How does a library mark a milestone such as 125 years? Not without a lot of planning!

by Beth Keller

Highland Park Public Library celebrates its 125th anniversary.

As Highland Park Public Library’s125th anniversary approached, the staff saw the occasion as an opportunity to showcase the library — its rich historical past, the role it plays in the community, and the role it will have in the future. And then got busy planning.

A committee was formed, comprised of staff members, board members, the mayor and community members including two high school students. Monthly meetings were held to plan how best to show off the library to the community and city hall, how to bring attention to future needs such as a current remodeling project, and to help advocate for funding and support.

A fundraising campaign for the library’s anniversary was initiated and sponsors were solicited to fund special events and enhancements to the library such as a planned digital media center. Those that donated at a certain level had their names featured on the library’s 125th anniversary banners throughout town and on reusable book bags distributed at library events.

And how did Highland Park Public Library choose to celebrate this very important milestone? With stories and words. With the hopes of providing patrons with a truly memorable afternoon in which to mark the library’s anniversary and note its importance in the community, a group of Chicago’s literary and cultural icons were invited to the library to read excerpts from their favorite works of literature for the library’s “Chicago Reads” event.

Crystal Grover (l), and Linsey Burritt (r), of Chicago-based design studio INDO used more than 17,000 old card catalog cards to create a textural work of art called Open Book to celebrate Highland Park Public Library’s 125th anniversary. Grover and Burritt along with Highland Park Public Library Director Jane Conway stand in front of the new artwork in the library’s lobby.

On a recent Sunday afternoon those icons gathered at the library — among them were winners of a Pulitzer Prize, Emmy Award, and Grammy Award, along with bestselling authors. Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan not only served as host, but lent the idea for the event, based on a similar event he hosted elsewhere. The audience was entertained and awed by the talent present in one room, and moved by the readings as one after another literary or cultural icon from throughout Chicago took the stage. Readings brought tears, shivers, “awes” and applause from the standing-room only crowd.

And after the event? You could find both regular patrons and those who rarely come to a library event talking about it around town. One patron described the afternoon as “magical.” To another, it was “spectacular.”

The celebration continued with more stories and words as noted storyteller, humorist, author, and radio personality Garrison Keillor spoke at the library during a second event. The goal was the same — to mark the library’s anniversary, to draw residents into to the library with a memorable event, and then to reflect upon what it stands for in the community, and remind them about its importance. Patrons were excited to be a part of the library’s celebration and “An Evening with Garrison Keillor” drew another capacity crowd.

Storyteller, author, humorist, and radio personality Garrison Keillor greets patrons at Highland Park Public Library’s 125th anniversary celebration.

The planning and celebrating aren’t quite done, though. More meetings are scheduled to plan a fundraising gala which will conclude the anniversary celebration by again marking the library’s past and looking towards the future.

In the meantime, the library’s past is very much on display with an exhibit of items from the library’s archives that provide a look back in time. The exhibit was curated by Sara Bartels, Jeanette Hopperton, and Eric Newman from Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Located in the library’s lobby, it’s attracted a lot of attention.

More than 17,000 used card catalog cards were incorporated into the artwork Open Book, which was installed in the lobby of Highland Park Public Library as part of the library’s 125th anniversary celebration. The installation also includes an interactive card catalog where patrons can share their reading experiences by answering book-related questions which are then filed in the card catalog.

Also located in the lobby as part of the celebration is an old card catalog and thousands of cards that once filled it. Jim Edstrom, Professor of Library Services and History at Harper College in Palatine lent the card catalog and provided the cards. The library then turned to Chicago-based design studio INDO’s Crystal Grover and Linsey Burritt to create a special installation using these iconic library components.

It proved to be a perfect match. Grover and Burritt always work with recycled materials in their installations, and turned more than 17,000 used card catalog cards into a textural piece of art called Open Book to celebrate the library’s milestone anniversary. The sculptural piece, close to 12’ wide, is made entirely of used catalog cards. Mounted on a wall in the library’s lobby, visitors can’t miss it, yet it’s only upon close inspection that it becomes apparent of what it’s made. Embedded in the piece is the shape of an open book, yet another iconic library image. The cards are placed in such a way as to create a fringe effect, much like the pages of an open book.

The installation also includes an interactive card catalog where each drawer features a book-related question. Patrons are asked to recall moments from favorite reading experiences, and to share them with others, answering questions such as “what book character would you love to meet in real life?” or, “what was your favorite book in high school?” Patrons can record their answers on a used card catalog card and flip through the responses, discovering others’ reading recollections.

Beth Keller is the Marketing Specialist for the Highland Park Public Library.

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