn more?

“Being in this space allows us to share ideas and lets us have a bigger impact. It lets us work with communities we haven’t because we know more organizations in different areas.”

-Ryan Jackson, Program Manager at Open Books 

“Before the Literacenter, we all worked from home. That worked for us alright, but when we had the opportunity to move into the space we didn’t realize what it meant for our organization just to be able to be in the same space. Now our program staff shares the office and is able to work together every single day. It’s given us a legitimacy we didn’t have before. Rather than going to someone else’s office there’s now this feeling that we are coming to work at Literacy Works.”

-Christine Kenny, Executive Director at Literacy Works

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