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West Chicago

West Chicago library celebrates past with oral history project

WEST CHICAGO – Growing up in West Chicago, Mayor Ruben Pineda remembers taking field trips to the former library on Washington Street with his Turner Elementary School classmates.

Field trips were always exciting for the students, and the library played a large role in that.

“The library was a big deal,” Pineda said.

The West Chicago Public Library District, which has been located at 118 W. Washington St. for the past 20 years, is celebrating the anniversary of its newest building by gathering stories such as Pineda’s as part of an oral history project of the library’s past.

The grand opening of the building took place Oct. 9, 1993. Administrative Librarian Melody E. Coleman knew she wanted to remember the opening through a history display that would be shared at an open house in December and brought in other leading community members to help.

“Melody knew that this was a project bigger than us,” said Shelley Campbell, the library’s public relations specialist.

But instead of only including those who formed the project committee, the group decided to reach out to others in West Chicago to bring history to life through their own words, expanding the display idea into an oral project.

The first West Chicago library was located in Bolles Opera House in 1895, but it only lasted about two years. Many West Chicagoans consider the library at old City Hall started in 1929 by the Woman’s Club to be the city’s first library, said Cheryl Waterman, history committee member and City Museum researcher.

At that time, the library consisted of a club volunteer who would sit at the top of the building’s stairs and lend books to residents, Waterman said.

After 1935, the library was located in two stores in town, finally getting a building of its own in 1954 at 332 E. Washington St.

This building was supported by the community with a referendum, as was its successor at 118 W. Washington St.

“Reading and books and access was so important to so many members of the community,” Campbell said.

The history committee, which was formed this past summer, consists of Campbell, Coleman and Waterman, as well as community members Crystal Kwasman and Pam Kramer, who serves as committee chair.

Kwasman is the official interviewer for the project, and she has completed seven interviews so far that are available as part of a preview on the library’s website. By December, the committee hopes to have 10 to 12 interviews.

A few of the interviewees have shared stories as far back as when the library was housed at old City Hall, Kwasman said.

Through working on the project, committee members learned how the library has played an important role in residents’ lives, from serving as a place to study for students to a destination where families could spend time together.

“They remember not just the memories of books and reading and homework projects, but they remember the library as a community gathering place, as a place for their families to go beyond books and reading,” Campbell said.

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