HINCKLEY – As hard as it may be to imagine today, the Hinckley Public Library was once supported by bake sales – for half a century, in fact. Fully tax-supported today, that isn’t the only interesting story contained in the brown brick building at 100 N. Maple St.
When Shirley Wilhelmsen was hired as library director in 1989, the community building that has housed the library since the Roaring 20s was undergoing a big renovation. At that time, the library was located in an upstairs front room with all the books in another, separate room.
“You had to go down half a flight and then up to get into the community room,” she recalled with a laugh. “I don’t know if that’s a wise thing to take a job where all the books were somewhere else.”
When everything was finally settled, Wilhelmsen said the shelving for some of the children’s books were higher than the children could reach. “An author with the letter A was at the top of the shelf,” she said. “Mom and dad could reach it.”
All those issues have long since been addressed at the library, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this month.
“This is an exciting time for the library and the community,” current director Rylie Carter said. “One hundred years of dedication culminates in an expanded space and improved services.”
According to the “History of Hinckley” by Dorothy Phillips, Squaw Grove Township Library was founded on April 12, 1913 by the Hinckley Women’s Club. It was originally housed in the Leifheit building, which is now the home of South Moon Barbeque.
On Thursday, April 18, that restaurant is donating 10 percent of total sales to help purchase a community table for the library. Two other celebratory events this week, which coincides with National Library Week, are free one-on-one computer instruction (register at the front desk) and a presentation on lasagna gardening by Tom Riley at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17.
Books and shelves in the first library were donated by individuals and groups including the old Baptist church, which had just disbanded. In 1925, the library settled into its present home in the then newly-constructed community building, which was donated by the family of Hiram Walker, an early pioneer. His daughter, Edna Theilens, stipulated that the library be located in an upstairs room of the building, free of charge.
In order to buy books and magazines, Carter said the volunteer librarians held two bake sales a year and collected donations from the women’s club and others. If anyone did not want to contribute to the bake sale they could pay 50 cents per year for a library card.
Apparently, one of the biggest draws at those sales, Wilhelmsen said, was baked beans. “I don’t think about beans at a bake sale,” she said.
After failing twice, a referendum was passed in 1963, allowing the board to hire the first librarian, Lillian Hartman, at $1.25 an hour. With the help of Miss Lilli Darling, she catalogued the library’s collection using the Dewey Decimal System.
Carter said the library moved to the basement of the community building in 1995, when the building was renovated to become handicapped accessible.
The most recent addition includes a children’s annex, which Carter said is replacing an old meeting room just south of the existing library. It was completed just in time for this week’s celebration. Carter said the addition will increase the total square footage by 30 percent, which is necessary to hold 17,953 books, 832 DVDs and 540 audio books for the library’s 1,217 cardholders, who check out an average of 1,650 items each month.
“I think libraries always deal with a lack of space and utilize all they have,” said Wilhelmsen. She was director for 21 years, the longest of the library’s seven directors.
Carter – who was born one year after Lynne Stein, the longest serving staff member, started at the library 25 years ago – said computers will be moved into a corner of the building once occupied by children’s books.
“The library was already a hub of activity in the small community; now we have space for leisure reading, meetings and computer instruction,” she said.
“It’s nice to have all the children in one room,” youth librarian Kate Ross said. Since the library offers a variety of children’s activities, she said it’s convenient not to have to share a room upstairs.
“I love it,” Amber Murphy, a Hinckley mother of three, said of the new room. “I think it’s an excellent idea and an excellent use of space.”
Murphy said she takes her three children to the library “all the time.” Sometimes she and her daughters will read while her 7-year-old son Michael attends judo class upstairs.
While her other children were in the annex watching a movie one day last week, FloraMelinda Heredia was helping her 7-month-old daughter Myritza put a picture puzzle together. “They have activities for the kids,” she said. “It’s nice on a rainy day not to be bored at home.”
Lilly Murphy may have the best reason of all for going to the library. “They have a lot of great books,” the 7-year-old said.