In 1881, a Harper Bros. Publishing Co salesman sold 100 books to twenty residents of a little 500-inhabitant village called Danby. This collection became the first subscription library in Glen Ellyn.
In 1890, the Library Association of Prospect Park was organized and was active in the community for four years and dissolved. They placed the 100 books in a bookcase and stored them in a resident’s basement for thirteen years.
In 1907, ten women of a soaring 1,500 community met to begin the Glen Ellyn Library Association. Five of the women were members of the Glen Ellyn Study Club, which later became the Glen Ellyn Woman’s Club. The members of this group proposed a series of afternoon teas to raise money for the establishment of a subscription library. Admission to the tea was 10 cents. The first tea raised $27.00. With it, the women secured a room on the second floor of Village Hall and proceeded to redecorate it for its new use as the library’s reading room. Mrs. Charles B. Hopper and Mrs. C.W. Somerville even laid the new linoleum floor themselves. During the sweltering summer days, Librarian Georgia Allen placed a large block of ice by a window so the summer breeze would chill the air. The ladies of the Glen Ellyn Library Association met with Bessie Baldwin who was the Wheaton Library’s librarian. She instructed the committee on the preparation of books for circulation. In May 1907, the library opened to the subscribers. Its collection included those original 100 books plus 40 new books purchased with the proceeds of the on-going afternoon teas and donated volumes. July 23, 1907, the Glen Ellyn Library Association was legally registered with the Secretary of State.
In November 1907, the library’s collection increased to 983 volumes and it had to move from Village Hall and relocated to two rooms above the Boyd Bros. Hardware Store on southwest Main Street. From 1908 to 1911, the main source of funds to support the library was a yearly carnival held at Lake Ellyn with a three man German band (Mr. Moulton, Mr. Ford and Mr. Miller). The first carnival raised $355.
In 1911, the library purchased the Nickerson house of Pennsylvania Avenue just east of the downtown Post Office. Each day after school let out, students, Clarence Kendall and Owen Dibble moved the entire collection of 1,750 books to its new location using their wagons. Contact was made with Andrew Carnegie about the construction of a library in Glen Ellyn. Mr. Carnegie’s grant of $10,000 came with two conditions: The building site must be provided free and clear and the village must assume the maintenance of the facility.
In April 1912, a two mill levy was passed for the operation of the library and the first board of trustees of the library was elected: Mrs. Charles B. Hopper, President, Mrs. C.W. Smith, Miss Kate Treat, James Furman, E.W. Wagner and Arthur Gamon.
The Library Association secured the land at the corner of Park and Crescent from the William Grimshaw family. George Awsumb was chosen as architect and construction begun quickly on the new building. On September 14, 1914, the new library building, which could accommodate 5,000 books, opened to the public.
In 1922, the Friends of the Library was organized at the suggestion of Audrie Alspaugh Chase. Growth of the collection was slow during the years of the first world war. But by 1925 the library owned 6,500 and needed more shelf space. The situation was solved by the construction of an addition costing $9,000. The money was raised almost entirely from gifts. During the late 1950′s, the population climbed to 15,500 and the collection passed the 25,000 mark. Borrowers were implored to carry home armful of books to relieve the storage crises. In April 1961, a 20-year bond referendum for $184,000 was approved by the populace and a second addition was added to the front of the original Carnegie building bringing the total shelf capacity to 50,000 volumes. The main floor was converted into the Jean Leslie Stephens Reference Room through an unrestricted gift of a local resident as a living memorial to his wife. Nineteen years later in 1980, a third additional was added. This construction wrapped around the back of the Carnegie building. Its cost, $900,000.
December 16, 1995, a new library facility opened to the public at its new location at the corner of Duane and Prospect. Its architects were Cordogan, Clark & Associates, Inc. of Chicago, and general contractor being E.W. Corrigan Construction Co. of Oak Brook. The new parking lot holds 101 spaces which is three times the space of the old location; the floor space is 52,000 sq. ft. which is double the size of the old building. The building is in the Arts & Craft/ English Tudor style complete with an octagonal turret at its entrance and an arched walkway on the south side of the building.
The building provides generous windows for natural lighting and public views of the activities within. The solid load-bearing masonry construction serves to buffer the public areas from the nearby railroad. The shelving was designed to hold 175,000 volumes and fiber optic cabling was installed to take advantage of future developments in data transmission.
The first floor houses the public meeting room, which is off the base of the octagonal vestibule. Circulation Services has a separate fee collection area and a separate registration desk in the lobby. A special feature of this department is the convenient 24-hour book return box, which empties into a large room that houses a conveyor machine. Youth Services occupies the remainder of the first floor. Its picture book area brings in the architectural design of the building with its octagonal play area. The youth reference desk is octagonal, as is the window in the youth program room. Other unique features of the youth department are the program staging area off the program room, the child-sized restroom, the display cases and the computer room. The second floor is unique with its 26-ft high vaulted ceiling. It houses all of the Adult Services collection, Young Adult collection and the quiet reading room which is located in the octagonal portion of the building.
The central information desk for the entire second floor is octagonal in design. Accommodations were made for The Glen Ellyn Historical Society letting a separate room for their office space. The third floor houses the administration departments, a Computer Learning Center and the Boardroom, which is located in the octagonal tower.
Light fixtures throughout the building are parabolic fluorescent which are excellent for reading computer screens. A gas generator is installed to keep the library open for a short period in case there is a power failure. Landscaping in the parkway, at the eastside of the building and the center island in the parking lot consist of perennials, flowering trees and bushes. St. Petronille’s grade school with donations from Lucent Technology planted the Illinois prairie plants along side the prairie path at the north end of the parking lot. With the help of resident donations of hostas, ferns, lilies, and other perennials, the entire north side of the property is landscaped.
The total construction cost of $6,900,000 was funded by a $250,000 Live and Learn State grant, special gifts of $104,000, $5,000,000 in Bonds, $750,000 from the sale of the old facility, and $796,000 in other monies. In 1998, the Glen Ellyn Library Foundation was registered with the Secretary of State. The Foundation will create endowments and receive major gifts that will benefit the library for future projects such as technology advances. And all this came to be because of an idea from the ten women who in 1907 retrieved the 100 books from basement storage.