Cold leaves suburban libraries facing tough choice whether to open

By Russell Lissau

Public libraries often are refuges from extreme weather during the winter and summer months.

But not Monday. The frigid temperatures prompted many suburban libraries to shut down for the day.

The Algonquin Area Public Library, the Bartlett Public Library, the Fremont Public Library in Mundelein, the Lisle library and the Cook Memorial Public Library facilities in Libertyville and Vernon Hills were among those that kept their doors locked because of the cold.

“I believe the last time we closed for weather before this week was the Groundhog Day blizzard in 2011,” said Catherine Savage a spokeswoman for the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire, which was closed Monday and will be again today.

Libraries in Arlington Heights, Des Plaines and other suburbs bucked the trend, however, and operated as scheduled.

Some officials saw it as their civic duty to be open.

“We just think it’s important that we be here for our customers, especially those who might not have another place to go,” said Jason Kuhl, the executive director at the Arlington Heights library.

The library’s staff is large enough to cover for any employees who had to stay home because of child-care issues, Kuhl said.

The Mount Prospect, Palatine and St. Charles libraries were among the other libraries that opened for patrons Monday.

So did the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. Administrators never considered closing because of the cold, Executive Director Carole Medal said.

“We take very seriously our reputation as a public facility,” Medal said. “As long as our parking lots are clear and our sidewalks are clear so they’re safe, and we have heat, we feel we should be open to the public.”

Medal also realized some patrons may see the library as a haven during the rough weather, which is expected to continue today.

“We are sensitive to the fact that people may need or require a safe and warm environment during the extreme cold,” she said.

The library closed earlier than usual, however, as did the Rakow Branch Library elsewhere in Elgin.

Some of the libraries that closed say they will waive late fees for materials due Monday if they’re returned today.

“We don’t want any of our patrons braving severe weather to return library books,” the Vernon Area’s Savage said.

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