“The Joliet Public Library” by S.M. O’Connor

Founded in 1875, the Joliet Public Library is one of the oldest public libraries in Illinois. It is a municipal library rather than a district library and operates two libraries in Joliet, which is a satellite city of Chicago on the Des Plaines River: the Main Library at 150 North Ottawa Street in Joliet and the Black Road Branch Library at 3395 Black Road in Joliet.  [Note the Joliet Public Library has begun to refer to the Main Library in the Joliet City Center the “Ottawa Street Branch” as if it had erected some other central library somewhere else.]  Like the Gilbert M. Simmons Memorial Library in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which was dedicated in 1900, the Joliet Public Library building (1903), was designed by Daniel Hudson Burnham, Senior (1846-1912), who had been Director of Works for Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893), and would later co-author the Plan of Chicago (1909).   Joliet has one of the oldest public libraries in the state.  The Joliet Public Library started in 1876 with a collection of 750 volumes donated by the Historical Society of Will County and the Joliet Literary & Musical Society. It included seventy-six volumes of history, 115 volumes of fiction, and ninety-six volumes of biography, as well as a careful selection of the classics in English, and books on arts, sciences, and religion. Charlotte Akin was the first librarian. A prominent feature on the Main Library’s west lawn is a bronze statue of the French explorer Louis Jolliet (1645-1700) created by Norwegian-American sculptor Sigvald Asbjørnsen (1867-1954). The statue has been prominent in almost every picture of the Joliet Public Library building since 1904.  Asbjørnsen lived and worked in Chicago starting with his decorative work for the World’s Columbian Exposition.  One can also see his handiwork in this region in the statue of the Viking explorer Leif Ericson in Chicago’s Humboldt Park.  In the past, this building not only housed the J.P.L., but also, over a period of decades, the City of Joliet’s Municipal Offices, the Joliet School Board, and the Burr Oak Library System. On April 19, 1989, the J.P.L. was firebombed, which resulted in the destruction of the children’s non-fiction section, the closure of the children’s section for several months, and the closure of the entire library for nine days.  In 1991, a 49,000 square-foot addition to the Main Library more than doubled its size.  The architects designed the façade of the addition to blend with Burnham’s design for the original building.  The building now takes up half a city block on Clinton Street between Ottawa Street/Route 53 to the west and Chicago Street to the east.

As I have mentioned before, the Illinois state legislature was embarrassed into passing a law to authorize the establishment of tax-supported libraries after the British peoples donated a huge number of books to stock the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.) after the Great Fire of 1871, though the C.P.L. had not existed as such before the Great Fire.  With this authority, on September 1, 1875 the Joliet City Council passed an ordinance to establish the Joliet Public Library (J.P.L.).

On March 7, 1876, the J.P.L. opened with a 750-volume collection in the Cagwin Building, located at 102 W. Jefferson.  The first librarian, Miss Charlotte Akin, worked at the J.P.L. for about three years.  In 1879, the J.P.L. moved to the Akin Block, which was owned by Miss Akin’s father, and located on Jefferson Street, between Chicago Street and Ottawa Street.  Nineteen years later, in 1898, the J.P.L. moved to the Gorman Building on Van Buren Street, where it remained until it moved into the combined city hall and library building in 1903.  The general public likely learnt about plans for the new building when the Joliet Daily Republican reported on them in the issue published August 9, 1898.  The Joliet Public Library Board had almost $50, 000 available for this project.

A number of sites were considered before the Library Board settled on the quarter-block site at the northeast corner of Clinton Street and Ottawa Street.  On January 26, 1899, the Library Board authorized its purchase.  On May 24, 1902, the Library Board selected the architectural firm of D. H.  Burnham & Company to design the new library building, a move that upset local architects, as noted by the Daily Republican on June 5, 1902.  The industrialist John Lambert, a member of the Library Board donated $42,000 to the building fund.  On September 3, 1902, the Joliet Daily Republican reported that the leaders of the polis had realized it would not be possible to build a combined city hall and library building with the funds available.

Consequently, the Joliet City Council had agreed to relinquish its claims to the site where the library building was to be erected if the Library Board would pay it the sum of $25,000.  Two other members of the Library Board had already spoken informally with Lambert about deducting this sum from the money he had donated.  On October 7, 1902 the Library Board awarded construction contracts.  As Information Services Librarian Jack Tegel noted in the official history of the J.P.L.’s Main Library Building, one of those subcontractors was carpenter John G. Wilhelmi, who was awarded a contract worth $20,000, and whose great-granddaughter, Mary Anne Hartnett, later became a part-time librarian at the J.P.L. That same day, the Library Board released a drawing of the proposed library building later incorporated into the J.P.L.’s anniversary logo. The Daily Republican noted at the time the building was “a combination of Gothic and English Tudor architecture.”

On December 14, 1903, the new library building opened to the public.  According to the Daily Republican, Mrs. George A. Buck was the first person to borrow books in the new building.  On January 7, 1904, the Joliet Daily Republican reported that the Grand Army of the Republic had petitioned the Library Board to set aside a room in the library for G.A.R. meetings.  [Recall, that, as I have chronicled, the Chicago Public Library building (now the Chicago Cultural Center) was built as a dual-use structure as it was also the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall, and the Aurora Public Library (A.P.L.) enjoyed the opposite relationship with the G.A.R., as for twenty-three years the A.P.L. was housed in the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall at 23 East Downer Place on Stolp Island.]  The newspaper related the Library Board rejected the G.A.R.’s petition because “they are expressly forbidden by the statutes to set aside a room for such purposes.” Will Barber, clerk of the Library Board said, “we have received similar petitions from a number of societies and if one should be given a home in the building, the others would feel that they had the same right.”  However, on February 12, 1904 the Joliet Daily Republican reported that “patriotism prevails at the new library building today, and the birthday of Lincoln was fittingly observed by raising a new and handsome flag over the building.”

On August 11, 1904, the Joliet Daily Republican reported that the now-familiar Hiawatha-themed tiles had been installed around the fireplace in the Children’s Room.[1]  [What was then the Children’s Room is now Meeting Room A.]  Librarian Kate Henderson believed “no room for children is quite as it should be without an open fire.  And there is nothing which so makes or mars the beauty of a room as the fireplace.”


36995156_10157131104242437_8629950218181279744_nFigure 1 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: The Joliet Public Library’s Main Library (1903) was designed by Daniel Hudson Burnham, Sr. (1846-1912), who had been Director of Works at Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893) and later co-authored the Plan of Chicago (1909). The front lawn features a bronze sculpture of the city’s eponym, French explorer Louis Jolliet (1645-1700), by Norwegian-American sculptor Sigvald Asbjørnsen (1867-1954).

37011785_10157131104032437_5904662480956686336_nFigure 2 Credit: S.M. O’Connor Caption: In the past, this building has also housed the City of Joliet’s Municipal Offices, the Joliet School Board, and the Burr Oak Library System. In 1991, a 49,000-square-foot addition to the Main Library more than doubled its size. The architects designed the addition’s facade to blend in with Burnham’s original structure. Many American libraries look like temples, but this one looks like it could have been built by the Catholic Church as a chancery or college building. It would easily fit in on a college campus.

On April 28, 1904, the Joliet Daily Republican reported that Sigrud Asbjornsen’s statue of Louis Joliet had arrived, but it lay on the ground because someone had neglected to include the rivet to attach the statue to the pedestal.  The rivet was expected to arrive two days later.

The earliest record of the Joliet Board of School Inspectors having their headquarters in the Joliet Public Library Building may be the 1905-1906 Joliet City Directory.  The School Board would remain there until October of 1934.

In October of 1911, the J.P.L. hosted the annual conference of the Illinois Library Association (I.L.A.).  The Joliet Evening Herald reported that the conference was attended by seventy-five delegates, a much larger number than had been expected.

In June of 1918, the J.P.L. participated in Baby Week, a public health program in which parents were asked to bring in children under age six to be weighed and measured.   According to the Maternal & Child Health Bureau, Health Resources & Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, when he announced the Baby Week campaign, President Woodrow Wilson had said, “Next to the duty of doing everything possible for the soldiers at the front, there could be, it seems to me, no more patriotic duty than that of protecting the children who constitute one-third of our population.”  Baby Week had started in 1917, and 1918 was declared Children’s Year.  This program embodied both Progressive notions about public healthcare and answered wartime concerns about future national defense (since the baby boys of 1917-1918 could have been, and ultimately were, called upon to fight a second great world war). It set the stage for the Sheppard-Towner Maternity and Infancy Protection Act (1921), which provided federally-funded instruction on healthcare for women and children and 50/50 matching grants to states that built maternal healthcare clinics.  In 1929, Congress allowed funding for the program to lapse, because far too often we elect shortsighted morons who are, to put it mildly, unconcerned with the public good.

In March of 1919, the Joliet Evening Herald News carried a report on the operation of the J.P.L. between 1908 and 1918, written by Librarian Rena Barickman.  She wrote “the redecoration of the entire building, 654 feet of book shelving added, a fine stereopticon with a fireproof room built for its operation are a part of many improvements.”   A stereopticon projects images of photographs onto glass.  In honor of the unknown dead soldiers of World War I, on Armistice Day in 1921 a tree was planted on the grounds of the library.

In 1921, the J.P.L. had a staff of ten people.[2]  The Librarian had an annual salary of $2,500 and the Assistants collectively made $8,067.25. [3]  The Janitor’s annual salary was $2,795.27. [4]  The J.P.L. spent $2,380.45 on books, $339.59 as magazines, and $1,469.92 on book-binding.[5]  It served a population of 38,442 people and circulated 221,167 items.[6]

In the two-year-long period from the start of 1922 to the end of 1923, the J.P.L. received $15,000 in the form of two bequests.  One was a $10,000 bequest from the aforementioned Col. John Lambert, who had been President of the Library Board, and the other was a $5,000 bequest from Charlotte Aikin.[7]  In 1923, the J.P.L. served a population of 38,442 people, of whom 15,000 were borrowers, and added 2,512 volumes.[8]  Mrs. Rena M. Barickman was the Librarian.[9]  She has a two-week-long vacation.[10]  The J.P.L. subscribed to 126 periodicals, had 52,178 volumes, circulated 217,731 items, had a total income of $28,059.88, and had total expenses of $21,913.09.[11]

By 1925, the Joliet Public Library had a staff of nine.[12]   The Librarian’s annual salary was $2,679.96.[13]  Collectively, the Assistants made $10,135.70.[14]  The janitor’s annual salary was $3,489.80.[15]  The J.P.L. spent $1,857.98 on the acquisition of books, $288.66 on magazines, and $855.49 on binding.[16]  The J.P.L. served a population of 40,578 people, of whom 12,000 were borrowers, added 2,327 volumes, had a collection of 54,570 volumes, subscribed to 146 periodicals, circulated 240,404 items, had a total income of $43,343.00, and had total expenditures of $21,788.91.[17]

In October, 1927, the J.P.L. hosted the I.L.A. Annual Conference. The Joliet Evening Herald News noted 175 librarians made reservations to attend.  In 1927, the Joliet Public Library spent $2,679.96 on the annual salary of the Librarian, $10,728.91 on the salaries of the Assistants, $3,590.33 on the salary of the Janitor, $2,717.92 on books, $304.87 on periodicals, and $1,079.39 on binding.[18]  The J.P.L. served a population of 41,000, of whom 9,999 were borrowers.[19] It had added 3,541 volumes.[20]  The collection consisted of 58,802 volumes.[21]  The J.P.L. circulated 287,426 items, had a total income of $37,433.49, and had total expenditures of $29,818.37.[22]

On May 24, 1929, the Joliet Evening Herald News reported a turnstile had been installed in the J.P.L. Building. The Library Board had a twofold purpose in having a turnstile installed: to allow a staffer to inspect all books as patrons left the facility to insure those books had been checked-out, and “to shut off the library after 9 o’clock in the evening when meetings are being held on the second floor of the library.”  By 1929, the Joliet Public Library had a staff of eleven.[23]  The J.P.L. served a population of 55,000, of whom 11,000 borrowers, and added 3,513 volumes.[24]   The collection consisted of 63,089 volumes.[25]  The J.P.L. circulated 315,075 items. [26]  The total income was $33,373.26 and the total expenditures were $27,215.11.[27]    The Joliet Public Library spent $2,799.96 on the annual salary of the Librarian, $11,901.46 on the salaries of Assistants, $3,593.67 on the salary of the Janitor, $3,789.52 on books, $324.73 on periodicals, $1,624.64 on binding, and $820.30 on heat.[28]

In 1932, Mrs. Rena M. Barickman was the Librarian.[29]  The population the Joliet Public Library served had fallen to 42,993, of whom 12,500 borrowers, which meant 29.07% of the population was registered.[30]  The collection was comprised of 65,851 volumes (49,020 volumes for adults, 16,831 volumes for juveniles).[31]  The income of the J.P.L. was $35,236.33, the income per capita was $.82, the tax income was $19,600, the tax income per capita was $.46, and expenditures were $27,315.01.[32]

During the 1920s, the number of books in the collection continued to increase. By the end of 1929, the J.P.L. had 63,089 books.  By contrast, because of the Great Depression, the J.P.L. added less than 1,000 books to its collection between 1930 and ’39.  With little money available to purchase books, the J.P.L. was forced to ask patrons to donate books.

In November of 1932, the Chicago Herald Examiner reported that only one-sixth of the J.P.L.’s expected income had been received and Head Librarian Rena Barickman expressed fear that the J.P.L. would be closed.  Her worst fear was not realized, but, to save money, the J.P.L. was forced to shorten its hours of operation multiple times.

On September 20, 1934, the Joliet Herald News reported the School Board had started to move its offices from the J.P.L. Building to the former Logan School on South Ottawa Street.  By contrast, two years later, the City of Joliet moved its Municipal Offices into the Joliet Public Library.  On January 26, 1936, the Joliet Sunday Herald News reported that “the new city hall in the public library building will open for business tomorrow morning.”  The paper also noted that “use of the new quarters will result in an annual rental saving of approximately $6,000.”  A full-page advertisement in the paper that announced the City of Joliet had moved its administrative offices into the J.P.L. Building noted that “space has been provided in the basement of the building with a meeting place for various women’s clubs.”  The Joliet Public Library Building would continue to house the offices for the City of Joliet on the second floor until February of 1967.

In the 1940s, the collection of the Joliet Public Library grew steadily.  By the end of ‘48, the collection had grown to more than 80,000 volumes.  In 1947, the J.P.L. began to have its newspaper collection microfilmed.

A pamphlet prepared for the 75th anniversary of the J.P.L. in 1951 noted that “time and the tendency of wood pulp paper to deteriorate rapidly eventually destroys the newspaper files. The microfilm process will preserve photographic facsimiles of the papers indefinitely. ”   In 1958, the J.P.L. Building’s basement underwent extensive renovation.  Cataloging was consolidated in a single department in an office in the basement.  [Back then cataloging was an operation that involved checking (and possibly modifying) catalog cards, and placing Dewey Decimal numbers on the books.]  Previously, each J.P.L. department had cataloged its own books.

By the 1960s, the administrative offices of the City of Joliet had become cramped on the second floor of the J.P.L. Building and had no room to grow.  Early in the existence of many a suburban public library, it has been housed in a village hall.  Joliet is the only place I know of where it was the reverse and the municipal government was housed in the public library building.   In early 1967, the new city hall was completed at 150 West Jefferson.   On February 15, 1967, the Joliet Herald News reported that city offices located in the Joliet Public Library Building had begun to move into the new Joliet Municipal Building with the expectation that all city offices would be relocated to the Municipal Building by the Ides of March.

That same year, the J.P.L. Building began to house the headquarters of the newly-established Burr Oak Library System (B.O.L.S.). This was one of the original eighteen Illinois Regional Library Systems.  The Illinois Library System Act was passed as a result of a plan written by Robert H. Rohlf, Director of the Dakota-Scott Regional Library System in Minnesota.  In 1963, he took a leave of absence to research the state of libraries in Illinois. His paper was published in 1963 Aurora, Illinois by the I.L.A. under the title A Plan for the Public Library Development in Illinois.  It later became known as the “Illinois System Plan.”  Rohlf suggested libraries outside Chicago could benefit from consolidated or cooperative reference services.  He noted there was little cooperation between libraries, and many librarians and library boards thought the Illinois State Library (I.S.L.) was remiss in not producing a statewide plan for library development.  In 1965, the Illinois state legislature passed a law “to encourage cooperation among all types of libraries in promoting the sharing of library resources.” The Burr Oak Library System supported libraries located in Will County, Kankakee County, Grundy County, and Kendall County, plus the Village of Lemont in far western Cook County.

In honor of Library Week, on April 12, 1970, the Joliet Herald News relayed remarks from Library Director Robert K. Pohl.  He noted that the J.P.L. had 95,000 books, as well as phonograph records, films, talking books for the blind, large-print books, and framed art prints.

In November of 1970, the Joliet Public Library Board received the report of consultant Robert R. McClarren.  He had been hired to study the J.P.L. Building to determine if it was meeting the needs of library users and staff.   According to the November 18, 1970 edition of the Joliet Herald News, McClarren recommended that the Library Board construct a new 50,000-square-foot building on a site as close to the old library building as possible.  The paper noted that according to the standards then current, the J.P.L. needed between 36,000 and 43,200 square feet of space, yet it had only 22,500 square feet of space available for public use. McClarren found other problems, including insufficient seating, “leaking and flooding basement in periods of heavy precipitation, old fenestration, recurring roofing problems and uneven climate control in both summer and winter.”  In the Herald News, Library Director Robert Pohl stated the Library Board “merely accepted the report as of now.  It is entirely up to the board to decide if it will go for a referendum for a new library.”

In 1976, when the Burr Oak Library System (B.O.L.S.) relocated to its new home in Shorewood, the J.P.L. became the sole occupant of the JPL Building again.[33] In the fall of 1980, the J.P.L. Building was remodeled in a $240,000 project.  According to the pamphlet Joliet Public Library:  A Brief History 1875 – 1992, by Darlene Bull, “improved lighting, updated restrooms, carpeting, and new pipes were installed.  The main stairs were rebuilt.  The entire second floor was remodeled and open to the public.”   According to the Joliet Herald News, the outdoor ramp was installed and the card catalog was computerized.

Calls for an Addition

In April of 1986, Library Director James Johnston and a delegation from the Library Board had met with the Joliet City Council to discuss the future acquisition of property to allow for expansion.  Johnston explained the J.P.L. was overcrowded to such an extent the J.P.L. had only eighty seats when standards called for 250 and if the J.P.L. acquired too many more books, seating would have to be further reduced.  Four months later, in August, the Joliet City Council gave the J.P.L. Board permission to purchase the old Walgreen’s cafeteria on the northwest corner of Chicago Street and Clinton Street, adjacent to the J.P.L. Building.  Walgreen’s used to have restaurants as well as pharmacies.  In February of 1988, the J.P.L. opened the Juvenile Literacy Center, which evolved into the Media Center.  The Joliet Herald News noted the Juvenile Literacy Center offered schoolchildren access to eight Apple II computers and 300 software programs.

On April 6, 1988, the Joliet Herald-News reported that the Joliet City Council had approved plans to build a 60,000-square-foot addition to the JPL Building.  More than nine months later, on January 31, 1989, the same newspaper reported that library expansion might have to be scaled back due to projected costs.  It also related Councilwoman Margaret Short’s prescient comment that “with the city’s growth westward, the library may have to build a structure further west in 10 to 15 years, meaning the downtown facility would not have to be as large as proposed.”

The Joliet Herald-News reported, on March 4, 1989, that the Joliet Redevelopment Architectural Review Committee had recommended a 36,000-square-foot addition be built similar to the original D.H. Burnham & Company-designed building. In a letter to the Library Board, the Joliet Redevelopment Architectural Review committee stated that “the architectural significance of the existing library coupled with its prominent downtown location demand that the proposed addition’s exterior appearance be of the utmost importance.” The next month, the Joliet City Council agreed to put a proposal out for bid that called for a 49,000-square-foot addition to be designed to blend with the original building.

The Firebombing

The J.P.L. Building was firebombed on the evening of April 19, 1989. A fire bomb had been thrown through a window.  Many residents learnt about the incident from the next day’s edition of the Joliet Herald-News. At 9:44 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19, 1989, three passers-by flagged down a police car to report the fire and Officer Robert Kuban radioed for firefighters. Library Director James Johnston told the Herald-News that “the non-fiction section of the children’s area was gutted by the fire.” The reporter noted there were “hundreds of singed and waterlogged books” in the “children’s reading area” and “bookshelves were overturned.” However, “books and videotapes in the main section of the library were unscathed,” while “there was smoke damage throughout the building.

The newspaper related the witnesses who reported the fire told police they had seen “a white man with curly blond hair driving a gold Corvette near the library,” and twenty-two minutes later police officers stopped a car that matched this description, which led to the arrest of the driver for unlawful possession of a handgun.  His car was towed to a garage.

On April 21, 1989 the paper reported Larry C. Williams had been arrested for the arson of the J.P.L. Building.  [Nearly three years later, on March 24, 1992, the Herald News reported Will County Circuit Court Judge William Penn had found Williams, officially charged with firebombing the library, not guilty by reason of insanity.]  On April 28, 1989, the Joliet Herald-News reported that the J.P.L. would re-open its ready reference service at 9 a.m. on April 29th, and that the adult section of the library might be opened on Wednesday, May 3, 1989 if the cleanup was completed.

Many businesses and organizations accepted donations of money and books for the library.  It would be months before the J.P.L.’s children’s section could re-open, but Library Director James Johnston told the paper he hoped “to open a temporary quarters near the library building for children’s use.”

Planning and Building the Joliet Public Library Addition

On June 7, 1989, the Joliet Herald News reported the Joliet City Council had given final approval for the construction of the proposed 49,000-square-foot addition to the Library Building.  The paper reported the next day the opening of the temporary quarters of the children’s department of the library in the old Kline’s Department Store Building located at Cass and Chicago Streets.

The architectural firm that designed the addition was Stromsland and De Young, Architects, Inc.   John Semitekol and Robert Larson founded this firm in 1955.  Kenneth P. Stromsland had joined the firm in 1963, and became a partner in ‘67 with the formation of Semitekol, Larson and Stromsland, Inc.  The firm re-organized in 1977.   Ross De Young joined the firm in 1979 and the firm adopted the name Stromsland and De Young, Architects, Inc.  It was DeYoung who was the Managing Architect for the Joliet Public Library Addition.

The addition was completed in 1991 at a cost of $6,700,000.  The architectural firm proudly relates, “The careful detailing of the limestone exterior wall resulted in a Silver Award from the Illinois Indiana Masonry Institute. In making the award the judges stated: ‘This structure takes a position of being highly contextual and very respectful of its neighbor, the original building. Very often when architects have an addition, they will attempt to leave their own mark on the building but in this particular case, the architect disciplined himself as to attempt to make the building become whole again and to have his design become part of the entire composition. It is apparent that the architect probably did a great deal of investigation and reviewed old documents in the archives, because in two or three years time, this building will look like it is one entire building that was just recently erected. We think rather than trying to force a statement on a building, the blending and marriage of both the addition and the existing building is commendable. Our congratulations.’”

On June 16, 1991, the Joliet Herald-News reported that the Joliet Public Library (J.P.L.) addition was nearly finished. By then, the fiction and youth services departments that had been temporarily housed in the old Kline’s Department Store Building for two years had opened on the first floor of the expanded J.P.L. Building.  In fact, only the second floor was still closed to the public.

A grand re-opening ceremony was held on September 8, 1991.  Further, as the Joliet Herald-News reported on November 23, 1994, the J.P.L. Building, which had originally opened in 1903 when automobiles were still novelties, was finally to gain its own parking lot.  The Joliet Public Library Board and City of Joliet planned to purchase and demolish the building that had formerly housed the W. T. Grant store located at 123-125 North Chicago Street.

In the fall of 1996, the Media Center was established to give both adults and children access to word processing and other computer programs.  Associate Director Dianne Harmon observed that before the Media Center opened, only children were allowed to use the J.P.L.’s public microcomputers, all of which were located in the Juvenile Literacy Center.

On September 19, 1997, the Online Information Center (O.I.C.) opened on the J.P.L. Building’s second floor.  The O.I.C. had nine desktop computers with which library patrons could access the Internet, and another four computers that allowed access to computer databases (for magazine and journal articles) including Infotrac and FirstSearch.

In the summer of 2000, several computers were added to the Media Center, and in the fall, the number of computers in the O.I.C. rose from nine to eighteen.  It was necessary to double the number of computers in the O.I.C. because on busy evenings as many as fifty people would wait their turns to use O.I.C. computer stations.  Two years later, in the spring of 2002, the Media Center received another six computers paid for by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2000, city directories and other historical materials were moved from the JPL Archives room to the area north of the telephone reference station.  The materials were thus in the same area as the microfilm reels of the Herald-News and its predecessor newspapers, which was more convenient for patrons who sought genealogical information.  J.P.L. staff member desks moved from the telephone reference area to the now vacant archival room.

Jack Tegel, Information Services Librarian at the J.P.L, noted local history resources at the J.P.L.’s Main Library include microfilm copies of the Joliet Herald News and its predecessors dating back to 1846; over 1,000 books about the history of Joliet and Will County; books about the history of the following cities located in the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor: Chicago, LaSalle, Lemont, Lockport, and Ottawa; City Directories for Joliet on microfilm or in print dating back to 1872 that list businesses located in Joliet, and the address and occupation of people who live in the city; and atlases and plat maps for Will County dating back to 1873.

Renovations to the Main Library

In 2007 and 2008 the J.P.L.’s Main Library Building underwent major renovations.  Tegel recounts new heating and air conditioning (H.V.A.C.) systems were installed; new lights were installed in the west wing on the first and second floors; the first floor was remodeled; new carpeting was installed; the circulation desk both moved and expanded; books for young children were moved to the west end of the building; fiction books were moved to the east end of the building; the Media Center  computer center was moved, and renamed the InfoZone; the basement of the 1991 addition was finished; a new computer center, the Internet Computer Center, with 20 computers opened; and new rooms were built to house computers that connect the network of computers located throughout the building.

Compact shelving was installed at the Main Library to store materials not frequently accessed by library patrons.  With compact shelving units, cases are set on tracks and kept closed together until an archivist, librarian, curator (or whomever else uses them) needs to access a document, book, artifact or whatnot, at which point he or she slowly turns a wheel on the side of a given case to make it roll apart from the case it faces.

The aforementioned Information Services Librarian Jack Tegel wrote an official history of the J.P.L. and its Main Library Building, updated October 22, 2008 in a project funded, in part, by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Illinois, and Michigan National Heritage Corridor Commission. The primary sources Tegel used were articles printed in the Joliet Herald News and its predecessors and the secondary sources used by Tegel were previous histories of the J.P.L. written by current and former members of the J.P.L. staff, in particular a history written by Darlene Bull.  He was assisted by Associate Librarian Roger Gambrel and Anneta Drilling-Sowa, who located scrap books of articles, and other documents.

John G. Spears, who was Director of the J.P.L. from October of 2009 to July of 2011, succeeded Donna Dziedzic as Executive Director of the Naperville Public Library (N.P.L.) effective July 25, 2011, having already served as Manager of the N.P.L.’s 95th Street Library from September of 2007 to October of 2009. Elise Ainsworth, who was a page at J.P.L. from 1995 to 2000, is now Director of the Kateri Center for Young Adult Ministry at the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Megan Millen became Executive Director of the Joliet Public Library or Library Director in November of 2016.  Previously, she was Library Director of the Flossmoor Public Library from August of 2002 to October of 2016.  She had been Assistant Director of the Green Hills Public Library from July of 1995 to August of 2002.  Ms. Millen earned her B.A. at Nazareth College and her M.L.I.S. at Dominican University.

Catherine Y. Adamowski has been the Deputy Director of the Joliet Public Library since March of 2017.  Previously, she was Deputy Director of the Fountaindale Public Library District from October of 2011 to March of 2017.  She had been School Librarian at Bishop McNamara High School from June of 2003 to June of 2008, Adult Services Manager of the White Oak Library District from June of 2008 to July of 2010, and Branch Manager at the White Oak Library District from July of 2010 to October of 2011.  Ms. Adamowski earned her B.A. at Saint Xavier University and her M.L.I.S. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagn.

The Black Road Branch Library

      In 1995, the J.P.L. opened a popular library, like the Chicago Public Library’s Popular Library on the ground floor of the Harold Washington Library Center and the Popular Library at Water Works.  It was called the Outlet.  The Outlet provided a sampling of library materials in the Louis Joliet Mall to residents on the far west side of Joliet. In November of 2002, the J.P.L. opened the 36,000-square-foot branch library on Black Road, and closed the Outlet.

The Black Road Branch Library was built at 3395 West Black Road, at a T-intersection with Westridge Road where the latter terminates.  Will County Forest Preserve District’s Rock Run County Forest Preserve lies behind it. This is a 36,000-square-foot library building, completed in 2002, at a cost of $5,400,000.  Stromsland & DeYoung Architects Inc. designed this branch library building.  As with the Joliet Public Library Addition, Ross DeYoung served as Managing Architect.

The firm stated, “The Black Road Branch of the Joliet Public Library is a single story library with a mezzanine area to accommodate training and mechanical areas. This facility has all the functions that you will find in most libraries including children’s, fiction, non-fiction and reference areas. Also included are an indoor and outdoor reading/program area for the children’s section in which the décor can be changed throughout the year. Within the facility are rooms for lectures, films or meetings which can be divided for multi-functions. Off the entry will be a small café with tables and chairs to enjoy a cup of coffee and a good book. The mezzanine area includes a staff area, which overlooks the entryway, and the training area overlooking the general library. The building is set on a wooded site with some wonderful views from the interior. There is a drive-up window and boxes for dropping off books after hours.” Other companies involved in its construction include Dickerson Engineering, Inc.; K C & M Engineers & Associates; George Grivas PE of George Grivas Associates Ltd.; Ockerlund Construction Co.; Graybar, Inc.; and Lucent Technologies.

In March of 2011, Denise Zielinski became Manager of the J.P.L.’s Black Road Branch. Previously, she served as Consultant at the I.L.A. from July of 2010 to February of 2011, Director of Informational Services at the DuPage Library System (D.L.S.) from June of 2001 to June of 2010, Head of Young People’s Services at Lombard’s Helen M. Plum Memorial Library from 1988 to 2001, and Assistant head of Youth Services at the Mount Prospect Public Library from 1986 to 1988.  She earned a M.A.L.S. degree from Rosary College (now Dominican University) in 1986.  Today, she is the J.P.L.’s Community Engagement Officer.

The Friends of the Joliet Public Library host book sales each year.  Since 1968, the Friends of the J.P.L. have donated over $80,000 to the J.P.L.  The Friends of the Joliet Public Library have sponsored library programs, helped with disaster recovery after the J.P.L. was firebombed in 1989 fire, and provided volunteer workers for library programs and events.  Monies collected at fundraisers have been used to acquire books, records, C.D.s, computer equipment and software, and library furniture.  They have also provided matching funds for state grants such as the I.S.L. grant for children’s books.

By 2011, the J.P.L.’s collections included 407,156 printed materials; 554 print subscriptions; 11,536 audio materials; and 5,198 video materials.  It had approximately fifty staff members, of whom ten were professional librarians.  There were a total of seventy public computers between the Main Library and the Black Road Branch Library. The J.P.L. had 442,785 annual visitors (or at least 442,785 visits by people); 89,968 annual reference transactions; 514,717 annual circulation transactions; 174,229 annual children’s material circulation; and 182,000 users of electronic resources in a typical week. The J.P.L.’s collection included over 300,000 books and 400 magazine subscriptions.  The main body of the collection continued to be housed in the historical 1903 building in the heart of Joliet City Center.

In 2016, the J.P.L. has budgeted revenues of $7,050,555 and actual revenues of $6,285,376.  The next year, the J.P.L. had projected revenues of $7,097,650.  On April 24, 2018, the American Library Association announced the Joliet Public Library had won the 2018 A.L.A. Excellence in Library Programming Award for the “Star Wars™ Day” program.  The award included $5,000.

The J.P.L. is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays during the school year. It is closed on Sundays in summertime (Memorial Day to Labor Day).

The general phone number for the J.P.L.’s Ottawa Street Branch is (815) 740-2660 and the general phone number of the Black Street Branch is (815) 846-6500.


[1] I should explain here that Hiawatha was the legendary founder of the Iroquois Confederacy.  Generations of Americans loved reading the epic poem The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).

[2] Illinois State Library, Report of the Library Extension Division, A Continuation of the Illinois Library Extension Commission, for January 1, 1919 to December 31, 1921. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois State Journal Company (1922), p. 28

[3] 1921 Statistics, p. 28

[4] 1921 Statistics, p. 28

[5] 1921 Statistics, p. 28

[6] 1921 Statistics, p. 46

[7] Illinois State Library, Report of the Library Extension Division, for January 1, 1922 to December 31, 1923. Danville, Illinois: Illinois Printing Company (1924), p. 14

[8] 1923 Statistics, pages 36 and 42

[9] 1923 Statistics, p. 37

[10] 1923 Statistics, p. 37

[11] 1923 Statistics, pages 36 and 42

[12] Illinois State Library, Report of the Library Extension Division, for January 1, 1924 to December 31, 1925. Springfield, Illinois (1926), p. 32

[13] 1925 Statistics, p. 32

[14] 1925 Statistics, p. 32

[15] 1925 Statistics, p. 32

[16] 1925 Statistics, p. 32

[17] 1925 Statistics, pages 40, 41, and 46

[18] Illinois State Library, Report of the Library Extension Division, for January 1, 1926 to December 31, 1927. Springfield, Illinois (1928), p. 34

[19] 1927 Statistics, p. 42

[20] 1927 Statistics, p. 42

[21] 1927 Statistics, p. 48

[22] 1927 Statistics, p. 48

[23] Illinois State Library, Report of the Library Extension Division, for January 1, 1928 to December 31, 1929. Danville, Illinois: Illinois Printing Company (1930), p. 40

[24] 1929 Statistics, pages 48 and 54

[25] 1929 Statistics, p. 54

[26] 1929 Statistics, p. 54

[27] 1929 Statistics, p. 54

[28] 1929 Statistics, p. 40

[29] Illinois State Library, Report of the Library Extension Division, for January 1, 1930 to December 31, 1931. Danville, Illinois: Illinois Printing Company (1932), p. 27

[30] 1932 Statistics, p. 40

[31] 1932 Statistics, p. 40

[32] 1932 Statistics, p. 40

[33] The headquarters of the system would remain in the J.P.L. Building until it relocated to Shorewood in 1976. In 1993 the Burr Oak and Starved Rock Library Systems merged to form the Heritage Trail Library System (H.T.L.S.).  On July 1, 2004, the H.T.L.S. merged with the Northern Illinois Library System (N.I.L.S.) and the River Bend Library System (R.B.L.S.) to form the Prairie Area Library System (P.A.L.S.).  Effective September 1, 2009, P.A.L.S. supported libraries in twenty-seven counties of Northern Illinois and Eastern Iowa.  [The three counties in Iowa served by P.A.L.S. were Clinton, Scott, and Muscatine.] The P.A.L.S. had office/service facilities in three Illinois communities: Rockford (in far Northern Illinois), Coal Valley (on the border with Iowa), and Shorewood (an exurb of Chicago).  On July 1, 2011, P.A.L.S. merged with the Metropolitan Library System (M.L.S.), DuPage Library System (D.L.S.), North Suburban Library System (N.S.L.S.), and Alliance Library System (A.L.S), into the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (R.A.I.L.S.).  That same day, P.A.LS. Executive Director Michael C. Piper became Interim Executive Director of R.A.I.L.S.

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