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As Wood Dale library marks 50 years, bigger changes lie ahead

As part of the library's 50th anniversary celebration, best-selling author Richard Paul Evans (left) tells anecdotes and signs books at the Wood Dale Public Library on May 15.
As part of the library's 50th anniversary celebration, best-selling author Richard Paul Evans (left) tells anecdotes and signs books at the Wood Dale Public Library on May 15.

WOOD DALE — Half a century ago, things were simpler for Wood Dale’s library.

In 1963, during its first year as a full-fledged public library district, the Wood Dale Public Library consisted of a couple of rooms in a tiny building along Irving Park Road.

The building, constructed a few years before entirely from volunteer labor – even the $5,600 for construction supplies came from a community drive – mostly was staffed by volunteers as well.

Since then, almost everything about the library has changed: Location, size and scope.

“As far as electronics, we had a copy machine and a fax machine, and that was it,” Library Board President Barbara Dunn said, recalling her first year on the board in 1976. “When I started half our librarians were volunteers, and there was only a couple days of the week that it was open.”

But as the Wood Dale Public Library celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, librarians and supporters are focused on the one aspect that has stayed constant through the years.

“The library is not just about books,” Library Director Yvonne Bergendorf said. “It’s about creating a
welcoming center for the community, where people of all ages can experience the love of reading and learning in a variety of forms.”

With the effort of a few dedicated residents, the library first opened up in 1958 in a room of the old Highland Public School at the corner of Wood Dale Road and Foster Avenue. The Irving Park Road building, built and staffed by volunteers, opened a few years later.

Community-wide support came through again in 1962, when a successful voter referendum led to the creation of the Wood Dale Public Library District.

When the library moved to its current location at 520 N. Wood Dale Road in the early 1980s – once again, with the support of a referendum – the single-story ranch-style building nestled into the trees was meant to mimic the feeling of the rest of Wood Dale, Dunn said.

“We wanted it to be comfortable and just fit right into our area,” she added.

Yet as the library district marks its golden jubilee, the emphasis on community service is as important as ever, Bergendorf said. With electronic books and new media, it’s impossible to say what the library will look like in 50 years.

For now, books are still the focus of the library. According to a nationwide survey from the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of library patrons in the past year went there to browse the bookshelves.

But a look at the younger generation suggests that could change. Nearly half of younger Americans – those under 30 – reported reading long-form content on an electronic reader, while 25 percent read an e-book in the previous year, according to a Pew Research study published last year.

The phenomenon is seen at the Wood Dale library as well. In April, juveniles checked out some 2,000 items through the library’s electronic borrowing program. By comparison, that month the library also circulated 17,000 traditional items.

For many, the shifting focus from books can be daunting. While Dunn said she and the library welcome the evolution of information, she remembers what first drew her into the library as a young child.

“The first time I walked into the library, I thought that was most awesome thing that you could grab a book off the shelves and read,” Dunn said.

Even as technology becomes more ubiquitous, the mission and the importance of the library will remain.

“The library, we say it houses books, but it means so much more to people,” Bergendorf said. “I still see the library in 50 years as a place where people come to gather.”

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