On Sunday, August 6, 2017, during North Aurora Days, the board and staff of North Aurora's Messenger Public Library will host a community open house to celebrate the library's 80th anniversary and the completion of a major five-year renovation project. The library has come a long way in the last eight decades since Emeline Schneider Messenger became involved with the institution in 1937 as a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)—the library originally opened in a 15 by 15 foot room that had served as a post office. At its inception, the space was outfitted with two used tables, two chairs, a small gas heater and shelves which housed the library's first 1000 books.
"The library had very limited hours when it was started by Mrs. Messenger, and it was all volunteer," says Library Administrator Kevin Davis. "Mrs. Messenger was successful in pulling together not only her own book collection but collections from people in the area."
Mrs. Messenger mobilized the volunteer staff and helped keep the library afloat when the WPA withdrew their support in the early 1940s. She continued as head of the library in the 1950s when it relocated to the east side of the Fox River, and she saw the library expand in the 1960s and 70s when a referendum was passed to support the library through local tax dollars. In recognition of her years of service, the board of trustees voted to rename the library in her honor in 1985, a year before Mrs. Messenger retired.
Since 2003, Messenger Public Library has operated out of the 25,000 square foot building at 113 Oak Street. Following in Mrs. Messenger's footsteps, Davis has worked as Administrator since 2006, overseeing the library's various departments. Above Davis, seven elected members from the community serve on the Messenger Public Library Board.
Davis also acknowledged the support of the Trustees and entire Administrative staff of the Village of North Aurora. The current Village President Dale Berman and his predecessors as well as the current Village Administrator Steve Bosco and Village Finance Director Bill Hannah have been key supporters of the Library Board and Staff and of our programs and services.
Planning for the library's multiphase renovation project began in 2011, backed by money set aside by the board in a reserve fund and a $110,000 donation from the estate of Barbara Messenger Tinker, Emeline Messenger's daughter. The first project included the Youth Department renovation, completed in April of 2015. This project involved the installation of additional technology access, a new staff work room and public service desk and the new Tinker Youth Program Room.
The west wing building renovation project was completed on March 31st of this year and included the addition of two meeting spaces, two Mediascape work spaces, a new technology access area, and six study carrels. The library's Teen Space and all adult and young adult material collections were also remodeled, and a new book browsing and coffee bar area were added. Additionally, a new User Services Department now combines the Adult and Circulation Services Departments in one space, and new self service units were installed.
These renovations were completed by L.J. Morse Construction Co. with architectural and engineering firm Kluber of Batavia. All told, the renovation project cost a little more than $1.5 million. Davis emphasizes the necessity of the renovations in response to the growth that's happened in North Aurora.
"The way libraries serve the public has totally changed even in the past 10 years I've been here, and I know in the past 12-15 years since this building was built," Davis says.
In particular, demand for use of the library's meeting spaces has increased from both individuals and community groups.
"We have the North Aurora Lions Club that meets here each month," Davis says. "Our Garden Club meets here. We have writer's groups and books clubs that meet here. And some of the committees from the North Aurora Mothers Club meet here—they're a big supporter of the library and they've donated a lot of money in the past to support some of our children's programming."
Part of the increase in demand for the meeting spaces resulted from the demolition of the community center that used to sit at the corner of State Street and 31.
"We saw that as we were planning our renovation and now we have two more meeting spaces here that we can offer up to the public," Davis says.
In addition to their use by community groups, Davis says many individuals take advantage of the library's meeting spaces and smaller study rooms.
"We have a lot of people working out of their homes. I see them in here day-in and day-out, and they sometimes meet with their clients here. Or else they need a quiet space because of distractions at home. We also have a lot of people that depend on us really heavily for technology access."
Regarding technology, Messenger is gearing up for a virtual renovation in which the library will merge with the SWAN library consortium, giving library patrons access to millions of more items.
"We're going to become part of a larger, 100 member library consortium that stretches from the southern suburbs of Cook County all the way up to DuPage and Kane," Davis explains. "We'll have access to all the holdings we don't have now—immediate access on our computers to Batavia, St. Charles and Geneva and also our partner Sugar Grove. Our patrons will now be able to see items that are at the Batavia Library, place a hold on them, and then have them sent here if they don't feel like traveling up the river."
Currently, Messenger is also part of the RAILS library system, which gives Messenger a delivery system between all of the libraries in northern Illinois. Furthermore, state money is funneled at a local level from RAILS to do van delivery of library materials.
"Van delivery is so vital for a lot of people, and that turnaround time can be 24 or 48 hours depending on when they place the hold. People are blown away by that," Davis says.
Within the library, close to 200,000 people a year make use of Messenger's 100,000 item collection and online databases, as well as the programming available to all age groups. Adults can join monthly book discussions, participate in a genealogy group or catch a movie at Classic Cinema Sundays. And Davis says the library's career skills workshops have been especially beneficial for many library patrons.
"We've had a lot of good success stories," he says. "We had one guy who came to our resume writing seminar, and landed a job because of the help he got at the library. The people on the other end told him it was not only because of his qualifications as an individual, but the way he worded and formatted his resume. So, this guy didn't have to move out of North Aurora with his family. Those are the kind of neat stories that I think we sometimes hide under the shade as a library."
Likewise, the library offers storytimes and early development programming for kids and their parents.
"We do programs for socialization skills and literacy skills, and then we do art projects among other things," Davis says. "The ladies in the youth department are just great. They do a lot of good programs, and all of them are trained, master degree librarians."
Davis is quick to recognize the contributions of his entire staff, all of whom have had to work under some less-than-ideal conditions during the library's renovations. Indeed, after five years, Davis and the rest of the library staff are more than ready to celebrate the library's 80th birthday with a ribbon cutting and an official grand reopening.
"The big event will be August 6 here at the library from 1:30 until about 4," Davis says. "We'll probably have cake and we've got some entertainment coming. We're still trying to finalize some stuff at this point, but we know our center piece is knocking off this project."
Davis is proud of all of the work and he and the library staff have put in to making Messenger Public Library a truly valuable community resource, and he remains as dedicated as ever to serving the public in his capacity as the library's director.
"For me this is more of a vocation," Davis says. "You touch the lives of these people coming in here. They remember us."
For further information on the Library visit the Library website at messengerpl.org or call 630-896-0240. For further information on the renovation project contact the Library Administrator G. Kevin Davis at email@example.com.