Libraries have always been a huge part of my life, so I am especially thrilled to be working on Saturday at the Warren County Public Library on behalf of Sisters in Crime, an organization that promotes women writing crime fiction and mysteries. It’s a way to say “thank you” for the wonderful help libraries and book stores give to writers.
Growing up in Galesburg, Illinois [population 35,000], I spent many Saturday mornings in its library’s children’s room. The Galesburg Public Library was built in the 1870s, a product partly of the generosity of Andrew Carnegie. A huge, dark stone structure, it was built in the Romanesque style. Even though I was a child at the time, I remember the unique glass floor on the second story and the doll’s house in the children’s department. Many a Saturday I sat and peered into the windows of the doll’s house, wondering who could have created such tiny people and furniture. It was a never-ending source of imagination for small children.
When I was twelve, that beautiful library burned to the ground on May 9, 1958. I remember that night because my father managed the drive-in theatre, almost three miles outside of town. I was at the theatre that night and we could see the flames roaring high into the darkness. It was a terrible loss, even for the mind of a child. For a brief time the city had a temporary library housing what books hadn’t been destroyed by fire or damaged by water. Then, in 1961, a new, more modern building rose on the same site as the old library. It wasn’t the same, but it still became a place where I researched debate topics in high school and checked out books.
At the same time I was aware of the library at Knox College, also in my hometown. A friend of my father’s was a librarian there. In fact, I was allowed to use the rare book room as an 8th grader, poring over the papers about Lewis and Clark. The library fed my love of history and that love became the major of my undergrad studies at Knox. I worked at the library as part of my work/study job and loved every minute. I can still smell the books, see the row after row of non-digital newspapers and magazines, and remember the historical artifacts and papers.
So that brings me to a magnificent library, one I have used since 1968, when I moved to the small town of Monmouth, Illinois [population 10,000], and discovered the Warren County Public Library <www.wcplibrary.org>. It began as a reading room and library in 1868, shortly after the Civil War, housing only newspapers and magazines. In 1870, a donor offered funds to build a two-story building, the first building in the state of Illinois given for a people’s library.
The library grew and branched out, literally! By 1904, WCPL had five branch libraries and in 1920 it became a library supported by state funds under a new law. In 1921 the branches had grown to twelve. The library expanded in 1962, 1992, and 1996. A genealogy area was added and a children’s area expanded. Since then a teenage area has been added.
I came into this picture in 1968. By then the WCPL had begun issuing library cards. My number is in the low two-hundreds, a badge of honor, because today the library has 14,035 current patrons with library cards. I have used this library for 44 years and have yet to stump them when it comes to acquiring or having on hand a particular item I want. Recently, I used both the library and genealogy room to research information for my book, The Education of a Teacher (Including Dirty Books and Pointed Looks). In fact, the library sold hundreds of copies of my book locally and sponsored a reading and book signing when my book first came out.
Currently, I am researching a mystery which has historical ties to events that happened in Monmouth. The library has been an incalculable source of information.
In short, the Warren County Public Library is a gem that would be impossible to replace!
[Photos from the websites of the Galesburg Public Library and the Warren County Public Library]