Nine-year-old Angel Fernandez of DeKalb loves attending summer reading programs at the DeKalb Public Library with his mom, Sylvia, and sister, Emily, 7. Lately, however, he has noticed that there is little room for movement and very little space for programs.
"I like to see and touch the animals that are brought to the library," Angel said. "But it's always so cramped. We need more space for projects, like arts and crafts. It would be nice to have more room for that."
Xuyen Do of DeKalb, who often visits the library for programs and to borrow materials, has also noticed that space is tight.
"You often feel cramped when more than one program is going on," Do said. "We need more space. There needs to be upgrades to the technology and more programs offered for the community."
Even as technology changes the way people read books, public libraries are finding their services very much in demand. Both the DeKalb and Genoa public libraries broke ground this month on major expansions to manage their growth and meet patrons' changing needs.
"Our patron base continues to grow, as well as our programs and the number of materials," Genoa Public Library Director Jen Barton said.
In DeKalb, where about 1,000 patrons a day walk through the doors, the number of cardholders has increased by 31 percent over the last five years, director Dee Coover said.
"Libraries are booming," Coover said. "Public libraries are in demand. ...We need more space for all kinds of things, which is why we are expanding. We are building the library for the future. Who knows what the future will bring?"
DeKalb Public Library will more than triple in size
The DeKalb Public Library was established in 1893 in one room inside city hall. Jacob Haish, a local barbed wire baron, bequeathed funds for the Haish Memorial Library, which was built in 1930. The building, which was built in the art deco style, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
When the library was built, DeKalb had 8,000 residents. In the decades since, the city has grown by more than 500 percent to 44,000 residents – but the library building has remained essentially the same.
"We need to have the room to do all that people expect from a library," Coover said. "More room frees us up to do so much more. The limited space confines us."
The expansion to the DeKalb Public Library will expand the 19,500-square-foot building to 67,000 square feet, more than tripling its size. The building will be fully handicapped-accessible with elevators and ramps, three public meeting rooms, a craft and story room, playroom, and teaching area for children, and separate rooms for youth, teens, and adults.
"The teen-only room will be a safe place for teens to meet, socialize, and ask questions in a non-intimidating area," library communications manager Edith Craig said. "Librarians will be able to help them with research, homework and projects. There will be games, Wi-Fi, and more computers as well."
The library's expansion is projected to cost $25.3 million. The state of Illinois provided $11.6 million, and more than $10 million will come from a combination of city funds and library reserves. Three local banks lent the remaining $3 million, which the library is fundraising to repay.
Construction began July 28. The expansion is estimated to be completed by December 2015, and renovations to the original building will tentatively be completed by June 2016.
Genoa Public Library expansion made possible by generous bequest
The Genoa Public Library is building a new library in the vacant lot next to its current location. The two buildings will be connected by a walkway, almost doubling the library's total space from 3,400 to 6,000 square feet.
Barton said the new layout will allow for something the present library doesn't have – separate space for adult and children's collections.
"Right now, the adult and children's materials are muddled together because there's not much space," Barton said. "The new building will provide breathing space for the collections. Separating it out will hopefully allow patrons to know what we have and allow them to be able to find it more readily."
The new building will also have more staff space, newer and faster computers, dedicated areas for adults and children, and a public meeting room that will be used for library programs such as story times.
"One of the biggest perks is that the new building will offer more casual seating," Barton said. "Patrons will be able to read, peruse a magazine, use their laptop or tablet with Wi-Fi, and meet and have a conversation with others. We will have more space to allow all that."
Most of the funding for the $2.3 million building project came in the form of a $1.7 million endowment left to the library by Genoa resident Robert Weiss, who died in 2009. The reason for Weiss' generosity toward the library is not clear; Barton has said there is no indication he was ever a patron.
The remaining funds came from library reserves and fundraising.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the library's new building was July 25, and construction is scheduled to begin this week. The building is estimated to be completed early in 2015.