Preserving Korean American History in Chicago

May 16th, 2024

Guest post by Julie Lynch (she/her), Northside Neighborhood History Collection, Chicago Public Library

This post is part of a series written by members of the Community Webs program. Community Webs advances the capacity for community-focused memory organizations to build web and digital archives documenting local histories and underrepresented voices. For more information, visit

Chicago Public Library has been strategically focusing its collection development—including in Archives and Special Collections—to be more inclusive in its collection of and access to historically excluded stories, and in line with its stated equity values and strategic plan. A recent initiative that illustrates this effort is CPL’s Korean American Archives (KAA) project, which is a collaboration between community organizations in Chicago’s Korean American neighborhoods, CPL’s Archives and Special Collections Division, and Young Park, a member of Chicago’s Korean American community and the Assistant Manager of Literature, Language and Popular Library.

In 2021, the State of Illinois passed the Teaching Equitable Asian American Community History (TEAACH) Act, which mandates that Illinois public school students learn about Asian American contributions to the development of the United States. The KAA project was conceptualized in response to the TEAACH Act, and to help document the migration of Korean Americans from Chicago to the Northwest suburbs. Young Park, who worked at the Albany Park Branch at the project’s inception, convened a community advisory group including the Korean American Association of Chicago, HANA Center, and Hanul Family Alliances, initially to discuss the need and desire for historical materials that could help support the state mandate. The goals of this project also dovetailed with CPL’s goals for the Community Webs web-archiving grant which included a desire to help broaden access to and include stories of historically underrepresented or excluded groups and to document the role these groups played in economic development.

KACS newsletter, 2007 Summer

The project was able to move further along following the reorganization in December 2020 of all CPL archival repositories (Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection at Woodson Regional Library; Northside Neighborhood History Collection (NNHC) at Sulzer Regional Library; Special Collections at HWLC; and a systemwide Exhibits unit) into a single division that could more effectively plan collection development, processing and digitization tasks across the system.  The new Division Chief of Archives and Special Collections began facilitating conversations between Young Park, NNHC staff, and the KAA Advisory Committee to talk through shared expectations, workflows, and outcomes through 2021 and 2022. The group worked to scope project outcomes and create transparency around timelines.

In preparation of the kickoff, NNHC archivist Allyson Smally and librarian Julie Lynch, collectively began creating documents in Korean and English containing collection development guidelines to let potential donors know about the project, what types of materials the library is seeking, and how people could donate items. In addition, donors were encouraged to recommend websites of community organizations they may have partnered with on economic development activities.

Sejong Music Competition, Piano Repertoire book, 2008

The kickoff was held on July 25, 2022, at CPL’s Albany Park Branch, which is located in a community with a large Korean American population. The project seeks to capture materials that document the daily lives and contributions of Korean Americans in Chicago during the 20th century and also contemporary times. Four donation events were held during the collection phase, from September to December 2022, at the Sulzer Regional Library on weekdays or Saturdays once a month. Tasks involved making appointments for donors to have their materials appraised for deposit. During the donation appointment, a donor could request an interpreter provided by CPL, and have a deed of gift provided in Korean or English. 

Photograph at Boston Marathon, April 7, 1989

At present, seven donors have donated a total of 3 linear feet of materials to the KAA. Donors range from individuals contributing personal and family photos and papers, to organizations contributing reports, programs, flyers and brochures about Korean social, cultural, or political activities. There are four organizations in the Community Webs Korean Americans in Chicago collection. NNHC was able to expand its outreach by including organizations that either donated physical materials to the project, or were part of the Korean American Advisory Committee.

In Summer 2023, a member of the Korean American Advisory Committee met with NNHC staff to answer their questions about donated items and assist with Korean-English translations. In addition, the advisor offered cultural and historical insights that helped NNHC staff create descriptive metadata for the finding guides.

In May 2024, the finding guides, in English and Korean were made available to the public for the first time. NNHC staff along with Young Park hosted a panel discussion with Korean community members on Preserving Korean American History in Chicago. The NNHC is able to cross-promote the Korean American Community Collection and the Community Webs Korean American in Chicago collection. The plan is to open the donation process to donors again and to web archive more Korean organizations in Chicago.

Contact the Northside Neighborhood History Center at Sulzer Regional Library to learn more –