By Tony Hooker
From its humble beginnings as a few shelves in a grocery store to today, one hundred years later, the Camargo Township library has been an invaluable asset to the city of Villa Grove. I recently caught up with Library Director Jackie Wells, to talk about some exciting things that are helping to usher the library into the future.
How long have you been at the library?
On July 1, it was 17 years?
How long have you been the librarian?
Jan retired in 2006 and I took over then.
So that’s 13 years, right?
What’s been the biggest change in your 17 years?
I think the biggest change is in the number of people who come in and check out books. The checkouts for books used to outnumber the checkouts for movies, and then a few years ago, it became about even and now, slowly but surely, the movie checkouts are moving ahead. As a book lover, that’s been really surprising to me.
How has technology impacted the library?
A lot of people want e-books or audio books. We do have two apps that you can download and use those services through the library. We’re trying to get people in the door to see everything that we have.
Is that part of what the new space is going to be?
The grant was for ADA accessibility, and I’m trying to meet the needs of those patrons that maybe need those services.
Let’s talk about the grant a little bit. It’s caused a little dust to fly in the library spaces recently, right?
I am very proud of being awarded the Live and Learn Construction Grant through the Secretary of State, Jessie White’s office. It was one of the most challenging things I have done since becoming director. We were in the mix with the likes of Normal Public Library, Rockford, Forest Park and Joliet. This grant will help us comply with current ADA requirements. When the library was moved to its current location over 25 years ago, the building was up to date, but several years ago, the requirements changed to better assist those with disabilities. We wanted to make sure that we are doing all we can to meet those needs. Thanks to the Illinois Secretary of State awarding us the grant, we can make it happen. We were awarded $15567. (it is a matching funds grant) We are having a push button installed on the front doors, the back door will be replaced along with the back ramp so wo folks with scooters or wheelchairs can get in and out more easily. We are also having the doors for the restrooms, meeting room and genealogy room replaced so they won’t be so hard to open or shut. Since up to 30 percent of the grant funds could be used for non-ADA remodeling, we elected to have the upstairs flooring updated.
Our board (Dr. Bill Jones, Charles Knox, Sandra Landeck, Amy Fredrick, Amy Rose, Jodi Vandeventer and Mary Hildreth) has made a lot of these changes possible for the future of our library. They assess the needs of the community and how we can meet them. These folks volunteer their time for our community.
What was most surprising about writing the grant?
There’s a LOT of paperwork. The want full documentation of the project’s completion.
What else is new at the library?
We put a teen area in and we’re really excited about that. It’s right when you come in the door. “If you build it, they will come”, we hope. The teens always wanted to hang out in the children’s corner. They had no space of their own and so we made one. We have a comfy space and even a charging station. We encourage them to have snacks, and sometimes we even provide them, because who isn’t hungry after school, right? I want to add that my coworkers worked very hard on this project with me. We had to move a ton of books, shelving and furniture to make this space possible.
Is the overall patronage still steady?
We’ve lost a lot of our older patrons, unfortunately. They’ve either moved or moved to assisted living and several have passed away. They were our big readers, our big library users and trying to replace that usage sometimes isn’t happening. We do love everyone who comes in. We have a lot of kids who come in to use the computers. We have free WIFI. We now have printing from your phone.
What does the future of CTL, and all libraries, really, look like?
We’re going to have to keep evolving to meet the different needs. I always tell people that “this aint your grandma’s library.” <smiles> We don’t “shush” people any more. We try to make this more of a community gathering place. Information is available with the touch of a screen, now, so you have to evolve to fit the needs of your patrons.
And that probably involves mobile libraries, right? Rather than the patron coming to the library, the library will have to go to the patron, in some respects, right?
Absolutely. We just started a traveling story time at head start here in town. If people aren’t going to come to us, we need to go to the people, just as you said. That’s what we’re hoping to offer more programming. I’d love to offer some sort of teen or tween programming, to get those kids back, because once they hit a certain age, they disappear on us for a while. That’s why we’re offering a teen area where kids can sit and talk or study and hang out. We want it to be a gathering place, like I said.
What sort of structural improvements have you made in addition to the ADA improvements?
We applied for and received a TIF grant to get the tuck pointing done before any bricks came tumbling down. After seeing our proposal, the city council and TIF administrator voted to grant us the TIF money covering half the costs of repairing each wall, to be completed over three fiscal years. The north and east walls are now complete. This grant is worth a little over $28000 paid to us over 3 fiscal years, and we really appreciate their investment in our library and downtown area by approving the grant. Over the past 5 years, we have gotten new carpet laid. We have gotten a new air conditioning system. They had to remove all of the old one, so the entire system is new. We got a new roof on last year, which we were really excited about because we were starting to experience some leaks.
So, you’ve really focused on upgrades to the physical plant?
Right. Our next big goal is to work on our technology and the services we offer there. I need new computers and someone who can manage that. An former employee did a great job managing that, but he got his degree and has a nice job at Carle, and no matter how much I tried to sweet talk him, he wouldn’t come back and do it! <laughs> The next thing I want to start raising funds for is to update our technology.
How do you raise funds?
Every year, we write a per capita grant that is worth about $5000. The friends of the library always help us out. They’re getting ready to help us buy a new drop box. The old one was damaged, and the company that’s doing the bricks is going to give us $600. The friends are donating $1000, and we’re going to use some of our per capita money. Hopefully that will be going up soon if it warms up and I can get my husband to put the concrete in. <laughs> That’s why the census is very important. We’re going to be doing a lot of outreach and let people know that people can come here, and we can help them fill out their forms. We want to let them know that it’s safe and the government isn’t sharing their information. We want everyone to know that, because the numbers are so important. We get so much money per person for our per capita grant.
The library always seems to be involved in any community activities that are happening. Is this by design?
We always want to be there, involved in our community. For example, on October 26, the Catholic Church is having a spaghetti dinner, the Methodist church is having “trunk or treat”, and we’re having a skeleton hunt, here at the library, along with a glow in the dark story time. We think that we should promote that as a fun evening out for the family, with dinner, trick or treat and the skeleton hunt here at the library. Cheap family fun.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
I just want to say that a lot of these things wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for my hard-working library staff. Everyone steps up to help out so that we can accomplish our goals. I am so grateful for Sarah Smith, Tommie Hooker, Ricki Hire, Judy Wells, Olivia Kieffer and Zach Livengood, who recently resigned to take a full-time job, elsewhere. When I’m in the back, doing loads of paperwork, these individuals are out there assisting our patrons.
I also almost forgot to mention our star tortoise, Tommy. He joined us a few weeks ago and the kids just love him. One little girl colored a picture and brought it in, and we taped it next to his tank.
Also, upcoming, look for us at the Christmas Tree Lighting Festival on November 30. We will have story time with Mrs. Claus and kids will be able to make their own snow at the library. We will have a craft area down at the tennis courts, as well.