History of the Library
In 1912, the Elmhurst City Council passed an ordinance that established a public library and an annual tax levy to support the library. The mayor appointed the first nine-member Library Board. Over the next few years the Board wrote bylaws and looked for a suitable place to open the library.
On March 22, 1916, despite a snow storm, the Elmhurst Public Library opened to a crowd of 100 in a small room in the rear of the old Glos Building at York and Park Avenue. The room was rented for $15 per month. Katharine Breitenbach, the first librarian, was paid a salary of $15 per month, and $5 a month was paid for janitor services. The Board spent $400 to buy books and magazines. The Elmhurst Woman's Club donated $75 for the purchase of children's books.
The library began with 830 books and was open only ten hours a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. The library's equipment included a new typewriter.
In the first annual report published in the Elmhurst Press in 1917, the library's collection had grown to 1,507 volumes, 12 magazine subscriptions and 643 registered borrowers. That first year library books circulated 10,400 times.
A volunteer from the community offered all children in third and fourth grades a story hour on Saturday afternoons during the summer vacation.
During World War I, the library distributed food pamphlets, government bulletins and collected, with the help of school children, over 1,000 books for soldiers' camps.
Moving to Wilder Mansion
In 1919, the Library Board appointed a committee to look for land suitable for a public library building. In 1922 the library moved to the first floor of the former Wilder home which was purchased along with an acre of land from the Park District for $14,000.
The house was built in 1868 by Seth Wadhams and was called “White Birch.” Later, the Henry W. King family used the house as a summer home. In 1905, Thomas E. Wilder bought the house and called it “Lancaster Lodge.” Head Librarian Grace Murray (l) on the porch with Assistant Librarian Ruth Strand (r) in 1931. The library was now open to the public on Mondays, and story hours were given throughout the year. According to a report in the Elmhurst Press, during the 1923-24 school year over 1,200 children from first to sixth grade attended storytimes. Folk and fairy tales were told to the younger children while older kids heard the stories of such operas as The Flying Dutchman and Hansel and Gretel.
In 1923, the second floor of the library was opened for community groups, such as the Elmhurst Woman's Club and the Girl Scouts, to meet at a fee of $10 a month. At this time many of the library books were purchased from Marshall Field and Company.
1926 was a watershed year for the new library. Ten years after the library opened, a new head librarian, Miss Grace Murray was hired, and the library extended its hours to all day Monday through Saturday, except at lunch and dinner time. That same year the library purchased a telephone, and residents were encouraged to call “Elmhurst 1245” for information about books and library services.
Also in 1926, the first summer reading program began. In the “vacation reading” program, children entering fifth grade had their name displayed in the library for reading 10 books.
According to the annual report of 1927, over 2,100 people were registered borrowers and the library held 6,431 volumes. The new hours caused the library's circulation to jump to 50,019 that year. During the 1926-27 school year 1,668 books were sent to Elmhurst classrooms.
Remodeling In 1930 fire damaged the library. The building was rewired and redecorated, and for the first time part of the second floor was used for an adult fiction collection. The original drawing room of the home, now the Wilder Room, was used as a children's room. The adult nonfiction collection was kept on the first floor. An extension phone was installed to talk between floors.
Pillars and a south wing were added to the building in 1937.
The budget submitted for 1930-31 fiscal year included $5,300 for staff salaries which included the librarian, assistant librarian, other assistants and a janitor. The Library Board budgeted $3,000 for books and $100 for newspapers and magazines.
In 1930, to meet increasing space needs, the Library Board established a building fund. By 1931, the collection had grown to 10,500 volumes and 5,200 people had library cards.
In June 1936, as part of Elmhurst's Centennial celebrations, the cornerstone of a library addition was laid. At the time of the ceremony, the library had over 17,000 volumes. Library books circulated 122,000 times. The remodeling project took 8 months to complete and temporary quarters on East First Street were set up for a few months.
On January 31, 1937, about 1,000 people attended a special open house to see the renovations. After the remodeling, residents checked out books in what is now the audiobook area outside the Wilder Room.
The outside porches were removed. Pillars and a south wing for a new children's room were added increasing the size of the building to 10,750 square feet at a cost of $36,000. A fireplace near the entrance was removed to make room for a check-out desk. On February 1, 1937, when the library reopened for regular business, 954 books were checked out that day alone.
More than 8,000 people, over half the population, now had library cards and the library was open every day except Sundays including meal hours.
Gaining some Friends
On March 23, 1941, in celebration of the library's 25th anniversary, the Friends of the Elmhurst Public Library was formed. In April 1947, the Friends helped the library start a circulating record collection by contributing 380 classical records.
During World War II, the Elmhurst Public Library, with the help of the Friends, joined the Elmhurst College and York High School libraries in the nation-wide Victory Book Drive. Elmhurst citizens collected thousands of books for soldiers at USO centers, military camps and training stations.
During the 1940s a Great Books lecture series began. 1952 marked the first year that the Garden Club began their annual tradition of decorating the library during the winter holidays.
On May 20, 1955, during the annual meeting of the Friends, the Alice Seton Berens room on the lower level of the library was opened in honor of Mrs. Berens' 35 years of service on the Library Board.
In 1960 the Library Board commissioned a building study which concluded that a substantial amount of additional space was needed for library services. A new building was preferred, but building an addition was another option. In 1963, the citizens of Elmhurst voted to approve a $500,000 bond issue to build an addition to the library. At the time of the referendum the library served over 19,000 library cardholders and owned over 40,000 volumes.
The addition increased the size of the building to 42,750 square feet. A dedication ceremony was held on October 17, 1965. The collection grew that year to 51,200 volumes. From 1965-75, before moving to the Glos Mansion, the Elmhurst Historical Museum was located on the top floor of the library, where the Periodicals Room is now. The new children's room was named after Librarian Ruth Strand who had worked at the library since the 1920s, first as a page and then as Assistant Librarian and Head Librarian.
Growing with Changing Technology
In 1970 volunteers began delivering library material to homebound residents. In January 1972 the Elmhurst Public Library joined the Suburban Library System (now called the Metropolitan Library System) which gave residents access to materials from over 50 other libraries in the system. In the early 1970s a paperback book collection was begun. In 1975 the library installed an automated circulation system which computerized patron records and library holdings. Beginning in 1976 the library was open to the public on Sundays during the fall and winter months.
By 1979 the library was hosting Lyric Opera lectures. In March 1986 Elmhurst voters approved a referendum to raise the library's tax levy. The first Stories in the Park Storytelling Festival was held in Wilder Park in 1986. In 1989 the statue Once Upon a Time was unveiled in the library's west garden, the first piece of public sculpture in Elmhurst.
The library continued to keep up with changing technology. Beginning in the late 1970s, cassettes, videos, audiobooks, CDs, DVDs, computers and Internet access were added. In 1994, the card catalog was replaced with computer catalogs. Online databases now provide up-to-the-second information on a wide range of topics. The library's Web site offers access to the catalog, reading suggestions, online databases and more.
In 2000 library books numbered over 240,000 in a building intended for a maximum of 120,000 volumes. The library was busier than ever. Circulation skyrocketed to over 794,000. Over 4,000 children and hundreds of teens and adults joined the Summer Reading Program each year. With online databases, thousands of magazine and newspaper articles are just a click away. A building study on the space needs of the
library completed in 2000 recommended building a new library.
In June 2000 the Park District Board, Library Board and City Council signed a land exchange agreement giving the library land in the north end of Wilder Park on which to construct a new building. In April 2001 Elmhurst residents approved an $18.7 million bond issue to build a new 80,000 square foot library. The new building, which opened October 4, 2003, offers more space for books, more public computers, meeting rooms, quiet and group study rooms, a computer training lab, wireless Internet access and more. Click here to see the current library's layout.