Our First 100 Years : The Glencoe Public Library (text)

From Glencoe Public Library | Centennial Celebration


Contents

Prologue

Editorial supporting a Glencoe library, North Shore Newsletter, November 13, 1909

"Of the three vital institutions of a city's life and progress--the library, the school, and the church--the library, with its ever open door, and its university of books, has been the last to meet to appreciation of civic support.

A good book has a personal attribute. In it the author reproduces himself and breathes his life into other souls. It is much more than a reprint of the author's words. It is thought inbreathed and outbreathed. "Books," says Addison, "are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind."

But a whole library! It is like a forest of the trees of Lebanon on the mountain top. Every tree has its own life and character, while it forms a part of a mighty host and "all the trees of the field clap their hands," as in a chorus of hallelujahs.

But the voice of a library of good books is more than the music of the forest, it is a chorus of thoughts rather than of sounds, vibrating in the souls of men, generation after generation. No institution is so intimately and so constantly connected with the life of the whole people as the public library. Its door is open to all without regard to creed or color and it is as free to the child of the poorest citizen as to the wealthiest. And none of us are independent of it, if we really care for the quickening and sustaining of our intellectual life. Indeed the citizen who has a library of his own at home, is the most likely to discover the need of other books not be found in his book case.

As to our schools it is safe to say that a ready access to a good library will add much to the value of school studies. Somebody has said that "supplementary reading, especially in the lower grades, is worth of the rest of the school work." Let the tax payer consider that in the light of economy. To double the product of our school system at so small a cost is in the very highest degree true economy.

When life in the home is at stake no amount of cost within the possible reach of the family is considered. The life and progress of a community is more than its wealth.

Let the citizen further consider the value of the library as furnishing--education for adults who have not other opportunities--materials for teachers, ministers, journalists, authors, physicians--books and periodicals for technical instruction to mechanics and others--counter attractions for youth against the barroom and other evil associations.

With all these advantages in view we must vote the public library AN INVALUABLE INSTITUTION."




At the very center of civic life in Glencoe, the Glencoe Public Library is a special place for many village residents. From its handsome building anchoring the business district, the library beckons with cozy places to read and think, an excellent collection of books and other resources, and programs and events for all ages. Around 90 percent of village residents hold library cards--an extremely high percentage for any library district anywhere.

Founding

The library's role as a cultural and intellectual community center was only a vision to its founders in the early years of the 20th century. Despite a generalized feeling that Glencoe should have a library, its proponents encountered several years of bureaucratic challenges before even a rudimentary facility could be opened.Public record of the library begins in April 1905, when the Village Council voted to levy an annual tax of two mills for a free public library. It is very likely that the Woman's Library Club had worked for some time prior to get library-building momentum going. The council vote was followed by a November 7, 1905, election in which 80 residents voted in favor of granting the taxing authority and 43 opposed it. In April 1906, the first Library Board was elected, composed of trustees Belle Brigham, Charles R. Barnes, Mrs. E. M. Culver, Markham B. Orde, Samuel R. Hurford, and Otto R. Barnett.

A quirk of Illinois law made it difficult to pass a referendum to establish a public library. According to a 1941 account of the library's history by Helen Beckwith (then the director of the library), a group of Glencoe residents led by Library Board President Barnett petitioned for a referendum at the next general election in 190_ (she left the date incomplete, but it seems to be 1907). Although a majority of those voting on the proposition favored the library, the referendum failed because a statute required a majority of all the voters voting on all propositions at the election. "Hence, those voting at the election who failed to mark the referendum ballot were (inadvertently, perhaps), voting against the establishment of the library," she wrote. "A small minority, who claimed that the referendum was merely an effort to provide quarters for the Woman's Library Club, were thus able to defeat the proposition." The same thing happened the following year.

At his own expense, the indefatigable Mr. Barnett traveled to Springfield, drafted a bill to remedy the troublesome technicality, and succeeded in having it enacted by the legislature on the last day of the session. At the next special election, the establishment of the library was approved.

Funding was not a simple matter either. Tax funds destined for the library were accumulated by the Village from 1907 onward, but it took repeated requests from Mr. Barnett to extract them. Finally, in July 1909, he was able to obtain a court order directing the Village Treasurer to release the $800 (plus $17.50 to cover the legal expense of bringing a writ of mandamus suit) into the library fund that it was owed from the 1907 general fund.

At last the library board was in a financial position to think about a location. Where that should be, in a rapidly developing suburb where land prices were escalating, was a matter of debate. In an address to the Glencoe Men's Club on January 23, 1909, Mr. Barnett pronounced his opinion:

"The board has somewhere about $1500 on hand and a growing annual income which is between $800 and $900 a year. I believe that this block opposite the station should be acquired and beautified as a public park, that the men of means should erect an attractive library building upon that park." [he refers here to the block east of the train station]

Impatience with the process of starting a library was evident in the North Shore Newsletter's July 31, 1909, edition:

"The Glencoe Public Library Board must have about $2,500 on hand now and they don't know what to do with it. Have you any suggestions to make? The Library Board taxes Glencoe people about $800.00 annually-Why?"

In fact, the Library Board would have $2,300 once the tax funds it was owed from 1908 and 1909 were released by the village; this did not happen until June 28, 1910. Despite its trouble collecting tax monies, the Library Board forged ahead. Finding a location was obviously a top priority, but no suitable space was available for rent. Four options for moving forward were outlined in the August 14, 1909, North Shore Newsletter:

"First. If a suitable site be donated by public spirited citizens, probably $10,000 or more could be obtained to erect a Carnegie library.
Second. The money on hand could be invested in the purchase of a site and bonds issued for building purposes, but it is believed that a bond issue at this time is not desirable.
Third. A site could be purchased and the fund allowed to accumulate until there is sufficient for the erection of a building.
Fourth. It has been suggested that the Village build a new fire hall and that the Library Board take possession of the present fire hall, put in an attractive glass front and additional windows and equip the present fire hall as a library and reading room."

None of these options was feasible at the time, although eventually the third was realized. In October 1909 an agreement was reached between the Library Board and the Board of Education allowing the library temporarily to be located in a room of the new wing of the old Central School on Greenwood Avenue. The North Shore Newsletter announced on October 30, 1909:

"It is the intention to have the library open for two hours on three afternoons of the week and for three hours during three evenings of the week. The equipment will be ordered immediately and, according to present plans, the library will open with seven hundred or eight hundred volumes and with a subscription list of thirty or forty current periodicals. The room will be attractively equipped and lighted and should be very popular as a reading room during the winter evenings. In addition to the books and periodicals, it is the intention to supply suitable games and in every way to make the place inviting."

The Library Board asked the public to contribute books for its collection, as the initial cost of equipment would consume most of the library's funds. It promised to look after the rebinding of good books that required repairs.

Sarah S. Hammond was announced as the librarian in November 1909 following the special election establishing the library. She was the daughter of Dr. Alexander Hammond, a Glencoe founder, and had grown up in "the Castle" on what is now Glencoe Drive. Miss Hammond was an elementary school teacher, held a degree in library science, and already served as the librarian for the Woman's Library Club. She put her experience to good use equipping the new facility and preparing it for public inspection on Saturday, January 1, 1910.

Open at last

Those who attended the library's opening between 3:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon on New Year's Day of 1910 found a room "fully and attractively equipped with new furniture and cases, with the indirect system of lighting," according to Otto Barnett. Its collection was based on materials from the Woman's Library Club, Glencoe schools, the Congregational Church, and public donations. Around a thousand volumes had been amassed by that day, suggesting that donations over the previous two months exceeded expectations. It was open to visitors 12 hours a week: from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, and from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.

The first book to become a part of the permanent collection was The Life of Andrew Jackson by James Parton. It also was the first book to be checked out by the first registered borrower, who rightly was Otto Barnett.

The Village Hall years

By the summer of 1912, the library's room at Central School was needed for school purposes. New quarters were found in the old Village Hall building at 675 Vernon Avenue between Hazel and Park, where the village parking lot is now. The library vacated Central School at the end of July and reopened in the Village Hall on September 16, 1912. For $10 a month, the library occupied part of the second story, sharing the building with the police station and fire brigade. It would stay there for 17 years.

Few records of the library's earliest days still exist, but it seems that most of the books received from the Woman's Library Club entered the library's collection between 1912 and 1914. They were on loan, although apparently that loan became permanent over time.

It was still a very small operation. In a 1914 report, the library's share of receipts from taxes was $1,850, of which $300 was Miss Hammond's annual salary and $144 the janitor's. Between September 1913 and December 1914, $289 was spent on books, $75 on periodicals, and $29 on binding. The library's collection of volumes had climbed to 2,715, there were 851 borrowers, and total circulation was around 9,000.

The Hawthorne School location

In 1929, the library moved to temporary quarters yet again, this time to the Arts-and-Crafts style former Hawthorne School property at 654 Greenleaf Avenue (at the corner of Hazel and Greenleaf). While there, the library came into its own as a community resource. To accommodate Glencoe's booming population, it greatly expanded its hours to 12 hours daily except Sundays. Annual book circulation jumped from 25,961 in 1931 to 62,934 in 1941. The library hosted meetings such as the Monday morning French lessons ("Le Salon Français") sponsored by Woman's Library Club in the 1930s. A literary exhibit of Braille work assembled by the American Red Cross attracted much attention in 1934. Storytimes for children became a regular attraction.

After four years at 654 Greenleaf Avenue, the library purchased the building in October 1933 from the Woman's Library Club. The club, which had occupied the building before the school, seems to have moved into its Glen Cote Thrift Shop building on Hazel Avenue until its current building on Tudor Court was completed in 1938. In 1944, three years after the library opened its current building on Park Avenue, the Hawthorne School building was put up for sale and sold the following year to Lawrence McGinnis for $8,500. It remains a private residence.

Miss Hammond retired in 1935 and was succeeded by Miss Helen Beckwith, who headed the library until 1961.

Obtaining the site

Finding a permanent home for the library had been a priority from the beginning. An ideal site at the corner of Park Avenue and Glencoe Road (now Green Bay Road) came onto the market in 1917. It was the property of William Johnson, a public-spirited citizen who was eager for his centrally located block of land to be preserved for general village use. Although Mr. Johnson was willing to sell the valuable parcel for such purpose at an inside price, no cash was available. The Library Board lacked the authority to contract for its purchase because it would increase its indebtedness beyond the legal limit.

The situation was related to the president of the Chicago Title and Trust Company (one senses the involvement of Mr. Barnett), who agreed to act pro bono publico. Chicago Title would purchase the Johnson property for the lowest available cash price and contract to turn it over to the Library Board at exact cost, plus 5 percent interest. This was under the condition, however, that at least $1,000 a year would be paid on the purchase price of $54,900 and that Glencoe could find 25 citizens to guarantee its repayment at $1,000 each. "In a matter of hours such an indemnifying agreement was enthusiastically signed by not 25 but 169 of our responsible townsmen," according to Miss Beckwith. The property was purchased by Chicago Title and generous Mr. Johnson turned back $2,500 of the purchase price to be put into escrow and used as the nucleus of a fund to develop the property.

Thanks to these arrangements, the Library Board was able in 1917 to levy $97,500 spread over 15 years to acquire the site and erect a suitable library building. Payments for the site were made in yearly installments over 15 years, as agreed, with no damage to the bank accounts of the 169 citizen guarantors. By 1935, the board had obtained clear title to the land and demolished the long-vacant Johnson house, which had been constructed around the time the village received its charter in 1869. Materials salvaged from the house were used to construct bleachers and backstops in various village playgrounds. The lot was subsequently graded and landscaped.

"The barn" (actually an old stable, also called the studio) on the Johnson property endured much longer than the house. It seems to have been rented to a cab company owned by Fred Siegel in 1922. The Threshold Players, a community theater group, rented the barn for rehearsal space and storage from 1933-1953, after which they were given space by the Glencoe Board of Education. The Glencoe post office also used the building in 1947. The barn was condemned and demolished in 1953.

The drive for a dedicated library building

As anticipated, the building at 654 Greenleaf Avenue was soon inadequate to meet the needs of a growing village. By 1938, the Library Board was determined to erect a building that was actually designed to be a library. It began with a careful study of modern library buildings throughout the country and consultations with authorities on library architecture. Miss Beckwith and board president Willis Scott personally visited many libraries from coast to coast for two years prior to the plan's approval by the village board.

The firm selected for the job, Allen and Webster of Chicago, had a particular vision. The architects stated their intention in 1940 to

"create an intimate and friendly atmosphere instead of to create the self-important institutional atmosphere evident in many of the older imposing structures….In a homogeneous community composed of people who have a standard of conduct and ways of living, it is possible to furnish the interior very much as a high class club or residential library."

On April 2, 1940, Glencoe voters approved the $37,500 bond issue for a new building. The total cost of the building was around $90,000 including equipment and landscaping. The difference was covered by the money in original library building fund, which had been accumulating interest since 1917. The fund also had benefited from the rental income generated by the three original buildings on the site (Mr. Johnson's house, the barn, and a small real estate office) and from a 1934 reimbursement of $12,212 by Cook County for a portion of the land taken for road purposes. Construction was soon underway.

With its simple Georgian lines and deliberate placement close to Park Avenue, the large building managed to complement but not dominate the small scale of downtown Glencoe. Civic pride in the new structure seems to have been high. The Chicago Daily Tribune proclaimed that "the new building promises to be one of the most modern and up to date small libraries in the nation."

The ground floor had a wood-paneled main reading room (the Johnson Room) with a fireplace and a spectacular, east-facing bay window. On the same level were the children's room, an art workroom, a cataloger's room, the office of the head librarian, and a conference room. On the second floor was the "Glencoe Room," a 30' x 30' space for historical exhibits and documents. The Glencoe Room also hosted community meetings, larger discussion groups, and meetings of the Glencoe Historical Society. In the basement was an auditorium with a small stage and seating capacity for 250. The auditorium was used for children's story hours and as a theater for motion pictures and illustrated lectures.

The collection of 22,000 books was kept in a three-story stack section with tilted shelving. The stacks were open for browsing. The stacks were designed to accommodate a growing collection and had a total capacity for 35,000 volumes.

Special features included a screened "smoker's porch" overlooking the park area (on the south side of the building) and a sundeck off the second floor for use in nice weather by story hour groups. Miss Beckwith was especially pleased that foreign-language books, art books, and pamphlet and picture files were at last on display; formerly these materials had been relegated to back areas inaccessible to patrons.

Grand opening

An open house was held on Sunday, July 13, 1941, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. to mark the grand opening of the new facility. Perhaps the most special guest was Miss Sarah Hammond, who traveled from her home in Berkeley, California, to be part of the grand opening. In her 25 years as head of the library, she had overseen not only the initial establishment of the library in Central School but also its moves to the Village Hall and to the Hawthorne School building. The program room on the mezzanine level is named in her honor.

William Johnson's 1917 bequest of $2,500 "as a nucleus of a fund to be used in erecting municipal buildings" had grown to over $5,000 by 1942. It had done so under the supervision of a committee chaired by Sherman Booth and "one member to be selected by each of the following bodies in Glencoe: the Village Council, the Park Board, the Men's Club, the Woman's Library Club, and the Masonic Lodge." The sum was turned over to the Library Board in partial repayment for the furnishings of the main reading room with the understanding that the room would be dedicated to the memory of Mr. Johnson. A bronze memorial plaque in Johnson's honor was initially placed over the Johnson Room fireplace, but an oil portrait of Otto Barnett soon replaced it and the plaque was moved to the north wall of the room. The painting, by Fay R. Harper of Glencoe, was commissioned by the Library Board.

Wartime efforts

Wartime widened the library's focus from Glencoe to global. The library was part of a nationwide book drive sponsored by the American Library Association, the Red Cross, and the United Service Organization (USO) that sent over 10 million books to servicemen overseas in 1942-43. Illinois led the nation in the number of books collected for the national campaign and continued to send books on a statewide scale after the national campaign dismantled in 1943. In 1943-45, Miss Beckwith and her staff led book drives and mailed thousands of books ("Victory Books") to individual servicemen abroad, the French Relief, the American Merchant Marine Library Association, the Jewish USO, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs), military bases, schools, hospitals, and Clubmobile France. The 25-cent Pocketbook Mystery series was especially sought after by servicemen. With money from the sale of old paper, the library sent packages of new books to prisoners of war in Germany. The books were carefully selected to comply with known enemy restrictions.

A large Douglas fir was planted on the library grounds in 1944 in honor of war veterans. Known as the Glencoe Service Tribute Tree, it still stands in the northeast corner of the library property.

The southern two-thirds of the library's lot was held in trust by the Library Board for the best uses of the community. In 1954, the library donated the land to the village for construction of a new Village Hall, which was completed in 1957.

In 1966, the library became a charter member of the North Suburban Library System, one of 18 such systems in Illinois. This system of reciprocal materials lending hugely expanded the breadth of materials available to Glencoe patrons. NSLS is currently a consortium of 650 academic, public, school, and special libraries in portions of Cook, Kane, Lake, and McHenry counties. It serves as a facilitator of cooperative library services and development, maintains a library of professional materials, and provides daily van delivery and pick-up service.

The expansion that didn't happen

Controversy arose in October 1968 when a bond referendum to expand and renovate the library failed. Glencoe was the only North Shore library that had not recently rebuilt or expanded facilities or asked for a tax increase, and the 83 percent rise in village population since 1941 was straining its capacity. The $485,000 plan, based on a two-year study by the Library Board, was to maintain library hours, salaries, and cost of books and periodicals as well as to improve the building. Twenty-five percent of the cost would have been covered by an assured federal grant. The Glencoe News editorialized, "One need only visit the library to understand the space problem. The work area is overcrowded and shelf space is inadequate."

Widespread support for the plan--by the League of Women Voters, the Friends of the Glencoe Public Library, the Parent-Teacher Association, and the Glencoe News--was undermined by the lone Library Board member opposing it. Just before the election, he sent a letter to all residents calling for a “no” vote and the bond issue was defeated by more than two to one. A tax rate increase from 12 to 20 cents per $100 assessed valuation was narrowly approved.

Midcentury modernizing

In July 1975, the library initiated its computerized circulation system as a charter member of the Cooperative Computerized Circulation System of the North Suburban Library System. This cooperative group, now known as the Cooperative Computer Services, currently comprises 23 member libraries in the north and northwest suburbs of Chicago. CCS owns and shares the mainframe hardware of the computer system and administers its operation. It also maintains a shared catalog with more than 600,000 unique titles.

The baby boom forced the library to remove the old auditorium and relocate the Children's Department to the larger space of the basement in 1973. It stayed there until the 1990s, when it was moved to the second floor.

The library received an All-Star Award from the Illinois Library Association in 1976, only one of six libraries in the state so honored.

By the late 1970s, the library had taken on many of the aspects of today's libraries. The circulation system had been computerized. Patrons could renew books by telephone and return materials after hours in a new book drop slot. The reference room had individual study areas and a business alcove with financial reports and resources. There were monthly film screenings in the Hammond Room. Home delivery of materials for the visually impaired was offered. The children's department featured slides and filmstrips, a parent education section, and a supervised training program for student volunteers. Periodicals were available on microfiche with viewing and printing equipment. Movie projectors with sound and 3,000 16mm feature films were available for rental through an audiovisual cooperative. The book collection contained around 63,000 volumes and 4,200 new volumes were added annually.

Renovations

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the library began planning for its first full-scale renovation. It was an opportunity to bring the library's design forward 50 years as well. The renovation began in 1992 and was completed in April 1994. The upper level was expanded by 510 square feet and the Children's Department was moved upstairs. Shelving was expanded, the lighting improved, and new furnishings purchased. The Johnson Room was restored to its original elegance, the main lobby and Reference Room were redesigned, and the Hammond program room moved to the new mezzanine level. The old wooden card catalogs were replaced with a computer-based catalog system. To bring the building into ADA compliance, a new elevator was built to provide access to all four levels and the entrance and restrooms were altered to be wheelchair accessible. A grand opening concert was held April 10 and featured the Chicago Symphony Chamber Players.

With the assistance of federal and state grant funds, the library installed a local area network (LAN) to provide electronic resources directly to patrons in the summer of 1996. In January 1997, Internet access for the public was introduced and the library's website made its debut.

Another building project, concluded in 2001, added approximately 1,000 square feet to each floor of the building, increasing the building size by 20 percent. An open house was held March 11, 2001, to introduce patrons to the new preschool area on the second floor, the new Young Adult/Media Room on the main floor, and the Friends' book room on the lower level. The very popular Readers' Services desk was added at this time.

In April 2001, the library hosted a reception to name the Ralph and Lois Silver Business Information Center in honor of their $50,000 contribution and to name the Thomas A. Forte Reference Room in honor of his 21 years of service as the library's executive director.

From 2001 - 2003, the library received several donations to enhance landscaping. An anonymous donor contributed over $65,000 to create a reading garden on the east side of the library and a comprehensive landscaping plan that included a new fountain in front of the library. An additional contribution by the North Shore Garden Club was combined with the anonymous donor's donation to create a second bluestone patio with furniture. The Friends of the Library donated $51,000 to complete the landscaping in 2003.

A facilities study commissioned in 2005 resulted in major upgrades to the library building over the next several years. The bay window in the Johnson Room was restored. The air conditioning units dating from the 1970s were replaced and an economizer system installed to balance the various heating and ventilation systems. Through a combination of funding from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation, the Friends of the Glencoe Public Library, and regular library revenue, the fluorescent lighting was upgraded to reduce energy consumption and to improve the quality of light throughout the entire building.

Continuing through 2009, the Library Board enhanced library facilities and made them more accessibleand safe. The front sidewalks were replaced with pavers, underneath which heated tubes melt snowfall. The sloping sidewalks to the front entrance were rebuilt with stairs and an additional ramp for the disabled was added. The entrance brickwork was cleaned and tuckpointed and the building trim was repainted in authentic Georgian colors, as recommended by the preservationist who performed the facilities study. The fanlight and sidelights surrounding the entrance were restored with the original leadwork and the front door was refurbished. The Friends of the Glencoe Public Library donated $50,000 to help with this project.

A memorial donation underwrote the construction of the David Morton Stein Computer Center dedicated on April 11, 2009, to provide additional computer workstations for children and parents. Favorite children's literary quotes were stenciled on walls throughout the children's department, literally surrounding young patrons with words.

In November 2009, the new Susan Alona Aspen Memorial Garden was dedicated just east of the library's entrance. Donated by the Takiff family, the garden honors Ms. Aspen as a longtime Glencoe resident and ten-year library trustee.

The library in 2010

How much the library has changed in 100 years! Having begun with 1,000 donated volumes in 1910, the collection now comprises around 80,000 books, 250 periodical titles, 8,000 audio recordings, and 6,000 video recordings. Patrons make around 138,000 visits each year. Over 35,000 reference questions are answered annually and 206,000 materials loaned. Patrons enjoy wireless Internet access and can peruse the library's catalog and place holds on materials from home through the library's website. The creation and continuous development of the library's website greatly expands access to materials and services such as downloading audio and video materials.

A major shift in focus is the extensive number of programs and events the library now offers. Classes in the newest Internet technologies, programs on art history and musical theater, history lectures, writing workshops, puppet shows, and live animal programs were just a few special events offered in 2009. There are book and film discussion groups and reading programs for every age group. The increasing emphasis on programming complements the library's ongoing attention to traditional library services.

What has not changed in its first century is the library's commitment to Glencoe. It continues to welcome patrons, anticipate their needs, and play a central role in village life. And over the years, Glencoe has continued its enthusiastic support for this “invaluable institution.”