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Neighbors of Kane County

The Library is the "center of culture" in St. Charles

May 14, 2015 01:14PM ● By Katelyn Nelson

Culture is the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts. Today, in the United States as in other countries populated largely by immigrants, the culture is influenced by the many groups of people that now make up the country.—


 Culture is central to the way we view, experience, and engage with all aspects of our lives and the world around us. Thus, even our definitions of culture are shaped by the historical, political, social, and cultural contexts in which we live.—

So, what is St. Charles’s “culture?” Some will argue that St. Charles’s “culture” is defined by the quality of shops, fine dining, upscale accommodations and theatre offerings that attract a steady flow of visitors year round; others see St. Charles as a sophisticated river town that embraces and protects the heritage of its early settlers. Without question, it is both and more.

To find St. Charles’s “center of culture” all signs point to the library, the one institution that embraces all that defines this community’s culture: its history, art, learning, language, and commerce.

The first Library Association in St. Charles was incorporated in 1889. In 1906, the library became a tax-supported public institution with an impressive collection of over 3,000 books. With the help of a $12,500 donation from Andrew Carnegie, and local donations, the town’s first free standing library opened in Dec., 1908.

As the population grew so did the library. By 1963 The St. Charles Public Library shelved 50,000 volumes with seating for 90 people. On Dec. 17, 1988, a 35,000 square-foot addition was opened to the public. The expanded facility had a capacity of 225,000 volumes and seating for 300. A 5,200 square-foot mezzanine would provide expansion space for materials, reading and study. The project was funded by $2,925,000 in building bonds; a $250,000 federal construction grant administered by the Illinois State Library; and the library’s special reserve fund. A mezzanine opened in 1995 added reading and study areas, and an art gallery. A teen section, The Loft, was created on the mezzanine in 2000, with a special collection of young adult materials. In 2002 the Technology Center was added followed by a kitchen in 2003.

Renovations of all areas of the building were begun in Feb. 2014 to refresh the interior, provide additional comfortable seating, and public computer access to all departments. Lighting fixtures were replaced throughout the building to improve light levels and energy efficiency. New carpeting was installed and the Reference Desk was relocated on the main level. Youth Services added an interactive early literacy center, more computers for kids and a family restroom.

The St. Charles Public Library is home to a variety of original artwork including prints, sculptures, quilts, and rugs. The artwork is on display throughout the library.

Through the years the St. Charles Public Library has evolved from a place to borrow a book to become the community’s center of culture. The Artist of the Month program began in 1979. Since 1981, the library has offered a Sunday Afternoon Concert Series with musical talent and variety appealing to all ages and tastes. The tradition of educational and entertaining programs for kids, teens, and adults continues today.

The library continues to evolve with the times. Long playing recordings and cassettes have been replaced by CDs and digital downloads. The typewriter desk has been replaced by multiple computer stations with free access to Microsoft Office programs and online services. Once popular VHS tapes have been replaced by DVDs, and now movies and TV episodes also are available online.

The first St. Charles Public Library website, launched in 1996, opened a world of information to patrons. Today the library assists users with downloading books, magazines, music, movies and more to their mobile devices. Computer classes are offered at the library and online, and an extensive list of databases now are available from home. Library staff contribute to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

To appreciate the library’s contribution to the culture of the community, you need only look at some of the upcoming programs.

Artist of the Month: Since Jan. 1979, the works of local artists have been display at the library through our Artist of the Month program. In July, the St. Charles Public Library is host to the District #303’s “Art of Imagination” show.

 Sunday Concert Series: Since 1981, the library has featured a wide variety of musical performances from: Brazilian choro music, classical, jazz, folk, steel drums; percussion.

Lyric Opera Series: A member of the Lyric Opera Lecture Corps will present a lecture that will enhance the opera experience with composer information, story insights, music history, and musical highlights.

Great Decisions: America’s largest discussion program on world affairs administered and produced by the Foreign Policy Association.

STEM programs: (Microcosm, Arm Chair Tour of the Universe)

Historical Portrayals: “Fascinating Women of History” series

Genealogy: The library offered three free genealogy workshops for beginners or the advanced researcher. Genealogy workshops will be offered on an ongoing basis.

Children’s Day in Youth Services,May 2: It’s an international celebration for children of all ages. Receive your passport at the customs booth in the lower lobby and then travel from one destination to another enjoying storytelling, games, music, bilingual Spanish story time and more.

Stories at the Nature Center: Listen to stories at the Creek Bend Nature Center, explore, walk the trails and enjoy nature at its best.

Lobby Display Case: The library offers its main lobby display case without charge to nonprofit organizations and community members who wish to share a collection, broaden interest in or highlight a special program.

 Book Discussion Groups: A monthly discussion is led by a member of the library’s Reader’s Advisory staff.

Learning Express Library and Universal Class: These programs provide online learning and are available free of charge. Over 500 online continuing education courses in subject areas such as history, education and the arts are available.

Articles and Databases: These resources are available and offer a variety of cultural learning experiences to the patron such as Mango Languages, American and World History, Naxos Music Library and more.

Contrary to some popular myths, libraries are NOT dying institutions. On the contrary, libraries like the St. Charles Public Library, have become their community’s “center of culture” by diversifying, embracing and serving the many facets of its culture. It’s no wonder the St. Charles Public Library is busiest place in town…day in and day out.