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

The Westmont Public Library (W.P.L.) is located on Cass Avenue in Westmont, a western suburb of Chicago in DuPage County.   The W.P.L. is a unit of the Village of Westmont, which is to say it is a municipal library rather than a district library.  It has an elected board and its own tax levy.  By 2012, there were 124,508 physical items and 17,107 downloadables in the W.P.L.’s collection.  Founded in the 1920s by community members without government support, the W.P.L. began to receive tax support in 1943. The first Librarian/Library Director was Mrs. Velma Evans.  This is similar to the origin stories of several other public libraries in the area, including the Indian Prairie Public Library District, the Summit Public Library District, the Lisle Library District, 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, the Woodridge Public Library, the Atwood-Hammond Public Library District, the La Grange Public Library, the Glenside Public Library District, and the Franklin Park Public Library District.

By 1925, Everett Lincoln Meservey, the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Westmont (1921-1925) and editor and publisher of The Community Press, the first newspaper published in Westmont, collected books and a twenty-five-cent monthly charge by going door-to-door to start the first library collection. These books were kept in the Community Press Building at 22 West Burlington Avenue, at the intersection of Burlington Avenue and Lincoln Street.   He had the help of two students from Hinsdale High School, Helen Sanders and Pearl Dudgeon.  In 1935, he moved to Ohio and the books were placed in storage in a mobile school.  He died in Ohio in 1939.

As mentioned above, Velma Evans became the first Librarian.   During the 1930s, Works Progress Administration (W.P.A.) funds were received to expand the Westmont Library and it moved to the Hoffman Building. [1]  The board paid Librarian Velma Evans until Friday, January 1, 1943.  Westmont residents authorized in a referendum a tax to maintain a public library on Saturday, March 20, 1943.  They also elected the first six library board members.  In 1943, the Westmont Village Board voted to support the Westmont Library with tax revenues and the first Library Board.  The first trustees were C.E. Miller, Pearl Elsin, Carolyn Barton, E.H. Pettey, Caroline Townsend, and June Goodlow.[2]  C.E. Miller became the founding board President and Library Director.  [In 1956, Miller School was built.  It was named in honor of Superintendent C.E. Miller, who had earlier served as first president of the Library Board.[3]] E.H. Pettey became the first Secretary.  June Goodlow became the first Treasurer.  The other Trustees were Caroline Townsend, Pearl Elsin, and Caroline Barton.  They did not have money to hire a librarian, acquire books, or rent quarters, though, because the 1943 tax money would not come in until June of 1944.  The ladies of the Library Board volunteered to staff the old library two afternoons and two evenings a week.  The W.P.A. ceased to exist in November of 1943 (when it no longer needed to exist because there were no longer large numbers of idle hands in need of work with tens of millions of American men volunteering or being drafted into the military to fight in World War II or working for defense contractors).

The first few iterations of the Westmont Public Library were storefront libraries.  Grace Townsend became the second Librarian on Tuesday, August 1, 1944.  The library opened at 113 North Cass Avenue on Thursday, April 18, 1946.  This is a few blocks from the current location.

In 1948, the Westmont Public Library, identified as such, moved back into the Community Press building at 22 West Burlington, which had been remodeled to house the library organization. Alex N. Buro, Michael A. Levgard and Warren Beardsley would become most strongly associated with the W.P.L. for almost twenty-five years.[4]  By the late 1950s, the W.P.L. required permanent quarters. In 1958, the first referendum on a bond issue to fund construction of a new library failed.  In 1959, Library Board President Alex Bruno, an American Legionnaire, orchestrated American Legion Post 338’s donation of land next to Memorial Park at Richmond and Linden Streets for the site of the village’s first purpose-built library building. With a concerted campaign, the voters passed the bond issue for the building.[5]  Built at a cost of $49,000, the first purpose-built Westmont Public Library building was erected at 55 East Richmond Street in 1960. American Legion Post Number 338 donated the site.  The architect was Ray Carlstedt and the contractor was Charles A. Zander.  The dedication of the 6,500-square-foot library was on Sunday, October 30, 1960.  Mrs. Dwight Townsend was Librarian.[6]  The Library Directors at the time were Caroline Townsend, Alex N. Bruno, Pearl Elsing, Michael A. Levgard, Francis S. Maier, and Warren Beardsley.  That same year, 1960, Mrs. Myron Allen became the founding president of the Friends of the Friends of the Westmont Public Library.

Library Board President Francis S. Maier was eponym of the W.P.L.’s Francis S. Maier Children’s Library Wing built in 1971.  The other board members at the time were Lorraine Fiedler, Roy Glahn, Joseph Kwasek, Lee Ramey, William Ullrich, and Gertrude Wavak.  The architectural firm Wigh & Company, Inc. designed the addition.  The contractor was Klein Construction Company.

In 1975, Moira Buhse became Library Administrator.  Four years later, in 1979, the building was remodeled to gain more space.  The members of the Library Board were Joseph Kwasek, Lorraine Fiedler, Herbert Lachner, Laverne Kempf, Jack Jelsomine, Philip Madell, and Jerry Schied.  Moria Buhse was Library Director and Reference Librarian, while Marilyn Shirley was Children’s Librarian.  The architectural firm that designed the remodeling was R. J. Brejcha Associates and the contractor was A. Kopceky & Sons.

Another construction project took place in the early 1990s, the construction of a second permanent library building.  A bond referendum passed in 1989 and construction began the next year.[7]  The Board of Trustees consisted of Joseph Kwasek, Diane Reimann, Jean Law, Jerry Schied, Nancy Trevino, Donald Staffeld, and Peggy Berent.  Moria Buhse was the Librarian.[8]  The architectural firm LZT/Filliung Partnership designed the new building.  Paul H. Schwendener, Inc. was the general contractor for much of the project, but was not the first construction company to get the contract. This project was paid for in part by grant from the Illinois Secretary of State.  Former Library Director Christine Kuhn informed me, “The current building was financed through reserves, the sale of bonds and a bank loan.  Bonds and loans of these were paid off in 2004 and 2005.”

As Westmont expanded, the demand for library services had increased.  A bond referendum passed to provide $3,900,000 to purchase land and build a new 28,000-square-foot library building at 428 North Cass that would be over three times larger than the existent library at 37 East Richmond, which the Library Board of Trustees sold to the Westmont Park District.  In the early 1990s, a contractor purloined the sum of $1,000,000 that had been slated to finish construction of the new library, and fled the country. On Thursday, July 19, 1990, the Library Board of Trustees awarded a contract worth $2,900,000 to Cinco Construction, Inc., a Chicago-based company.  Ten days later, a ground-breaking ceremony occurred.  Construction began in September.  The next year, State’s Attorney James Ruan announced a grand jury had indicted on felony theft charges of Cinco Construction, Inc. and two of its corporate officers for having billed the Library Board of Trustees the sum of $600,000 and without having paid subcontractors.

On Friday, December 6, 1991, the Library Board of Trustees fired Cinco Construction, Inc.as general contractor and hired Paul H. Schwenderer, Inc. as temporary general contractor.  According to a Chicago Tribune article by Joanne von Alroth, W.P.L. Board President Diane Ryman led a group that persuaded village government officials to lend the Library Board the sufficient funds to complete the building, which opened in 1994.[9]    The official story, related in the W.P.L.’s Collections Development Policy, is more complicated. “After a year, with construction halted while legal means were pursued, the Library Board obtained a mortgage, hired a second contractor and restarted a considerably scaled back project.”  On Thursday, September 10, 1992, the Library Board of Trustees took out a $975,000 mortgage with LaSalle Bank of Westmont to see through construction of the new library building.  That same month, the Library Board of Trustees hired Paul H. Schwendener, Inc. to be general contractor to oversee completion of the construction of the new library building.  The new 28,000-square-foot library building opened to the public on Wednesday, January 27, 1993.[10]  The dedication ceremony occurred on Monday, April 19, 1993.

Moira Buhse, who had served as Library Administrator for eighteen years, retired on Wednesday, June 30, 1993.  Charlene Sanders succeeded her as Library Administrator on Monday, October 18, 1993.  Ms. Sanders was the Library Director from 1993 to 2001.[11]  The W.P.L. stated the “Board and Librarian Charlene Sanders were successful in litigating the construction problems, achieving a $550,000 settlement. Essential building retrofits have been completed. Funds and grants from local, state and federal sources have enabled the growth of the collection and the addition of an automation system… and public Internet access.” [12]  In 1996, the Board of Library Trustees settled a lawsuit against Mitchell Kobelinski, who had guaranteed the building bond issued to Cinco Construction, Inc., for the aforementioned sum of $550,000.  The Trustees also dropped their claims against other defendants who lacked assets.  The old library building at 55 East Richmond Street is now the Westmont Park District’s Senior Center.

In 2000, the Lions Club presented the W.P.L. with a $2,700 VideoEye! power magnification system.  Tribune Staff Writer Ted Gregory described the machine in an article.  “It looks like a small box attached to a metal arm positioned next to a TV set on a table…Users, particularly those with low vision, can move the box, or ‘viewing head,’ to enlarge the material they’re perusing up to 25 times in full color on a 27-inch video monitor.”[13]  A plaque on the magnification system bore a message from Cheryl Kramer, “In memory of JoAnn Kramer, who inspired others with her clear vision of how life should be lived.”  JoAnn Kramer did such an effective job of raising Cheryl Kramer, who was born blind, that Benedictine University (formerly Illinois Benedictine College) in Lisle gave an honorary degree to the mother when the daughter graduated in May of 1999.[14] Unfortunately, JoAnn Kramer’s life was cut short in August of 1999 in an automobile accident while she was stopped at 63rd Street and Woodward Avenue caused by an off-duty policeman, who ran a red light.   Deputy Sheriff P.D. Marotta apparently fell asleep at the wheel after working two shifts in a row for the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office. Widower Barry L. Kramer, who later filed a lawsuit in 2000, suggested that in lieu of flowers mourners donate money to the Lions Club, which had been of great help to JoAnn in life.[15]  Representatives of the Lions Club approached Charlene Sanders to ask if there was any project they could finance with money raised by JoAnn Kramer’s friends that would benefit the visually impaired.  Their timing was fortuitous.  She had been about to fill out an application for a state grant to purchase the power magnification system. [16]

The Makery has a 3D printer, a vinyl cutter, and sewing machines, a V.H.S. tape-to-D.V.D. converter, iPads, Wacom Intuos drawing tablets, laptop computers, USB hard drive, BluRay Writer, D.V.D. Writer, a portable projector, and a Sony Handycam.  Library patrons can borrow iPads and Wacom Intuos drawing tablets for up to three weeks.

The aforementioned Christine Kuhn became Library Director in September of 2001, and remained in office until November of 2013.  She was formerly Director of Information Services at the Lisle Library District from 1994 to 2001.  Previously, she was Assistant Director of Information Services/Research Librarian at the Lisle Library District from 1987 to 1994. Before that, she was Circulation Manager at the Chicago Campus of National-Louis University from 1981 to 1985.  She earned her B.S. in Education at Lesley University in 1981 and her M.A. Library & Information Services at Northern Illinois University (N.I.U.) in 1987.  [Note that the library degree program at N.I.U. is no longer in operation.] Ms. Kuhn oversaw four keys changes to the Westmont Public Library.  In a 2006 referendum, Westmont voters approved a tax increase to purchase more materials.  Two years later, in 2008, the remodeled Children’s Reading Garden opened with face-out (also known as flip-through) shelving for picture books, new furniture, and new computers.  In the summer of 2009, the roof was replaced in response to leaks throughout the building.  Two years late, in 2011, the exterior entry plaza was remodeled.

Jason Fitchel is President of the Board of Library Trustees. John Martens, a former Treasurer, is the Vice President.  Kerry O’Connor, who is at least not a close relative of mine, is the Treasurer.  Annie Delano is the Secretary.  The other Trustees are Elaine Carmichael, a former Vice President of the Board of Library Trustees; Heather Booth; and Rajesh Parikh.

In 2014, Julia Coen succeeded Christine Kuhn as the Library Director.  Ms. Kuhn resigned in October of 2013.[17]  Previously, Ms. Coen had been Assistant Director and a reference librarian at the W.P.L.[18]  After a brief period of holding the position as Interim Director, the Library Board promoted her to the position permanently in a unanimous vote on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.[19]  She earned her Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from Dominican University (formerly Rosary College).[20]

In December of 2014, Ms. Coen announced that library employees and volunteers would be tagging materials with radio frequency identification tags over the winter in preparation for the introduction of three self-checkout machines in the spring.  One would go in the youth area and two would go in the first-floor lobby.

Brittany Hoornaert Smith is the Assistant Director and the Head of Patron Services.  Alex Carlson is the Head of Adult Services, while Alea Perez is the Head of Youth Services.  Sheila Hope is the Reader’s Advisory Coordinator.  Carmen Higgins is the Outreach Coordinator.  On November 17, 2016, Beverly (“Bev”) Borch retired after thirty years of service.

2Figure 1 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: This is the west side of the Westmont Public Library building, as seen from the parking lot, on Friday, September 14, 2018.  This is the front of the building.

 

The two-story Westmont Public Library is an example of the Prairie School style of architecture, which is particularly evident on the west and south sides of the building.  The arch-within-an-arch in the entrance pavilion is evocative of a castle gatehouse.

 

 

3Figure 2 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: This is the south side of the Westmont Public Library building, as seen from the DuPage County Health Department clinic next door, on Friday, September 14, 2018.

5Figure 3 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: This is the east side of the Westmont Public Library building, as seen from the parking lot of a business across the street, on Friday, September 14, 2018. To motorists speeding by the Westmont Public Library, this may appear to be the front of the building, but in reality it is the back.

 

The east and south sides of the building each have one two-story triangular window bay that is capped with a pyramidal roofline.  The overall effect is like a giant knight’s helm sitting on the ground.  This lends the red brick building the air of a Medieval romance.

 

6Figure 4 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: This is the north side of the Westmont Public Library building, as seen from the parking lot of the Village of Westmont Police Department building, on Friday, September 14, 2018.

9Figure 5 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: This whimsical wire metal sculpture stands northwest of the Westmont Public Library in the landscaping, as seen on Friday, September 14, 2018.

10Figure 6 Credit: Sean M. O’Connor Caption: The book the wire metal sculpture is supposed to be reading is entitled “Garden Memories.”

The first floor is devoted to the needs of adults while the second floor is devoted to the needs of children and youths. The two floors are connected by a central staircase and an elevator. The two floors are connected by a central staircase and an elevator.

The lobby has washrooms, the central staircase, an elevator, and the check-out desk.  On the first floor, one will also find Fiction, an audiovisual department, Non-Fiction, a reading nook inside the triangular window bay, a reference desk, Study Rooms, an area to read newspapers, and the Computer Lab.

Other than some administrative offices, the children’s library takes up the entire second floor.  It includes display cases, a reference desk, fiction and non-fiction for older children and younger teenagers, two additional family washrooms, a reading nook inside the triangular window bay, children’s books, a play house, toys, and reading tables.  The family washrooms are equipped with wooden step stools under the sinks that can be pulled out so small children can wash their hands without being held at the sink by Mommy or Daddy.  When I visited the Westmont Public Library with one of my nieces yesterday, she appreciated the play house and the large selection of Fancy Nancy books in the face-out section.

The W.P.L. is open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays, from 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.  In the rest of 2018 and the whole of 2019, the W.P.L. will be closed on Thursday, November 22, 2018 (Thanksgiving Day);  Monday, December 24, 2018 (Christmas Eve); Tuesday, December 25, 2018 (Christmas Day or the First Day of Christmas); Monday, December 31, 2018 (New Year’s Eve); Tuesday, January 1, 2019 (New Year’s Day); Friday, January 25, 2019; Sunday, April 21, 2019 (Easter Sunday); Sunday, May 26, 2019; Monday, May 27, 2019 (Memorial Day); Thursday, July 4, 2019 (Independence Day); Sunday, September 1, 2019; Monday, September 2, 2019 (Labor Day); Thursday, November 28, 2019 (Thanksgiving Day); Tuesday, December 24, 2019 (Christmas Eve); Wednesday, December 25, 2019 (Christmas Day); and Tuesday, December 31, 2019 (New Year’s Eve).  It will also close early at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 21, 2018 and on Wednesday, November 27, 2019.

The legal name of the institution is Village of Westmont Public Library.  Its address is 428 North Cass Avenue, Westmont, Illinois 60559. The phone number is (630) 969-5625.  The Web site is www.westmontlibrary.org.  Its Twitter handle is @westmontlibrary.

 

 

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 3

[2] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 3

[3] Heitz, “The ‘Progressive’ Village of Westmont,” Westmont Progress, 9 November, 2011, p. 4

[4] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 3

[5] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 3

[6] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 3

[7] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 4

[8] Moria Buhse is an active member of the community.  She and her husband Howard are or were members of the Sterling Morton Library at the Morton Arboretum and The Art Institute of Chicago’s Alliance Roundtable, and she is or was a member of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

[9] Joanne von Alroth, “Library Board President Ends 7 Years of Service” Chicago Tribune, 30 May, 1995 (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1995-05-30/news/9505300049_1_administrative-librarian-replacement-cass) Accessed 05/13/12

[10] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 4

See also, Joanne von Alroth, “Library Board President Ends 7 Years of Service” Chicago Tribune, 30 May, 1995 (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1995-05-30/news/9505300049_1_administrative-librarian-replacement-cass) Accessed 05/13/12

[11] Two Chicago Tribune articles from the period identify her as the Administrative Librarian.

[12] Westmont Public Library, Collections Development Policy, p. 4

[13] Ted Gregory, “Memorial Magnifies Life of Helping Others,” Chicago Tribune, 7 April, 2000 (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2000-04-07/news/0004070259_1_lions-club-visually-health-club) Accessed 05/13/12

[14] Ibid

[15] Ted Gregory, “Sheriff, Officer Sued Over Fatal Accident,” Chicago Tribune, 9 March, 2000 (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2000-03-09/news/0003090231_1_marotta-squad-car-fatal-accident) Accessed 05/14/12

See also Ted Gregory, “Memorial Magnifies Life of Helping Others,” Chicago Tribune, 7 April, 2000

[16] Ted Gregory, “Memorial Magnifies Life of Helping Others,” Chicago Tribune, 7 April, 2000

[17] Kate Buckson, “Westmont Library Board Hires New Director,” Daily Herald, 2 May, 2014 (https://www.dailyherald.com/article/20140502/submitted/140509585/) Accessed

[18] Ibid

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid

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