Morton Grove Library celebrating 75th anniversary
Liam Boughton, 3, checks out the cake at Morton Grove Public Library's 75th anniversary celebration with his 8-year-old sister Elizabeth at Morton Grove Public Library on Feb. 16. | Ray Whitehouse~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 1, 2013 6:38AM
The Morton Grove Public Library has begun a year-long celebration of its growth over the past 75 years from its start collecting 300 books in a barrel at village hall to the present building on land donated by the Women’s War Working Circle.
A recent anniversary party with cake and displays of historical documents and photos borrowed from the Morton Grove Historical Museum was the first in what library officials say will be series of events this year to mark that growth.
“We’ve been collaborating with the historical society,” said Natalya Fishman, head of adult services.
Fishman said the kickoff Feb. 16 drew about 100 people.
“People were stopping by and reminiscing about how long they have loved the library,” Fishman said.
The library opened in 1938, using floor space in a store at 6100 Lincoln Ave., not far from its present location at 6140 Lincoln Ave.
From there, the library moved to another store at 6244 Lincoln and in 1948 to the second floor of a village building on Callie Avenue.
But even then, Morton Grove residents were looking at the idea of a permanent building for the library.
Monument Park, purchased by the Women’s War Working Circle as a site for the Doughboy statue honoring World War I veterans, deeded the site to the village on the condition it be used for a library.
That finally happened after village residents in 1949 approved a bond issue to finance construction.
The building, at Georgiana and Lincoln, opened in 1952 with 1.500 square feet and 4,000 books.
The library’s ongoing problem with a lack of space was addressed in 1962 when residents approved a referendum to finance an addition to the library. Another referendum in 1969 funded remodeling of the lower level of the library.
The most recent expansion was opened in 1980 and included the 160-seat Baxter Room auditorium and more office space.
In his 31 years at the Morton Grove Public Library, Kevin Justie has seen significant changes both in the materials the library stocks and the programs and services it offers.
But the shortage of space has been the one constant, he said.
“We are always short of space. It’s a huge issue and has been for 20 years,” Justie said.
Justie, assistant director and head of automated services and technology, said he’s seen major changes in what the library does.
“We offer so much more than we did 31 years ago,” he said. “When I started there were books and LPs. They had just gotten their first VHS tape,”
Beyond materials, though, Justie said the library has over the years expanded both the number and variety of programs it offers the community.
The library has always offered such things as book discussions and musical performances.
But it now offers a range of computer classes, children’s programs and other activities, he said.
“We used to offer two or three programs a month. Now we have three or four a week,” Justie said.
Technology has had a major impact on the way the library does what it does.
In the past, when reference librarians received an inquiry, they would turn to a collection of about 5,000 reference books for the answer.
Now they can rapidly access various sources on the Internet including databases the library subscribes to.
“The west side of the library was used as a reference room. We had about 5,000 items,” Justie said. “It’s down to maybe an eighth of that.”
Another change in the community, its growing diversity, is only partially reflected in the library, Justie said.
The library has tried to meet the needs of that diverse population, but what it can do is limited, Justie said.
“We are certainly aware of that and keep track of what different ethnic groups there are. We do what we can, but it isn’t much,” he said. “We don’t have room. We’d love to do more but we don’t have room.”
Despite its space problems, Justie said patrons like the “feel” of the Morton Grove library; something he said draws people from neighboring towns with larger libraries.
“That’s certainly something we hear,” Justie said.
“We know we have a lot of Morton Grove residents who go to other libraries. The flip side of that is we have people from other libraries do like it here.
“They feel it’s more personal because of our size,” Justie said. “It’s going to have a personal feel.”