“The Downers Grove Public Library” by S.M. O’Connor

Introduction[1]

      For over 125 years, there has been a library in Downers Grove, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago in DuPage County.  The Downers Grove Public Library (D.G.P.L.) is located at 1050 Curtiss Street in downtown Downers Grove. The Downers Grove Public Library’s motto is “The place to go when you need to know.”  One can read the Downers Grove Public Library Bylaws, Policies, and Guidelines online here.

The Downers Grove Public Library building is just off Main Street in downtown Downers Grove.  Its lot is bounded by Burlington Avenue on the north, an alley on the east, Curtiss Street on the south, and Forest Avenue on the west.  [Burlington and Curtiss are both one-way streets, Burlington being west-bound and Curtiss being east-bound.]  This places the Downers Grove Public Library within walking distance of Downers Grove North High School, Herrick Middle School, and St. Joseph’s School, all of which are north of the railroad tracks and south of Ogden Avenue, as well as Downers Grove Christian School on Maple Avenue.  Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church are all clustered near Main Street north of the tracks and south of Ogden, while First Congregational Church, First United Methodist Church, and Immanuel Lutheran Church are clustered around Main Street south of the tracks and north of Maple Avenue.  New Manna Community Church and First Baptist Church of Downers Grove are also nearby on Maple, east of Main Street.

The Downers Grove Public Library, Part I: 1891-1934

The antecedents of the current Downers Grove Public Library were a private library operated by local women for public benefit like the Riverside Public Library and the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, and a building paid for by Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) like the La Grange Public Library, the Highland Park Public Library, and the Chicago Heights Public Library. In 1891, a group of women in the village who desired a circulating library founded the Ladies’ Library Association (also identified as the Women’s Library Association) at a meeting hosted by Mrs. Charles Caldwell and Mrs. Alice Heckman.  The meeting had been called by Mrs. Brookins and Mrs. L.P. Narramore.  The latter served as secretary of the organization for years.  Her husband, L.P. Narramore of the Farmers’ & Merchants’ Bank, offered to provide a Library Room in his new bank building at the corner of Main Street and Curtiss Street.  The ladies charged individual library patrons a quarterly use fee of 25 cents, and accepted donations of books.  The first librarian was Mable Blanchard Carnahan.

In 1893, the ladies obtained a state charter for their organization.  They would continue to operate the library for twenty-one years. In 1895, the Ladies’ Library Association opened a new library building on West Curtiss Street erected by John Stanley.  In Downers Grove, 1832-1982, authors Montrew Goetz Dunham and Pauline Wendell Wandschneider quote a contemporary description of that first library building as “cozy, convenient, and finely furnished.”  The library then had somewhere between 600 and 700 volumes.  The President of the Library Association was Mrs. Emma J. Miller, who served in office for seven years.  Thanks to her efforts, landlord John Stanley did not charge rent.  Women other than those above-named who served in the organization included Stanley’s own wife, Miss Gertrude Gibbs, and Mesdames Downer, Curtiss, Blanchard, Miller, Marsh, Clifford, Cole, Thomas, Burns, Daniels, Atwood, Cross, Bunge, S.C. Stanley, Hughes, Dietz, Northrup, Sacksetter, Lancaster, Huling, and Stanger.

In March of 1904, an editorial ran in the Reporter that called on residents to vote in favor of the establishment of a free (tax-supported) public library.  “The Ladies’ Library Association has fought bravely to maintain a public library and by their own unaided efforts have secured a collection of books which will be the nucleus of an excellent library…The association stands ready and willing to turn over the $2000 bequest of the late John Oldfield to the village for the purpose of a library building site, and this, with the authorization of a tax for maintenance, will be all that is necessary to secure an adequate donation of funds from Andrew Carnegie to erect a building.”

After John Oldfield made his $2,000 bequest to acquire land for a public library and the ladies ascertained that the Trustees of the Carnegie Fund would be willing to fund the construction of a library building provided there was tax support for its maintenance, Mrs. L.B. Wells and Mrs. Mary Stewart Burns pushed for a referendum to approve a library tax.  Unfortunately, the first two times it came up for referendum, the voters rejected the proposed tax.

Finally, on the third attempt, the library tax referendum passed in June of 1911.  That year, a small frame library building was erected on a site at the southwest corner of Curtiss Street and Forest Avenue purchased with money from Oldfield.  By November of 1912, circulation had reached 1,520.  That was nearly twice the size of the collection.

In 1915, a new library building was erected with money from Carnegie on the site of the original frame building.  It cost $11,250.  The Carnegie Corporation contributed $8,500.[2]  This brick building was designed by Chicago architect Frederick Lundquist.  A subscription raised $900 for the acquisition of furnishings and fixtures.  The main entrance was on Curtiss Street and the entrance for the lecture hall was on Forest Avenue.  On the main floor, book stacks with more than 3,000 volumes lined three walls of one room.  Visitors would sit in this room and read at six fumed oak tables.  The Downers Grove Artists’ Guild decorated the children’s room.

The Downers Grove Public Library opened on October 14, 1915, six months after ground was broken.  At the time, Downers Grove had a village form of government, under which residents voted directly for members of the library board.  L.B. Wells, whose wife had pushed for the library tax referendum, was the first President of the Downers Grove Library Board.  It was he who completed the negotiations with the Carnegie Foundation.  The other original members of the Library Board were John Graves, Henry E. Tank, Arthur Bordwell, William B. Towsley, and Howard P. Jones.

Two years later, in May of 1917, the village form of government was replaced with the commission form of government, under which the mayor would appoint the members of the Downers Grove Public Library Board, and his appointments would be confirmed by the Village of Downers Grove Board of Commissioners.[3]  Mayor J.F. Kidwell appointed I.B. Wells, F. G. Lancaster, W.B. Towsley, Stanley J. Brown, T.H. Slusser, and Mrs. Nelson Perron.

The first librarians were Miss Madeline Hughes and Miss Ruth Lancaster.  Miss Hughes served as head librarian for seven years and was succeeded by her assistant, Jessie Bryce, who retired in 1942.

As of 1923, the Downers Grove Free Public Library served a population of 3,543 people.[4] It had 1,438 borrowers.[5]  The Downers Grove Free Public Library added 309 volumes.[6]  It had a total collection of 4,911 volumes and had subscriptions to fifty periodicals.[7] The Downers Grove Free Public Library circulated 23,847 items.[8]  Its income was $3,310.62 and its total expenditures were $3,056.56.[9]  Librarian Jessie M. Bryce earned a two-week-long vacation.[10]

Two years later, in 1925, the Downers Grove Free Public Library served a population of 3,543 people.[11] It had 1,516 borrowers.[12]  The Downers Grove Free Public Library added 569 volumes.[13]  It had a total collection of 5,617 volumes and had subscriptions to forty periodicals.[14] The Downers Grove Free Public Library circulated 21,627 items.[15]  Its income was $4,768.52 and its total expenditures were $3,814.67.[16]  Librarian Jessie M. Bryce earned a two-week-long vacation.[17]

Two years later, in 1927, Librarian Jessie M. Bryce had a salary of $990 and the Assistant had a salary of $305.[18]  The Janitor had a salary of $620.  The Downers Grove Free Public Library spent $400 on books, $100 on periodicals, $250 on heat, $75 on light, $200 on repairs, $100 on furniture, $25 on printing, $100 on supplies, $281.03 on other things, with a total expenditure of $3,446.03.[19]  The Downers Grove Free Public Library served a population of 5,000 people.[20] It had 2,088 borrowers.[21]  The Downers Grove Free Public Library added 416 volumes.[22]  It had a total collection of 6,265 volumes and had subscriptions to forty-two periodicals.[23] The Downers Grove Free Public Library circulated 31,388 items.[24]  Librarian Jessie M. Bryce earned a two-week-long vacation.[25]

Dr. James Breasted of The Oriental Institute of The University of Chicago showed his film The Human Adventure at the Methodist Church and donated copies of all his books to the Downers Grove Public Library in 1934.  Although Dr. Breasted had been born in Rockford, he had spent part of his childhood in Downers Grove.

The Downers Grove Public Library, Part II (1942-1983)

In 1942, Jessie Bryce retired and was succeeded by her assistant, Frieda Rawcliff Humphris (1907-2001), who led the library until 1971.  It was obvious in the early 1950s that the library required more space.  However, since the growing village’s tax rate was already rising to meet the greater needs of the village’s schools, government, library, and other taxing bodies, it was far from a sure thing that voters would approve library building referendum.   A coordinated public relations effort by the Village of Downers Grove, Downers Grove Library staff, and the Friends of the Library, which had been founded in 1953, persuaded voters to pass a $165,000 bond referendum in December of 1954.  Consequently, local architect George Steckmesser, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), designed an addition to the small Carnegie library building called the “wraparound.”  The new rooms were supposed to be integrated with the old structure in what Mesdames Dunham and Wandschneider described as an “ingenious expansion.”  However, if the photo “Wrap-around” by Robert Dunham in their book is any indication, the expansion was hideous.  In any case, the expanded building reopened to the public on July 1, 1956.

The reopening was sponsored by the Friends of the Library and the Downers Grove Artists Guild.  Mayor Ben Groves and former Mayor Clyde Absher cut ribbons for the reopening ceremony.  Library Board President Emerson Pugh delivered opening remarks.  The Downers Grove Garden Club decorated the building with flowers.  The Chicago Tribune noted that when the Downers Grove Public Library opened in 1915, Downers Grove had a population of 3,100 people, of whom 740 were library cardholders, and in 1954, when the referendum passed, Downers Grove had a population of 15,000 people, of whom 8,500 were library cardholders.  The head librarian, Mrs. Frieda Humphris, told the Chicago Tribune the D.G.P.L. then had a collection of 27,000 volumes.

In the 1970s, a new public library building was erected on the site of the former library, which was razed while the Village Hall was renovated and a new Police Department was In the 1970s, a new public library building was erected on the site of the former also erected.  There were two turnovers of the post of head librarian in the 1970s.  Frieda Rawcliff Humphris was succeeded in 1971 by Joseph Quaidy, who resigned on June 1, 1979.  His successor was Kathleen Meahhey Balcom.  The new 40,000-square-foot-library was designed by Loebl, Schlossman, Dart & Hackl-John Wilson Associated Architects.  It opened in the autumn of 1977.  Library Board members Philip Rinaldo, John Clark, Roger Tea, and John Mochel, Jr. were involved in the early stages of planning the construction of a new library building. At the time the final stages of planning were undertaken, a referendum was passed, and the building was actually constructed, the Library Board was comprised of Mochel, Carol Doty, Jean Dale, Rebecca Mays, and James Wadsworth.  The passage of the referendum was thanks in no small part to the work of the Friends of the Library, the president of which was Robert Konikow.  In 1983, the second floor underwent a redesign and the reference department moved upstairs.

The Downers Grove Public Library, Part III (1984-2016)

Christopher Bowen had joined the staff of the Downers Grove Public Library in 1984 as Assistant Director and subsequently served as Library Director from 1989 until his retirement in 2011. He oversaw the remodeling of the Downers Grove Public Library in 1999 and the creation of the Downers Grove Public Library Foundation in 2002.  The Downers Grove Public Library received, in January of 2002, a check for $153,703.52 as its share in the estate of Lillian Culbertson.  The trustees voted to have Bowen give the money to the Library Community Foundation to be deposited in the D.G.P.L.’s foundation fund.  The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to create “a foundation to benefit the Downers Grove Public Library.”

In 1996, Downers Grove residents approved an $8,200,000 referendum to construct a new 67,738-square-foot library building.  This was achieved not by tearing down the existent building and replacing it with something bigger, but by reconstructing and expanding the existent library building.  It re-opened in February of 1999.  The architectural firm Phillips Swager Associates designed the 1999 renovation and expansion of the library building.  The general contractor was Walsh Construction Company of Downers Grove.  This project was funded by the citizens of Downers Grove and an Illinois Library Construction Grant from the Secretary of State and State Librarian.

In 2010, the D.G.P.L. had 237,672 volumes, and circulated 931,971 items per year.  It served a population of 48,724 residents, of whom about 30,000 were library cardholders.  Elaine Johnston reported on October 4, 2010 on Downers Grove Patch (then AOL’s DownersGrovePatch) that Stephen Daniels resigned as President of the Downers Grove Public Library Board of Trustees effective August 31, 2010. Daniels had served on the board for twenty-four years.[26]  Daniels was known to sit in the library vestibule on Saturday mornings to greet visitors.  Board Secretary Kathy DiCola, was elected interim president.  According to Library Director Christopher Bowen’s blog, she was also President of the Downers Grove Public Library Foundation.   On the 6th of October, Ms. Johnson reported that on the previous day Mayor Ron Sandack appointed Dan Loftus to the Board of Trustees to fill the vacancy left by Daniels. Loftus is a former Chairman of the Downers Grove Downtown Management Corp. and President of the District 99 Educational Foundation.  At the same board meeting, Mayor Sandack reappointed the appropriately-named Tom Read, former headmaster of the Avery Coonley School.

When Bowen retired, Dan Bradbury of Kansas City, Missouri-based Bradbury Associates/Gossage Sager Associates met with the Library Board to help the trustees choose a new director, as Wendy Foster reported for Downers Grove Patch in February of 2011. Bowen had the aid of Jolene Carlson, who was Assistant Library Director from 2004 to 2012.

In a remarkable turn of events, Rick Ashton, who had been City Librarian at the Denver Public Library from 1985 to 2006, succeeded Christopher Bowen as Library Director in 2011.[27]  Ashton came to Illinois to become Chief Operating Officer of the Chicago-based Urban Libraries Council and teach at Dominican University as an adjunct faculty member at the School of Library and Information Science.  Library Board President Kathy DiCola explained that Ashton wanted to “get back in the game” but “for his next public library experience he was not interested in dealing with the bureaucracy of a large library system, but wanted a smaller library where he could have a more immediate impact,” as Elaine Johnston reported for Downers Grove Patch in July of 2011. Ashton’s tenure as Library Director of the Downers Grove Public Library started on Wednesday, September 6, 2011 and lasted until his retirement on Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

By 2012, the D.G.P.L. reported to the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services  it had a collection of 279,569 volumes.  It served a population of 47,833 people, and had an annual circulation of 902,512 transactions.  The D.G.P.L. expended $3,862,197, of which it expended $293,370 on books and another $170,796 on eBooks, as Marshall Breeding reported.  It had twenty-five full-time employees and ninety part-time employees.

The 2014 renovation of the 67,738-square-foot library was a $2,400,000 project that included the creation of small-group meeting spaces and small-group study rooms; a teen center; a new science, technology, engineering, and math (S.T.E.M.) center; renovated restrooms; a remodeled café; a remodeled story-hour room; better Wi-Fi; the installation of new lights; the installation of new carpets; and new paint.  Product Architecture + Design was the project architect.  Elgin, Illinois-based Shales McNutt Construction was the construction management firm and reported that the interior renovation project cost $2,170,000.  The firm stated, “This project included a complete interior renovation including new finishes and casework.”  Northbrook, Illinois-based Library Furniture International, Inc. made a photo gallery and a video in which it used the Downers Grove Public Library as a showplace to promote the chairs, sofas, tables, and shelving units it sold to the D.G.P.L.  Ashton’s proudest achievement (at the Downers Grove Public Library) was oversight of the aforementioned $2,600,000 construction project completed in October of 2014, as Ms. Mannion reported on November 15, 2015.    Ashton said one of the reasons he wanted to retire was so a new director could develop a new plan for the library.

The Downers Grove Public Library, Part IV: The Physical Plant

The present building is the fourth iteration of the Downers Grove Public Library on the same site.  A two-story red-brick-and-black-glass structure, it does not resemble a temple or palace like the Chicago Public Library building (now the Chicago Cultural Center) or the Harold Washington Library Center or The Newberry Library.  Nor does it look like a manor house like the Riverside Public Library or the Geneva Public Library.  Looking at it either from the north façade or the south façade, the front and back, it appears to be comprised of four contiguous pavilions oriented along a north-south axis, each with a different shape, as if the architect was inspired by the way a child working with LEGO® bricks or other construction toys might mix the pieces in highly unconventional ways.  Instead of a roof line, it has four roof lines.  The jumble of shapes may suggest a creative and multifaceted organization is housed within to some onlookers.

The north façade of the Downers Grove Public Library faces the parking lot.  There are two plazas on the north façade.  A ramp with a gentle downward slope runs from the sidewalk along the west façade of the Downers Grove Public Library (bounded by Forest Avenue) to the main entrance, which is at the center of the north façade.  The ramp leads to the small, lower plaza, which is beneath the grade of the parking lot.  The ramp runs perpendicular to the hallway that projects out from the north façade to the main entrance. [A second gently sloping ramp leads diagonally from the sidewalk on the west side of the building into the southwest corner of the parking lot.]  The lower plaza has two return boxes, one for books and the other for audio-visual materials, and two benches.  There is a sliding glass door with an electric eye that opens from the lower plaza onto a ground floor hallway.  Exterior stairs lead up from the lower plaza to the upper plaza, west of the main entrance, which is at the grade of the parking lot.  There are trees in both the upper and lower plazas.  A person walking through the main entrance at the grade of the parking lot would enter a hallway lobby, descend stairs, passing two meeting rooms (Meeting Room North and Meeting Room South) on the east side of the hallway.  Each one can accommodate fifty people.  Combined, they can accommodate 100 people.  Renting one costs $20 and renting both rooms costs $40.  One would also pass on the right the side entrance (and the lower plaza beyond) on the west side of the hallway.

Formerly, when one entered the library lobby from the parking lot, as one descended the stairs, one passed beneath an abstract artwork mounted on the wall above the stairs.  This colorful 4’x7’ painted wooden sculpture by Jonas Gerard[28]  is called Earth Dance, and is an example of Gerard’s “wall relief constructions of bent wood.”  The Library Foundation acquired Earth Dance in 2002 for $9,500 and donated it to the Downers Grove Public Library.  In early April of 2014, it was placed in storage with the D.G.P.L.’s other artworks while a $2,400,000 renovation project got underway.  On April 29, 2014, the staff noticed Earth Dance was missing, as Ed McMenamin reported in Suburban Life.  They notified the police, consolidated all the remaining artworks in one place until the construction project ended, and changed the locks.  The Library Foundation raised money for security cameras to be installed at the library entrances.

DSCN1130Figure 1 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: This 4’x7’ painted wooden sculpture by Jonas Gerard is called Earth Dance.  The Library Foundation acquired Earth Dance in 2002 for $9,500 and donated it to the Downers Grove Public Library.  In early April of 2014, it was placed in storage with the D.G.P.L.’s other artworks while a renovation project got underway.  On April 29, 2014, the staff noticed Earth Dance was missing.

There are three display cases in the hallway on the east side of the hallway, north of the North Meeting Room’s door.  The artworks adorning the walls on the south end of the hall changes during the course of the year.  Washrooms are to the left after the hallway leads into the main building.  To the right are the Info Desk, stairs, and elevator.  To the left are the Holds and Return area, the Circulation office, and then three self-checkout kiosks.  The Holds and Returns area includes two automated return slots where returned items are scanned before traveling on conveyor belts into the Circulation office.  Two Y-shaped bookcases with new books are between the Service Desk to the left (on the east side of the building) and the Kid’s Room (on the west side of the building).  Bookshelves also line the west wall between the stairs and the Kid’s Room.  The Café is in the southeast corner of the building.  This is not a full-service sandwich shop like at the Schaumburg Township District Library’s Central Library.  Rather, the Café has two vending machines for snack food, a dollar-operated Keurig machine, and seven tables. Administrative staff offices are behind (east of) the Service Desk and Café.  The Tech Service Workroom and Staff Lounge take up adjacent spaces north of the Kid’s Room and west of the stairs.

There are display cases along the southern wall outside the Kid’s Room.  The name of the Kid’s Room is an understatement.  It is a full-service children’s library that takes up a substantial share of space on the ground floor.  The Kid’s Room includes Picture Books, Nonfiction, Fiction, audio-visual materials, a Storytime room, the Activity Area, the Mouse Café play area, and the S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and math) Room.  The S.T.E.M. Room is a circular space tucked in the front of the children’s library, along the eastern wall.  Upon entering the larger Kid’s Room, one would have to turn left and walk back about ten feet to enter it.  If one walked past the S.T.E.M. Room, one would encounter several tables before one reached the Comics area is in the southeast corner, along the southern wall.  The Checkout/children’s reference desk is front and center.  Beyond, Nonfiction, Movies, and Music are in the central area, with the audio-visual shelves north of the Checkout Desk. Study Rooms are tucked into the eastern wall (like the S.T.E.M. Room), but they are in the northeast corner of the children’s library, so one would have to turn right upon entering the children’s library to reach them.  Fiction shelves are grouped between the Checkout Desk and the southern wall.  The Storytime program room is along the southern wall, west of Fiction.  The Activity Area is a large open space in the southwest corner of the children’s library (and the building as a whole).  There are a couple of dollhouses in the Activity Area, along the southern wall that might interest very young girls.  The Mouse Café playhouse, which attracts wee tots of both sexes, is in the southwest corner of the building, within the Activity Area.  It is well-stocked with toy food.  Toddlers and their mommies enjoy playing with the speaking tubes that extend from one corner of the Mouse Café to the other.  There are several tables and adult-size chairs for parents and other caregivers to sit in along the western wall, within the Activity Area.  Picture Books are on shelves in the northwest corner of the children’s library, north of the Activity Area.  They have an east-west alignment, like the audio-visual shelves, whereas the Fiction and Nonfiction shelves have a north-south alignment.  This arrangement lends variety and visual interest to the display of books and helps the visitor comprehend from a distance that these are different collections.

IMG3244A

Figure 2 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: The cone hanging from the ceiling in the South Atrium of the Downers Grove Public Library is part of Walter Gordinier’s sculpture Journey to Janus.

The central hallway axis of the building terminates in the two-story South Atrium.  Portland, Oregon-based sculptor Walter Gordinier produced the sculpture Journey to Janus, which hangs in the South Atrium.  Acquired in 2000, it is a work of abstract art that is named after the Roman god Janus and makes two allusions to the journey of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey.   The cone and tubes represent a boat while the sphere and articulated line represent a compass.  A chalkboard on the west side of the South Atrium lets visitors know what’s new.  There are internal windows on the second floor on the north and east sides of the South Atrium.

The southwest corner of the building has a cloister.  Past the building, the southwest corner of the block – the northeast corner of Curtiss Street and Forest Avenue – has a plaza that is across from the street from First Congregational United Church of Christ.  The plaza is home to the garden Walk, a copy of the bronze statue Children of Peace by Gary Lee Price;[29] four benches, and some trees, bushes, and flowering plants.  The Garden Walk has one brick dedicated to the Avery Coonley School, but most of the bricks are memorials or dedications to loved ones.  A $100 donation is good for a 4” x 8” Garden Walk brick inscribed with someone’s name, favorite saying, or message; and a $250 donation is good for an 8” x 8” Garden Walk brick.  One can pay by cash or check in the Administration Office or online here.  Checks can be made out to the Downers Grove Public Library Foundation.

IMG3240AFigure 3 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: The Garden Walk outside the Downers Grove Public Library takes one past a copy of Gary Lee Price’s bronze sculpture Children of Peace.

IMG3242AFigure 4 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: A copy of American sculptor Gary Lee Price’s Children of Peace graces the plaza southwest of the Downers Grove Public Library.

IMG3241AFigure 5 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: On his Web site, sculptor Gary Lee Price stated, “I really enjoyed creating this piece because of its message.  Children are the hope of the future and if anything represents peace it is children releasing doves into the air.”

 

 

Returning to the center of the building, one can ascend stairs or via elevator to the second floor, which has the open stacks and Reference Desk.

IMG3248AFigure 6 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: Dallas Cole’s The Story of Gilgamesh adorns the lower landing of the (interior) stairs at the Downers Grove Public Library.

IMG3249AFigure 7 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: Dallas Cole’s The Story of Gilgamesh was a gift from the Friends of the Library in honor of Frieda Humphris, who worked at the Downers Grove Public Library from 1925 to 1972.

On the lower landing of the stairs leading up the second floor is a base-relief sculpture that depicts what the sculptor considers to be the highlights from The Epic of Gilgamesh.   [The Second Floor can also be accessed via elevator.]  The artist was Dallas Cole and the artwork is entitled The Story of Gilgamesh.  It was a gift from the Friends of the Library in honor of Frieda Humphris in 1977.  According to the statement inscribed there, she worked at the Downers Grove Public Library from 1925 to 1972.  On the upper landing, one will find My Memory, Travel Europe by the Zhou Brothers, acquired in 2001.  The Board of Trustees spent $7,000 from the Art Fund to purchase the two giclee prints.

On the Second Floor, one will find Literature, Reference, Nonfiction, Biographies, Movies & Music, Magazines, the Computer Room, photocopiers, the teen area, and the Quiet Study Room.  Ascending the stairs, one will face the Adult & Teen Services reference desk, which is called the Ask Us Desk.  There are two check-out kiosks facing the Ask Us Desk with their backs to the windows that overlook the stairs.  The elevator is to the right (west of the desk).  There is a set of three Burmese Teaching Panels on the second floor near the elevator.  Acquired in 1999, these dioramas were made in the Burmese city of Mandalay on the eastern bank of the Irrawaddy River (also called the Ayeyarwady River in English) in central Upper Burma in the 19th Century.  Nearby, one will find two paintings.  F.G.’s Bridge, acquired in 2001, is by local artist Pamela J. Hart.  Renee’s Landscape, acquired in 2006, is an oil painting dedicated to Russian artist Sergey Cherep’s wife, Renee.

Restrooms are in this area.  One will also find four tables, a Quiet Study Room with seven tables, Romance, and Spanish.  Near Reference, one will now find the Downers Grove Legacy Seed Library, which was previously housed at the Downers Grove Museum.  First-time seed borrowers need to fill out a Membership Record Form at the Ask Us Desk.  Learn how to save seeds.  “Borrow” some seeds, plant them, grow them, and then collect new seeds to return to the Downers Grove Legacy Seed Library.  The D.G.P.L. accepts open-pollinated seeds and heirloom seeds, but not genetically-modified seeds or hybrid seeds.

Nonfiction, Local History, Local Documents, and Poetry run from the north wall to a sitting area in the southwest corner.  Newspapers and Magazines are in the far corner.  Microfilm cabinets with Downers Grove Reporter, Chicago Tribune, and Sun-Downers Grove, as well as census documents and maps, and two microfilm readers are located along the south wall.  Fiction lines the south wall.

The Second Floor Fiction Area is adorned by four artworks by local artist Robin Faulkner that depict four buildings that housed the Downers Grove Public Library.  Executed in gouache, pencil, and watercolors, they represent the Carnegie library building that housed the D.G.P.L. from 1915 to 1956, the larger Wrap-around building that housed the D.G.P.L. from 1956 to 1976, the current building as it looked in 1977, as well as the remodeled and expanded building as it looked in 1999.  The first three images were commissioned by the Friends of the Library in the 1980s, while the fourth was a gift from Owner Services, Inc. when the building was dedicated in 1999.

The windows that look out on the South Atrium are part of the open Teen Center area in the southeast corner of the Second Floor.  Compact discs are on display north of Teen Central.

Computers are in the northeast corner with a Computer Help Desk along a west wall.  The Media Lab is in the northeast corner.  The desktop computers are outside it in groups of six.  The Media Lab equipment available for on-site use include a Funai VHS to DVD Converter, a Sprint Mobile Hotspot, cameras, a keyboard, guitars, and a microphone.  The Media Lab can be booked two days in advance for up to four hours at a time.  Its Video Room can accommodate six people and Audio Room can accommodate two people.  The Media Lab does have a table, chairs, and a Mac computer.  If one wants to use one of the 3D printers, one needs to submit one’s plan on a flash drive in .STL format at the Computer Held Desk.

Bruce Heinrich, a local artist, took the picture Navy Pier Aerial View, by hanging out a helicopter.  Acquired in 1999, the photograph hangs in the second floor computer area.  There are three other photographs in this area.  Acquired in 1999, Harold Washington Library is a black-and-white photograph of the Winter Garden and one of the owls from the roof of the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center.  DeBuffet Sculpture, acquired in 1999, is a black-and-white photograph that depicts the curves of Jean Dubuffet’s sculpture Monument with Standing Beast in front of a skyscraper, the top of which seems to disappear in clouds.  It is an eerie image, all the more so because in real life the sculpture stands in front of the James R. Thompson Center, a famous office building that resembles a spaceship which Helmut Jahn designed for the State of Illinois, not the skyscraper from the photograph. Franklin Street Bridge, acquired in 1999, is a black-and-white photograph that depicts the drawbridge over the Chicago River at Franklin Street during wintertime. There is a stark beauty to the photograph Frozen Orchard no. 2 by Patricia McGrady.  She lives in Evanston, but as she grew up she spent her summers on her grandparents’ farm in West Virginia and is drawn to rural landscapes.  She donated Frozen Orchard no. 2 in 2001.  It depicts an orchard in Suttons Bay, Michigan in wintertime.

Conference Room A is on the north wall.  It has both northern and western views of the main entrance overhang as well as the parking lot.  Conference rooms can be booked twice per month for up to four hours per day.  There are printers outside Conference Room A that are parallel with the Computer Help Desk.

The Downers Grove Public Library, Part V: The Downers Grove Public Library Today

In 2016, the Downers Grove Public Library celebrated its 125th anniversary, as the Chicago Tribune’s Annemarie Mannion reported.  Celebrations were held all year-long, but a “birthday” party was held on Sunday, October 16, 2016.  The gate count that day was 1,628, so the D.G.P.L. received more than twice as many visitors that day as it would normally receive on a Sunday in October.

That year, 1,036,494 items were borrowed, a 4.6% increase over the previous year.  There were 542,008 visitors, or, rather, people visited 542,009 times.  In 2016, the D.G.P.L. had 321,709 items, which included books, C.D.s, D.V.D.s, e-readers, e-magazines, and video games.  The D.G.P.L. had $5,172,364 in income, 93% of which came from taxes, 2% of which came from fines, 1% of which came from state grants, 1% of which came from gifts, and 3% of which came from other sources.  It spent $4,985,771, 70% on personnel, 14% on materials, 3% on building maintenance, and 13% on other expenses.  The D.G.P.L. served a population of 49,213 people.

Sharon Hrycewicz, Children’s Reference and Technology Coordinator at the Downers Grove Public Library, won the 2016 Davis Cup Award from the Illinois Library Association Youth Services Forum.  She had been nominated by former children’s services department manager Sara Pemberton.  Ms. Hrycewicz joined the D.G.P.L. staff in January of 1997 and previously worked at the Helen M. Plum Memorial Library in Lombard from September of 1995 to January of ‘97.  She earned her M.L.I.S. degree at the Rosary College of Library and Information Science (now Dominican University’s School of Information Studies).

Melissa Doornbos Fischer, the Public Relations Manager since 2010, told Suburban Life’s Shonda Dudlicek about the many changes she had seen at the D.G.P.L. between 2010 and 2016. “We’ve introduced Blu-Ray, videogames, e-books and e-magazines and even so many more items and equipment. You can use a laptop and bring it around the library instead of looking up information on our database on our computers. We have cameras to check out; we provide training on how to use them. Since 2015 we’ve added VHS-to-DVD recorders that you can check out and take home and convert your tapes to DVD. More music equipment, like software, for your computer. You can also check out a keyboard or guitar. That might be expensive for one person to buy, but when you can check it out at the library – and lots of people can do this – it’s a great value.”

After a national search, at the meeting of the D.G.P.L. Board of Trustees on May 5, 2016, Library Board President Wendee Greene and the other trustees voted unanimously to have Dan Bradbury offer the position of Library Director of the D.G.P.L. to Julie M. Milavec, the Library Director of the Plainfield Public Library.  Ms. Milavec had earned a Master of Science in Library and Information Science degree at Florida State University in 1992.  She served as Head of Adult Services at the Lemont Public Library District in Lemont, Illinois, from November of 1992 to August of 1995; Library Director of the Worth Public Library District in Worth, Illinois, from August of 1995 to January of 1998; Library Director of the West Chicago Public Library District in West Chicago, Illinois, from January of 1998 to October of 2000; and Library Director of the Plainfield Public Library District in Plainfield, Illinois, from November of 2000 to July of 2016.  Ms. Milavec is a third-generation librarian, as Morgan Searles reported for Downers Grove Patch in August of 2016.  Inspired by her father and grandfather’s careers, she became a library volunteer as a youngster, Ms. Searlies explained.  In an interview with Suburban Life Magazine’s Shonda Dudlicek published in August of 2016, Ms. Mikavec’s father was director of the Joliet Public Library and her grandfather was director of the Illinois State Library.

“As director, Milavec is responsible for creating and carrying out a plan that provides 21st century library services, replenishes capital funds, and maintains the physical building,” Ms. Searles noted.  “My first responsibility will be creating this plan.  I’ll help the Board of Trustees, residents, and staff determine what their vision is.  And then I will help make this vison a reality,” Ms. Searles quoted Ms. Milavec as saying.

Julie M. Milavec is the Downers Grove Public Library’s Freedom of Information Act Officer as well as being the Library Director and has a base annual salary of $125,000.  She has two assistant directors, each of whom has a base annual salary is $99,358.45.

Bonnie Reid is the Assistant Director of Public Services.  She has worked at the D.G.P.L. for more than thirty years.  Ms. Reid has been Reference Librarian and Manager of the Reference Department.

Susan O’Brien is the Assistant Director for Support Services and A.D.A. Coordinator.  She has been Reference Librarian, Literature and Audio Services Librarian, and was a department head before she became an assistant director.

Jen Fredericks, who joined the staff in December of 2013, is the Technical Services Manager.  She previously worked at the Lisle Library, as head cataloger and Assistant Director of Reference Services.  She has a base annual salary is $74,252.10.

Christine Lees is the Circulation Services Manager.  Her base annual salary is $70,000.

Nicole Wilhelms is the Adult & Teen Services Manager.  Her base annual salary is $72,621.90.

Allyson Renell, who joined the staff in 2015, is the Children’s Services Manager.  Her base annual salary is $68,953.95.

The aforementioned Melissa Doornbos Fischer is the Public Relations Manager and Adult Program Coordinator.  As mentioned above, she joined the staff in 2010.  Her base annual salary is $68,673.15.

Paul Regis is the Information Technology Manager.  He has held various I.T. positions since he joined the staff in 2006 and was Assistant Information Technology Manager before he was promoted to the top I.T. position in 2016.  His base annual salary is $62,000.

Library Board President Wendee Greene has a term that expires on Thursday, August 31, 2017.  There are five other trustees. Ed Earl has a term that expires on Monday, August 31, 2020.  Susan Eblen has a term that expires on Friday, August 31, 2018.  David Humphreys has a term that expires on Saturday, August 31, 2019.  Arthur Jasros has a term that expires on Tuesday, August 31, 2021.

In addition to donating money by sponsoring a Garden Walk Brick, one can also donate money to the D.G.P.L. through the Downers Grove Public Library Foundation by way of sponsoring an honor book.  One can also donate books, D.V.D.s, and C.D.s that will be sold in the lobby.

The Friends of the Library (F.O.L.) raises money to purchase items and operate programs at the Downers Grove Public Library like books-on-CD and operate the Junior Room’s summer reading clubs.  To join, make out a check for $15 (or more) to the Downers Grove Friends of the Library and mail it to the Administration Office, 1050 Curtiss Street, Downers Grove, Illinois 60515 or join online here.  For more information, call Joni Hansen at (630) 969-5477 or Kevin Deany at (630) 515-0230.

The library is open 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.  The phone number there is (630) 960-1200 and the fax number is (630) 960-9374.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] This is an extensive revision of an article I posted on Examiner.com Chicago on Friday, November 12, 2010 and updated on Wednesday, May 9, 2012.  I posted the resulting revision on my Notes of Culture blog on Tuesday, August 8, 2017.  I removed the passages about the town the Downers Grove Public Library serves on to create a separate article about Downers Grove on Sunday, February 25, 2018 under the assumption it is better to divide each of my old articles on branches of the Chicago Public Library and suburban libraries into two separate articles with one being a profile of a neighborhood or town and the other being a profile of the library that serves that community.  I also added statistics from the 1920s.

[2] Illinois State Library, Third Biennial Report of the Illinois Library Extension Commission January 1, 1915 – December 31, 1916, With Public Library Statistics 1917, Springfield, Illinois (1918), p. 14

[3] The decision to replace one form of municipal government with another had been decided in a referendum held in September of 1915.

[4] Illinois State Library, Report of the Illinois Library Extension Division for January 1, 1922 to December 31, 1923, Springfield, Illinois (1924), pages  34 and 43

[5] Illinois State Library, pages 34 and 43

[6] Illinois State Library, p. 34

[7] Illinois State Library, pages 35 and 43

[8] Illinois State Library, pages 35 and 43

[9] Illinois State Library, p. 43

[10] Illinois State Library, p. 35

[11] Illinois State Library, Report of the Illinois Library Extension Division for January 1, 1924 to December 31, 1925, Springfield, Illinois (1926), pages 38 and 47

[12] Illinois State Library, pages 38 and 47

[13] Illinois State Library, p. 38

[14] Illinois State Library, pages 39 and 47

[15] Illinois State Library, pages 39 and 47

[16] Illinois State Library, p. 47

[17] Illinois State Library, p. 39

[18] Illinois State Library, Report of the Illinois Library Extension Division for January 1, 1926 to December 31, 1927, Springfield, Illinois (1928), p. 32

[19] Illinois State Library, pages 32 and 33

[20] Illinois State Library, p. 40

[21] Illinois State Library, p. 40

[22] Illinois State Library, p. 40

[23] Illinois State Library, p. 41

[24] Illinois State Library, p. 41

[25] Illinois State Library, p. 41

[26] A Senior Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation and an adjunct political science professor and adjunct professor of law at Northwestern University, Daniels had accepted an offer from the University of Denver to become Director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System and an adjunct teaching position at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

[27] Mr. Ashton had shocked the library world in 2005 when he announced he would retire early, effective Tuesday, February 28, 2006.  Library Journal interviewed him at that time.

[28] The artist, who has a gallery in Ashville, North Carolina was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1941, and is of French and Brazilian ancestry.

[29] Twelve of Gary Lee Price’s sculptures adorn the Hong Kong Central Library.

 

 

 

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