New Vernon Hills library is a big hit

As Vernon Hills resident Soon Jung Park and her 3-year-old daughter, Joanna, play with an alphabet puzzle inside Vernon Hills' Aspen Drive Library, the afternoon sun fills the children's department with light.

The natural illumination - coming through a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows on the building's west side - is one of Park's favorite features of the Cook Memorial Public Library District's new facility, which opened a month ago.

It's a far cry from the windowless room that had been the children's department in the district's other library in downtown Libertyville.

"Before it was dark, but here it's bright," Park says.

The ample sunlight is one of the many things visitors love about the Vernon Hills library, which has been attracting patrons in record-breaking numbers since its July 10 opening.

Through the end of the month, more than 600 patrons applied for library cards at Aspen, officials said. That's more signup business than the Cook Memorial Library District typically does during an entire month, facility manager Colleen Koebel said.

Circulation has gone through the roof, too. From July 10 to 31, Aspen Drive patrons checked out 43,266 books, DVDs and other materials, officials said.

That's a 36 percent increase over the 31,691 items checked out at the former temporary library in the basement of Vernon Hills' village hall during all of July 2009, said Lauren Cerniglia, Cook Memorial's assistant director of support services.

"We all knew that Aspen was going to be busy, but we had no idea just how popular it was going to be," she wrote in an e-mail.

The Aspen Drive library took more than a year to build at an estimated cost of $7 million. Simultaneously, the historic library in Libertyville's Cook Park has been undergoing a $7 million renovation and expansion that should be completed by November.

At Aspen, 2,501 people visited the facility and checked out 4,230 items on its first day of business. Hundreds of people were lined up when the doors opened at noon.

"In my 16 years in libraryland, I have never seen anything like the crowd that entered when we first opened the doors," Cerniglia said. "We stood there and watched as people kept coming in. The crowd literally filled the library."

Vernon Hills resident Joyce Bi already is a regular Aspen patron. She takes advantage of the library's two study rooms - cozy, glass-enclosed spaces that let her prepare for an upcoming graduate school entrance exam in peace.

"(They're) quiet, and I can focus on my study," Bi explained.

Bi also digs the teen area near the checkout desk. Equipped with booth-style seating, a cart filled with age-appropriate graphic novels and other attractions, the space for local high school students, she said. "It's pretty cool."

Patron Jeanine Elser praised the staff of the new library and marveled at the size of the facility, especially when compared to the small temporary library at village hall.

The Mundelein resident had a few complaints, though. Primarily, she wished the computer lab was bigger so users would have more space between them.

A larger adult reading room with more table space would be nice, too, she said.

By and large, though, the comments about the new library have been positive. Circulation supervisor Libby Heumann said she has heard patrons rave about the library's three self-checkout machines.

"They say they're easier (than the ones at) the grocery store," Heumann said.

Fifty-six percent of the Aspen library checkouts in July were done at these stations, Cerniglia said.

Officials expect that figure eventually will exceed 80 percent.

"It's really been an exciting time for staff and patrons alike," she said.

Patrons checked out 43,266 DVDs, books and other items during the Aspen Drive Library's first 19 days of business in July. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer