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A Library Celebrates

The Crystal Lake Public Library has grown by simply listening to and following through with the community’s wants and needs.

You can tell how much the people of Crystal Lake love their library dating back, oh, about a century. The Crystal Lake Public Library was established November 15, 1913 — nearly one year prior to the city’s incorporation in September 1914.

“The library is a vital part of the community and our patrons value the relationship we have with them,” said Director Kathryn I. Martens.

Since the new year, the library has celebrated its centennial with special events for patrons and the community, which will culminate on November 16 with an EPIC Exploration how-to event — and cake, of course!”

What began as a modest building with 200 books has become “a 40,000-square-foot center of lifelong learning, still offering books of all types, as well as DVDs, audiobooks, electronic resources, CDs, video games, magazines, newspapers, puzzles, foreign language materials, business equipment and more,” Martens said.

Giving Them What They Want

It’s no fluke CLPL is a popular one-stop resource for information and education in all of its many forms. It takes its cues from an entrepreneur who built his department store empire on stellar customer service.

“As the story goes, Marshall Field owed his success to a commitment to a simple directive, ‘Give the lady what she wants,’” Martens related. “In a similar way, CLPL has established its theme, Enduring Place in the Community (EPIC), by being responsive to the needs of the public.”

How does it achieve this? It simply asks. “On a regular basis, the library enlists patron and community feedback then uses that feedback, to identify what the community wants,” Martens explained.

And it’s working — the numbers speak for themselves. “The fact that CLPL delivers on community wants is evidenced by the fact that annually, the library loans more than 1 million items per year (the only library in McHenry County with this level of circulation), answered nearly 76,000 reference questions and has more than 30,000 program attendees,” Martens said.

There’s another impressive number associated with the library: 10. Twice now in the past 14 years, the Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings (HAPLR) Index ranked CLPL in the top 10 among public libraries in communities with populations from 25,000 to 50,000 people. HAPLR rates more than 9,000 public libraries based on 15 input and output measures with comparisons in broad population categories.

Relevant Now More Than Ever

The Internet has brought information gathering to a whole new level, and some even said it would kill the public library. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Martens said.

When it comes to research and lifelong learning, it’s about quality information and services, not quantity of bytes.

“Since the advent of the Internet, the need for accurate, noncommercially driven information is more in demand than ever,” Martens explained. “We have also found that even though information through the Internet is abundant, not everyone in our community has a computer or Wi-Fi access, which is a critical service that we offer.”

As far as the fate of books on shelves, Martens assures “the print book is not going away,” even with the growing popularity of e-books and e-book readers.

“Our library staff works very hard to research and provide the latest in technology,” she added. “Library staff is available to show patrons how to download e-books and e-audiobooks on all types of electronic devices. The staff also offers a wide range of computer classes for all ages, from Mousercise for our senior population to video game design classes for teens. We have free Internet and Wi-Fi access, and numerous resources available 24/7 through our electronic databases.

And it’s about more than books and computers. “Increasingly, the library is becoming the community hub for lifelong learning,” she added. “It is the only institution that offers services and programs to patrons from infancy through adulthood, and has multiple foreign language materials and programming in English and Spanish.”

Education is, in a real way, becoming a cornerstone of the American library, CLPL being a harbinger.

“The public library has always served as a support system for formal education, including schools whose libraries are not available on weekends and evenings, so students turn to the public library to support their learning needs,” Martens said. “In addition, more and more learning is based on the collaborative model, so students are turning to their public libraries to provide collaborative spaces. Makerspaces, a national trend in library service, makes space available for hands-on and how-to learning for all ages in many practical and creative disciplines.”

Most importantly, lifelong learning at the library does not discriminate — all are welcome to take advantage of its offerings. “Seniors on fixed income or lower-income residents can take advantage of no-cost programs, many of which improve job skills such as our very popular computer classes,” she added.

Keeping Up With Growth

Growth is viewed as a good thing for service providers, and CLPL’s extreme growth is a source of pride for the library’s staff, its patrons and the city of Crystal Lake. Clearly there is a demand for its many offerings. However, the library’s aging infrastructure means it’s difficult for it to keep up with technology and other demands. Any good business would reinvest during a growth period, but for the library, which is a government agency, it’s not that simple.

“For more than two decades, CLPL’s Space Needs Assessments have indicated that the library needs double the current space,” according to Martens.

Faced with this challenge, the library has come up with creative ways to make do with its current, less-than-ideal setup.

“Project Shoehorn, completed in 2007, was a repurposing of existing space in order to squeeze five more years out of an inadequate, aging facility,” she added. “We are now past that five-year period and have experienced increased circulation and the continual decline of the building. Many sections of the current facility have outlived their natural life span, making costly repair or replacement decisions imminent. We also encounter routine technical challenges, like the spottiness of our Wi-Fi service due to trying to retrofit technological data into a facility that was built before current technology was even envisioned.”

Despite its best efforts, there can be no more putting bandages on growing, expensive problems, Martens said. It’s time to make serious, long-term upgrades and expand space so the library can offer “a 21st century, technology-based, adaptable public library facility that fulfills the mission of the city of Crystal Lake and will serve the needs of our residents today and for many generations to come,” she said.

Moving Forward

Setting goals for the future always comes back to revisiting CLPL’s core strategies, Martens said. These include the following:

  •     Connect to the Online World
  •     Create Young Readers
  •     Satisfy Curiosity
  •     Stimulate Imagination
  •     Understand How to Find, Evaluate and Use Information
  •     Visit a Comfortable Place

To achieve these goals, the board regularly focuses on “a four-legged stool,” Martens explained, “which includes collection, staff, technology and facility.”

To keep sight of these four focuses, the library board of directors conducts a needs assessment approximately every 10 years, she said. “Our most recent assessment was conducted in 2011 and involved a great deal of input from our community,” she added. “Using the results of the assessment, the board and staff met for a strategic planning session in October 2011 to identify actionable items and arrange them in priority order.”

Of the 55 items on the list, more than half of the items came back to the library’s urgent need to fulfill the needs of Crystal Lake residents today and tomorrow through creating a “21st century, technology-based, adaptable public library facility.”


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