Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Visit to the Wheaton Public Library in Illinois

Library Director Sarah Meisels took the Zone 1 Reference Librarians on a two hour tour of the newly expanded and renovated Wheaton (IL) Public Library. The $20.8 million renovation resulted in a 128,000 facility with four floors in the downtown Wheaton area.

The most amazing thing was that the village actually closed the street west of the library to give it room to expand and connect it to a park. Mrs. Meisels said it took her ten years to talk the village council into doing this. It also enhanced the park, as a new public space for events was created. On the day of our tour, there was a farmer’s market in front of the library.

The main reason for other librarians in the area to be interested in the Wheaton Public Library is its collection of genealogy materials. Genealogical Librarian Donna Freymark showed us the collection, which takes up the southwest corner of the first floor. It was begun in the 1950s by a couple of staff, who were interested in the topic. In 1974, the DuPage County Genealogical Society donated its collection and began working with the library to give classes to the public. The DCGS also meets in the library. In both 1985 and 1999, the library received large grants to expand the genealogy collection. The collection includes reference sets, periodicals, microfilm, and CD-roms (which are all loaded on a CD server). The library also has online database subscriptions.

Donna said that many people beginning their first family searches come to the library, and the staff can usually find some facts about their ancestors in this strong general collection. People also come on Friday nights, when volunteers from the DCGS are on hand to help people start their research or advise them on advanced questions.

The staff and volunteers are creating a vital records index from the Wheaton newspapers microfilm and connecting it to the Innovative Interfaces library catalog.

There were a number of things I noticed that I liked:

· The library has a public snack area with vending machines that can be open to the park when the library is closed.
· Signs were on pillars instead of hanging, which left the view clearer.
· The mouse pads at computer stations had windows in which messages could be displayed.
· Some of the easy chairs had been crossed with school desks. See photo.
· The library has a foreign language collection, including French, German, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, and Vietnamese.
· Every computer had been names for an author or president.

I noticed that all the program rooms had drop-from-the-ceiling projectors, including the children’s story hour rooms and larger conference rooms.

One thing I question is how the library uses it public computers. Many of them are dedicated to only databases, only genealogy, or only library catalogs. This goes against the current multi-use philosophy in many libraries. It would be interesting to see how it works for the Wheaton public.

I also liked the dioramas in the public services counter in the children's library.

In some ways, the Wheaton Public Library seems old fashioned, but it provides many spaces for individuals and groups to study and collaborate. It passes the library as place test well.


maggie moran said...

Oh, and what a beautiful entrance! :D

Going Crunchy said...

Oh my gosh, I want to field trip too. I got several good ideas just from your post. I want to get rid of our hanging signs as they look yucky, and I want to chop out posts to make dioramas too. I may only get one of the two there.

How awesome....a farmers market. Hummmmm............. Shannon