“The La Grange Public Library” by S.M. O’Connor

The La Grange Public Library on one side of La Grange Road and the First Congregational Church on the other, mark the southern end of downtown La Grange, Illinois.[1]  Beyond them, the street becomes residential and is lined with trees and gracious homes until 47th Street.   The La Grange Public Library is not to be confused with the La Grange Park Public Library, which is also on La Grange Road, to the north in neighboring La Grange Park, Illinois.  Both towns are in west suburban Cook County.  The La Grange Public Library is a municipal library while the La Grange Park Public Library is a district library.  The first free public library in La Grange was established by members of the La Grange Woman’s Club in 1901. [This is a similar origin to those of the Riverside Public Library, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, the Downers Grove Public Library, the Berwyn Public Library, the Algonquin Area Public Library District, the Barrington Area Public Library District, and the Woodridge Public Library, the Atwood-Hammond Public Library District, the Indian Trails Public Library District, and the Glenside Public Library District.] Their lending library imposed a fine of two cents per day on any book held more than three weeks.

Like many American communities, the first permanent library building in La Grange was built thanks to the largesse of steel magnate-turned-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919).  [Other towns in Illinois that have or had library buildings erected with money supplied by Carnegie include Highland Park, Downers Grove, and Chicago Heights in Chicagoland, plus Delavan in Central Illinois.] In response to an appeal, he wrote, in 1903, “If the city agrees … to maintain a free public library at a cost of not less than $1,250 a year, and provides a site for a building, Mr. Carnegie will be pleased to furnish $12,500 to erect a free public library building for La Grange.” The Carnegie library building, a two-story brick structure with 5,000 square feet of space, opened on January 10, 1905. Its design incorpo­rated steam heat and electric lighting – which the staff could proudly point out as advanced features at the time.

In 1923, the L.G.P.L. served a population of 6,525 people.[2]  There were 3,480 borrowers.[3]  The L.G.P.L. added 1,157 volumes.[4] It had subscriptions for forty-one periodicals.[5]  The total size of the collection was 10,457 volumes.[6]  The L.G.P.L. circulated 45,171 items.  The Librarian, Louise E. DeWitt, kept the Library open thirty-two hours per week and earned a two-week vacation.[7]

Two years later, in 1925, the La Grange Public Library served a population of 6,525 people and had 3,537 borrowers.[8]   The L.G.P.L. added 995 volumes.[9] It had a total collection of 11,552 volumes.[10]  The L.G.P.L. had subscriptions for sixty periodicals.[11]  The L.G.P.L. circulated 66,878 items per year.[12]  The Library was open ten hours per week.[13]  The Library was open forty-eight hours per week.[14]  The Librarian, Louise DeWitt, worked thirty-five hours per week and earned a three-week vacation.[15]

Four years later, in 1929, the L.G.P.L. served a population of 10,000.[16]  There were 4,264 borrowers.[17] The L.G.P.L. added 1,434 volumes.[18]  The L.G.P.L. had subscriptions for seventy-six periodicals.[19]  It had a total collection of 13,759 volumes.[20] The L.G.P.L. circulated 83,991 items per year.[21] It was open sixty-six hours per week.[22]  The Librarian, Louise DeWitt, worked thirty-six hours per week and earned a three-to-four-week vacation.[23]

By 1931, Rebecca M. Ditto was the Librarian.[24]  The Illinois State Library ranked the La Grange Public Library as a Class 5 Library.[25]  The L.G.P.L. had an income of $11,247.36.[26]  It had an income per capita of $1.11.[27]  Tax income accounted for $7,600.[28] Expenditures amounted to $10,064.36.[29]  Salaries accounted for $4,546.88.[30]  The Librarian’s salary was $1,970.[31]

The La Grange Library Board determined in 1965 that it was necessary to construct a new library building.  Built at a cost of $682,000, and described as the “Jewel of the Village,” the two-story, 16,500-square-foot building at the intersection of Cossitt Avenue and La Grange Road was dedicated on Saturday, November 2, 1968.  At the time of the dedication, the La Grange Public Library’s budget exceeded $100,000.

In a letter dated Monday, April 3, 1972, Caroline Gifford invited civic-minded residents of La Grange to attend a meeting at the La Grange Public Library to form the La Grange Area Historical Society on Saturday, April 15, 1972. The La Grange Public Library went from having twenty parking spaces to forty-seven in 1975 after the Library Board acquired an adjacent property and demolished the building.

In 1991, a referendum on expanding the building failed to pass.  In 1993, the Library Board extensively remodeled the interior. The lower level, which hitherto had housed Youth Services and a public Meeting Room, was totally remodeled.  Youth Services physically expanded, and more office space for staff was created, while the MultiPurpose Room shrank.  It went from having eighty seats to having forty seats.

Originally, the 1968 building had a capacity of 35,000 books on the upper level for Adults and 15,000 on the lower level for Youth Services. Thirty-six years later, in 2004, adult holdings totaled 97,506 and children’s holdings totaled 29,884. Since the building opening, floor space devoted to seating and other amenities was reduced to accommodate growing collections.

The La Grange Public Library had finally “reached to the point where literally no more shelving could legally be added” if it was still to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (A.D.A.). Library Director Stephen Moskal pressed the Library Board, which asked for a 25% increase in the maximum tax rate, and won that authority on April 1, 2003.  The La Grange Public Library unveiled its Long Range Plan in November 2003 with the Mission Statement, “The LaGrange Public Library provides residents of all ages the means to continue learning throughout their lives; to nurture a love of reading; to find, evaluate and utilize information in a variety of formats; and to connect as a community.”  In January of 2004, the Building Program, which detailed service needs, was completed.

The Building Program describes a state-of-the-art library building for the 21st Century, home to an organization that provides “services and amenities requested by residents,” namely larger and more numerous meeting room spaces; more public computers; and WiFi (wireless Internet access). Additional space for the book and audiovisual collections to expand was provided.  A Quiet Reading Room for adults and an area for Young Adults are new spaces.  Through the sale of bonds, the Library Board financed the construction of a new library building on the site of the 1968 building.  Construction was completed in time for the new library to open in November of 2007.

The new building was designed by Richard McCarthy of the architectural firm Burnidge Cassell Associates (BCA) of Elgin, Illinois.  The firm, founded in 1967, provided architectural design, interior design, and landscape architectural design work for municipal governments, park districts, libraries, colleges, and universities, as well as private firms, throughout Illinois. For example, BCA designed the Addison Public Library in Addison, Illinois.  On March 1, 2009, Dewberry, a privately-held firm in Fairfax, Virginia, announced that Dewberry had absorbed BCA and effective immediately BCA would be known as PSA-Dewberry/BCA.  The general contractor was A. J. Maggio Company of Mount Prospect, Illinois.[32]  The building opened to the public on November 2, 2007.

The new brick-and-concrete building has a parking lot behind (west of) it.  The façade is a mélange of styles.  The west side of the building includes a tower.  The west and north sides of the building feature a colonnade with arches between the columns.  There are two second-story dormers on the north side of the building and one very large second-floor dormer on the east side of the building.  There are ornamental bands of brick in the concrete sidewalk on the west side of the building.  Some of the bricks bear messages.  In the Donate-a-Brick program, a 4”x8” brick, which can hold three lines of text at thirteen characters per line, costs $75 and an 8”x8” brick, which can hold six lines at thirteen characters per line, costs $150.

There’s a plaque in the Friends of the LaGrange Public Library Lobby.  It states, “THE LA GRANGE PUBLIC LIBRARY/ FOUDNED 1904 AD / DEDICATED TO THE CITIZENS OF LA GRANGE NOVEMBER 2007.”  It names the Library Board members at the time of the dedication: Richard S. Adamczyk, Jane Rooney Byczek, William N. Coffee, Caroline S. Coryell, Laurel Poe Gallagher, Guy Johnson, Alan Laatz, Mary S. Nelson, Donna Lea Raymond, Becky Siegal Spratford, Rose M. Taylor, Caroline S. Coryell, and Steven A. Wolf.  It also names Stephen L. Moskal as the Library Director.  On April 21, 2008, a time capsule was buried behind the stone marked 2007 near the front door.  The time capsule should be opened in November of 2057.  A plaque names William N. Coffee as the President of the Board of Trustees at the time the time capsule was buried, Becky Siegal Spratford as the Vice President, Mary N. Nelson as the Secretary, Jane Rooney Byczek as the Treasurer, Caroline S. Coryell as a Trustee, Rose M. Taylor as a Trustee, Steven A. Wolf as a Trustee, and Stephen L. Moskal as the Library Director.

When the new building opened, it included the Tyler Duelm Children’s Activity Room.  This serves as the Tyler Duelm Memorial, showcasing his beloved books and toys, and as a children’s activity room.  [Poor Tyler died in 2007 at age three.]  Hundreds of children have heard stories here, read books themselves during summer reading programs, and participated in after-school activities.  The Tyler Duelm Fund provides money for children’s programs over and above funds allocated in the L.G.P.L.’s operating budget.  Tyler’s Time programs are for preschoolers and elementary school students.  Thus far, twenty-two programs have been presented for 1,000 children and adults, including The Field Museum’s interactive Mummies program, Gina Marie’s Yoga & Singsong for Children, Tumblebus Fitness, and Halloween Magic with Michael Kett.  There are a number of ways to contribute to the Tyler Duelm Fund.  One can purchase a leaf for the Youth Services Reading Tree for $25.  Currently, penguins, monkeys, and lions are sold out, but one can make a purely monetary donation of any size one desires.  One can download and print-out the accompanying paperwork here.

The Friends of the Library is a 501(c)3 organization.  Membership dues and any additional contributions are tax deductable.  To be a Senior Friend pay $10; to be an Individual Friend, pay $20; to be a Family Friend, pay $40; to be a Good Friend, pay $100 to $199; and to be a Best Friend, pay $200 or more.

A few months after the new library opened, Mr. Moskal retired in May of 2008, having served as Library Director for thirty-four years.  The Library Board opted to recruit an outsider to be the new director rather than promote from within.  In July of that same year, the Library Board hired as Moskal’s replacement Jeannie Dilger-Hill.  Previously, Ms. Dilger-Hill had served as a consultant with the Metropolitan Library System; the Cluster Manager of Outreach Services at King County Library System in Washington; Community Outreach Manager at the Monroe County Public Library in Indiana; the Youth Services Department Head at the Salem Public Library in Salem, Indiana; and Youth Services Librarian at the St. Louis Public Library. She became Director of the La Grange Public Library effective July 7, 2008.

As Countryside lacks a library, the LaGrange Public Library is one of several public libraries in neighboring towns to which the City of Countryside refers residents.  [The others are the Hodgkins Public Library, the McCook Public Library, and the Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs.]  While La Grange residents, people who own property in the suburb but do not reside there, and people who own or manage businesses there are entitled to free L.G.P.L. cards, people who live elsewhere and do not own property or own or operate business there can purchase L.G.P.L. cards on an annual basis.

In 2009, the L.G.P.L. conducted a survey for the 2010-2014 Strategic Plan by mailing out surveys to all 6,400 households in the town.[33]  The staff also made paper surveys available to fill out at the library and digital copies available online at the L.G.P.L.’s Website in May and June.[34]  There were over 650 respondents who answered surveys on paper or online, which provided a return rate of 10.2%.[35]  The vast majority of respondents, about 94%, were residents of La Grange.[36]  Well over half of respondents, 72%, were female, and 28% were male.  Less than half, 40%, were in the workforce, with 21% being stay-at-house parents, and another 21% being retired people.[37]  Over half of respondents, 52%, had been using the L.G.P.L. for ten years or more.[38]  Only 21% of respondents used the library primarily to borrow books or other items.[39]  Another 16% use materials onsite.[40]  Over 17% of respondents reported that they came to the L.G.P.L. to use facilities, including tables and meeting rooms.[41]  The survey revealed that respondents used the L.G.P.L. for (a) leisure, (b) education, and (c) self-improvement in that order, except for students who were mostly interested in education, as one would expect.[42]  Less than half of respondents, 42%, reported that they preferred to find information without help.[43]  Just 6% of respondents wrote they preferred to access L.G.P.L. remotely.[44]  Almost one-third of respondents, 30%, used the L.G.P.L. twenty times per year, while nearly a quarter, 24%, used the L.G.P.L. fifty times per year.[45]  Over half, 60%, reported that library staff initiated contact during visits.[46]  Respondents rated staff with an average of 8.4 points out of a possible 10.[47]  Over 20% of respondents answered that the L.G.P.L. provided more value than other libraries and over 28% answered they would use the L.G.P.L. more frequently in the future.[48]  As of 2010, the La Grange Public Library (L.G.P.L.) has 99,570 volumes, circulated 163,747 items per year, and served a population of 15,608 residents.

On January 3, 2018, Jeannie Dilger departed to become the new Executive Director of the Palatine Public Library District, which serves Palatine and part of Hoffman Estates.  The Library Board hired Stephen Bero as the Interim Executive Director of the La Grange Public Library.  Previously, he headed the Brookfield Public Library.

Ken Vesperman is the Facilities Manager.  Madeline Deneen is the Bookkeeper.  Arcadia McCauley is the Community Engagement Coordinator.  She is also the Friends Liaison.  Chuck Johnson is the Digital Services Coordinator.  Debbie Darwine is the Adult & Teen Services Manager.  Rachael Dabkey is the Children’s Services Manager.  Rebecca Bartlett is the Collection Services Manager.

It is open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays, and from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays.  Note, the library is closed on Sundays in summertime (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend).  The address is 10 West Cossitt in LaGrange, Illinois 60525.  The phone number there is (708) 215-3200.

DSCN1101Figure 1 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: This is the east face of the La Grange Public Library, on the west side of La Grange Road, in downtown La Grange, as seen on Saturday, September 11, 2010.

DSCN1099Figure 2 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: This is the massive second-floor dormer that is at the center of the east face of the La Grange Public Library, as seen on Saturday, September 11, 2010.

DSCN1092Figure 3 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: This is the north face of the La Grange Public Library, as seen on Saturday, September 11, 2010.

DSCN1091

Figure 4 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: This is the northeast corner of the La Grange Public Library, as seen on Saturday, September 11, 2010.

DSCN1086

Figure 5 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: These are the pair of second-floor dormers on the north face of the La Grange Public Library, as seen on Saturday, September 11, 2010.  Notice the one on the left is larger than the one on the right, yet the fact there are two of them makes the dormers resemble a pair of eyes.

DSCN1089

Figure 6 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: This is the plaque on the west face of the La Grange Public Library above the time capsule, as seen on Saturday, September 11, 2010.

DSCN1088Figure 7 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: This is the southwest corner of the La Grange Public Library, as seen on Saturday, September 11, 2010.

DSCN1087Figure 8 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: This is the northwest corner of the La Grange Public Library, as seen on Saturday, September 11, 2010.

 

 

[1] This is a revision and update of an article I posted on Examiner.com Chicago in May of 2011.

[2] Illinois State Library, Report of the Illinois Library Extension Division for January 1, 1922 to December 31, 1923, Springfield, Illinois (1924), p. 36

[3] Illinois State Library, p. 36

[4] Illinois State Library, p. 36

[5] Illinois State Library, p. 37

[6] Illinois State Library, p. 37

[7] Illinois State Library, p. 37

I suspect Librarian Louise E. DeWitt was a direct descendent of the town’s founder Franklin Dwight Cossitt, Sr. (1821-1900) through his daughter Martha Louisa Cossitt DeWitt and her husband, Reverend William Concourse DeWitt.  However, I have not found any proof this is the case, so it remains supposition on my part.

[8] Illinois State Library, Report of the Illinois Library Extension Division for January 1, 1924 to December 31, 1925, Springfield, Illinois (1926), p. 40

[9] Illinois State Library, p. 40

[10] Illinois State Library, p. 41

[11] Illinois State Library, p. 41

[12] Illinois State Library, p. 41

[13] Illinois State Library, p. 41

[14] Illinois State Library, p. 41

[15] Illinois State Library, p. 41

[16] Illinois State Library, Report of the Illinois Library Extension Division for January 1, 1928 to December 31, 1929, Springfield, Illinois (1930), p. 48

[17] Illinois State Library, p. 48

[18] Illinois State Library, p. 48

[19] Illinois State Library, p. 49

[20] Illinois State Library, p. 49

[21] Illinois State Library, p. 49

[22] Illinois State Library, p. 49

[23] Illinois State Library, p. 49

[24] Illinois State Library, Report of the Illinois Library Extension Division for January 1, 1930 to December 31, 1931, Springfield, Illinois (1932), p. 27

[25] Illinois State Library, p. 27

[26] Illinois State Library, p. 48

[27] Illinois State Library, p. 48

[28] Illinois State Library, p. 48

[29] Illinois State Library, p. 48

[30] Illinois State Library, p. 48

[31] Illinois State Library, p. 48

[32] At the time I wrote the original article in 2011, the firm A.J. Maggio Company was working on the Acorn Public Library in Oak Forest, Illinois.

[33] La Grange Public Library Strategic Plan 2010-2014, p. 1

[34] La Grange Public Library Strategic Plan 2010-2014, p. 2

[35] Ibid

[36] Ibid

[37] Ibid

[38] Ibid

[39] Ibid

[40] Ibid

[41] Ibid

[42] Ibid

[43] Ibid

[44] Ibid

[45] Ibid

[46] Ibid

[47] Ibid

[48] Ibid

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