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History of the Library
From Subscription to Tax Support
For over 125 years, the St. Charles community has supported and benefited from a library. In 1888, a dozen citizens met to make plans for the first Library Association which was legally incorporated in 1889. This subscription library had an annual membership fee of $2.00.
In 1906, the Association members decided that the Library should become a public institution to better serve the entire community. The township residents voted to form a tax-supported public township library, and the first Board of Directors met on April 18.
The Library Board asked the voters in 1978 to convert from a township library to a district library that would operate independently from the township government. This change offered the ability to extend the library boundaries beyond the township limits and offer services to unserved neighboring communities and portions of the school district.
Location and Building
The library location and size has changed over the years. With its first location in rented rooms at 203 E. Main Street, the collection grew to 3,000 volumes by 1900 and circulated approximately 200 books per week.
After becoming a township library, a letter was sent to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie requesting funds to build a new library. Mr. Carnegie’s personal secretary responded with a letter dated December 13, 1906 to inform the Library Board that “Mr. Carnegie will be glad to give Twelve Thousand Five Hundred Dollars to erect a Free Public Library Building for St. Charles.” The remainder of the total cost of $15,000 was funded by local donations.
The site selected for the building was formerly a city refuse dump which later was used as an ice skating rink. Residents on the west side of St. Charles criticized the location due to the library’s “great distance” from their homes. Chicago architects Phillips, Rogers & Woodyat designed the building, which opened to the public in December, 1908. The St. Charles Library Association turned over its books to the new library at that time.
In 1925, the first expansion, consisting of a mezzanine on the first floor, was completed. Men working for the Civil Works Administration program completed a children’s room in the basement in 1933.
The growth of St. Charles Township from a population of approximately 5,000 in 1908 to 16,000 in 1960 made further expansion necessary. On November 10, 1962, a referendum for $255,000 in building bonds was passed for an addition to the building. Architects Frazier, Raftery, Orr & Fairbank, of Geneva, were chosen and ground was broken on December 1, 1963. The addition provided an additional 7,640 square feet on the main floor and a basement area of 3,950 square feet. The main floor housed all public services with shelving for approximately 50,000 volumes and seating for 90 people. The original Carnegie Library became office and storage space.
In 1973, the Children’s Department was moved to the basement level making expansion of Adult Services possible. Remodeling of the basement was funded in large part by a donation from the Thomas Rossetter family in memory of their son Bob. The St. Charles Jaycees donated the circulation desk.
As the building expanded, so did the need for parking. Walnut Avenue between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was closed in 1977 as part of a joint agreement between the Library and St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
By 1986, the District population was over 28,000, and the Library Board sought approval from voters for $2,925,000 in building bonds and an increase in the Library’s operating tax. The referendum was overwhelmingly approved and groundbreaking ceremonies were held on July 31, 1987. On December 17, 1988, the 35,000 square-foot addition was opened to the public. The expanded facility had a capacity of 225,000 volumes and seating for 300. A 5,200 square-foot mezzanine would provide expansion space for materials, reading and study.
The project was funded by $2,925,000 in building bonds; a $250,000 federal construction grant administered by the Illinois State Library; and the Library’s special reserve fund. Secretary of State Jim Edgar and Library Board President Norman Huntley signed the grant contract on May 29, 1987. The architects were Wendt, Cedarholm & Tippens, Inc. of Winnetka.
Remodeling of the 1908 and 1964 buildings was completed in 1989, with the former being opened once again to the public to house the business, local history and genealogy collections. A generous donation by the Dellora A. and Lester J. Norris Foundation financed the Carnegie building renovations.
After acquiring additional properties through the use of the special reserve fund, the parking lot was again expanded in 1991.
The mezzanine was opened in 1995 with funding from the Library special reserve fund and a $91,447 Illinois Secretary of State Live and Learn Grant. This added reading and study areas, and an art gallery. Three study/conference rooms were later added to meet patron need. Some of the original capacity of the 1988 project was lost with the addition of these rooms.
The Helen Gale Story Room in Youth Services was constructed in the northeast corner in 1995. Named in memory of a former children’s librarian, the room was the first project of the St. Charles Public Library Foundation. Donations by individuals and major grants from the Dellora A. and Lester J. Norris Foundation, and the General Mills Foundation funded the project.
Renovation of the Carnegie Community Room was completed in 1998. This was the second project of the Library Foundation. Originally known as Library Hall when the 1908 building was constructed, it held Library programs, meeting of community organizations, high school dances, and kindergarten and elementary school classes on a temporary basis. The room had been closed in the 1940s and later used for storage. The Foundation hoped to recreate as closely as possible the ambiance of the original room. The $175,000 project was funded with donations from the community, a generous grant from the Dellora A. and Lester J. Norris Foundation, the City of St. Charles Visitors Cultural Commission and a $65,000 Illinois Live and Learn construction grant. The Library purchased furnishings, and the Friends of St. Charles Public Library donated a custom-made display case.
A teen section, The Loft, was created on the mezzanine in 2000, with a special collection of young adult materials. The Friends donated furnishings.
Various other projects have followed, including:
- 2000 – Carnegie Walk, a joint venture of the Foundation and Friends
- 2002 – Youth Services workroom
- 2002 – East parking lot expansion, making 107 total spaces
- 2002 – Technology Center construction funded by $30,000 from the Foundation and an Illinois Live and Learn Grant of $63,028.
- 2003 – ASK ME Desk donated by the Foundation
- 2003 – Kitchen installed in the meeting room
With an eye toward eventual expansion and the need for additional parking, properties were acquired on the block southeast of the Library. In 2013, construction was completed on half of the block to provide 47 additional temporary parking places. Landscaping of the parking lot was provided by the Foundation and individual donors.
Renovations of all areas of the building were begun in February 2014 to refresh the interior, provide additional comfortable seating, and public computer access to all departments. Lighting fixtures were replaced throughout the building to improve light levels and energy efficiency. New carpeting was installed and the Reference Desk was relocated on the main level. Youth Services added an interactive early literacy center, more computers for kids and a family restroom.
Art and Architecture in Illinois Libraries
The St. Charles Public Library is home to a variety of original artwork including prints, sculptures, quilts, and rugs. The artwork is on display throughout the Library.
In 1967, the Library joined the newly-formed DuPage Library System (DLS) which supported 132 local libraries including academic, public, school, and special libraries in DuPage, Kane, Kendall and Will counties. This was one of 18 regional library systems. In 2011, the systems merged to become three regional centers in Illinois. The library became part of RAILS Library System.
In 1992, a consortium (Library Integrated Network Consortium–LINC) was formed to provide computer network services for libraries that have included Addison, Batavia, Bloomingdale, Franklin Park, Geneva, Glen Ellyn, Itasca, St. Charles, Villa Park and West Chicago Public Libraries. The Library card catalog was replaced the following year with an online version.
Over the years, the Library has become more than just a repository for books. Since 1974, Outreach Services have delivered materials to patrons who are unable to come to the library due to illness or physical limitations and serves as a connection for Talking Book programs for the vision impaired.
The Artist of the Month program began in 1979; and the first co-sponsored book discussion group met at Town House Books in 1980. Since 1981, the Library has offered a Sunday Afternoon Concert Series with musical talent and variety appealing to all ages and tastes. The tradition of educational and entertaining programs for kids, teens, and adults continues today.
As technology has changed, the Library has evaluated and offered many different items. Long playing recordings and cassettes have been replaced by CDs and digital downloads. The typewriter desk has been replaced by multiple computer stations with free access to Microsoft Office programs and online services. Once popular VHS tapes have been replaced by DVDs, and now movies and TV episodes also are available online.
The first St. Charles Public Library website was launched in 1996. A world of information was now opening to patrons. Today we assist users with downloading books, magazines, music, movies and more to their mobile devices. Computer classes are offered at the Library and online, and an extensive list of databases now are available from home. Library staff contribute to our social media presence by updating accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
The Library will continue to evolve and adapt to current trends to provide services of interest to our diverse community.
The St. Charles Public Library Foundation is a nonprofit corporation established in 1993 to provide support for the Library through tax-deductible contributions. The purpose of the Foundation is to provide funds to enhance and enrich Library programs and services.
The Friends of St. Charles Public Library is an adult group that helps the Library by raising money to support special programs for patrons of all ages and to purchase equipment that is beyond the Library budget. Twice-yearly book sales and sales in the Library lobby are the primary fundraisers.
St. Charles Library Association Librarians:
Miss Jennie Lewis
Mrs. Jennie Nichols
Mrs. H. A. Hempstead
Miss Frances Turner
Mrs. R. B. Farson
Mrs. Belle Ogden Constant
Miss Mary Stewart
St. Charles Public Library Librarians:
Miss Mary Stewart April, 1906–August, 1927
Miss Mary Effie King August, 1927–April, 1928
Miss Mary Stewart Reinstated May, 1928–Resigned October, 1929
Mrs. Otheo Frellsen Metcalf November, 1929–July, 1937
Mrs. Olma B. Bowman September, 1937–February, 1944
Miss Louise F. Keuck March, 1944–July, 1956
Miss Lois V. Miller August, 1956–December, 1977
Diana M. Brown January, 1978–December, 2013
Pam Leffler January, 2014–Present
For more historic photos and notes from 1906-1930 Board Minutes see the Illinois Digital Archives.