The public library is a uniquely American invention. While Europeans had subscription libraries for 100 years before the United States was born, it was the Americans who, in 1854, created the radically new concept of a public library open to all community citizens. Since then, public libraries have become one of the most ever-present of all American institutions, more widespread even than McDonald's or Starbucks.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the construction of our beautiful library building and part of our celebration of this anniversary included a look back at the rich history of library service in our community. West Chicago’s library history dates back to the late 1800s. Opening first as a reading room on the top floor of the now defunct Bolles Opera House, it wasn’t until 1954 that the West Chicago Public Library enjoyed a home of its own. Since then, the library has played a vital role in the community, with a prime directive to protect the public’s access to information.
When we think of libraries, we tend to think of books, and rightly so. Public libraries are by far our largest bookstores. Indeed, for every two books sold in America, one book is borrowed from a public library. But libraries are much more than bookstores, or even banks of computers. They are, as they have been since their inception, a place where individuals gather to explore, interact and imagine. Public library services focus on building community face-to-face, inspiring and educating patrons about topics like art, literature and music, and helping patrons engage in civil discourse. They also provide a sanctuary for those seeking peace and quiet, a refuge from loneliness, a place full of hustle and bustle, where you can attend a concert, hear a lecture or read a magazine free of charge.
Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie said, “There is no such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”
The public library stands as an enduring monument to the values of cooperation and sharing. As our library looks to its future, it will hold tight to the values that make it a cherished community center that plays a vital role in the lives of its patrons.
Shelley Campbell is the public relations specialist for the West Chicago Public Library District