In the past few years there has been a great deal of conversation about the present and future of public libraries — especially, it seems to me, in the U.K. Here’s an interesting recent article, full of the usual, and as far as I can tell completely warranted, anxieties. In the midst of all this concern, though, there are a few success stories, and one of them is in my own town, Wheaton, Illinois. About 55,000 people live in Wheaton, but we are blessed to have a public library that would be unusually fine even in a much larger town. Just a couple of years ago an addition to the library was built and the whole of the building redesigned. The exterior now looks like this:
That’s the entrance that faces Adams Park, and if you turn around here’s what you see:
(I took these pictures last October — things aren't quite so lovely here at the fag end of winter, but hey, I’m a community booster.) Before the expansion there had been a little-used street separating the library from the park, but that was eliminated, and the resulting landscaping leads you naturally from the library to the park and back again. Some reading rooms in the library that overlook the park are especially fine, but I couldn't find a time to take pictures when the rooms weren’t in use, and I didn't want to disturb the readers. Maybe later.
The Wheaton library was ahead of its time in amassing large collections of CDs and videos to lend, and it seems clear that the traffic those items have drawn has simply increased the circulation of books as well. It’s common to see people at the front desk checking out multiple media; the library has become a kind of one-stop shop for many residents looking for entertainment and instruction. Wheaton has an unusually high population of readers, and it’s a relatively well-off community as well, but I think there are lessons here for other towns and libraries. In any case, it’s really nice to see a library become so central to the social life of a town.