Remembering the original Addison Public Library with one of the first lifelong patrons
One of the hardest parts of operating a library during a pandemic is the missed human connections. But Addison Public Library staff are finding new ways to connect with patrons and help in any way they can. One such connection was with resident Catherine Ryan, who has lived in Addison for nearly 60 years and has been a patron of the library since the very beginning.
Catherine moved from Oak Park to Addison in 1962, a time of huge growth for the community. Many families like hers were starting to move into the rapidly-expanding suburbs to find affordable housing, snapping up low-interest loans thanks to the GI bill.
"Everyone got on the road and headed west to the suburbs until you found something. When I bought my house, I went to the builder and he said 'I'll show you where the housing is going to go up,'" Catherine said. "I was standing in a field of soybeans with my babies in my arms and there was nothing there. I asked him where the Catholic school was and he turned me around and showed me the building going up across the way. Fullerton school was right down the street, too. It was a perfect location."
Within a week of moving into her home in Addison in 1962, Catherine decided it was time to visit the library to pick up something to read. The timing couldn't have been more perfect, since Addison's first library had just opened. But she was surprised to discover the town didn't have an official library building as she had been expecting.
"I just never even gave it a thought that Addison wouldn't have a library. (Neighbors) told me to go to village hall and talk to them, since they had just opened up this room. I couldn't believe it," she said. "I walked in and asked 'Where is the library?' and they said 'Just go down the hall, it's the first room on your left.' I said 'I beg your pardon? You're kidding me!' It was near where you paid your water bill."
After recovering from her surprise, Catherine explored the two rooms of the municipal building's library and walked out that day with new books in hand, as well as library card #7 -- one of the first to be created.
Catherine went on to teach and substitute within Addison for many years, spending time at both Addison Elementary District 4 and St. Joseph's Catholic School, and make what would turn out to be lifelong friendships through Addison's Council of Catholic Women.
Meanwhile, the population of Addison more than tripled in the 1960s and the original library in the municipal building had expanded as much as it could, doubling in size to accommodate the rapidly growing town. The time had come to build a library building that could stand on its own and house as many books as possible to serve the Addison community. The library's board received a grant from the Illinois State Library Committee and drew up plans for a new building; supporters worked diligently to rally support. Finally, in 1967, the referendum to build the library passed.
"We were all thrilled, just tickled pink that we were having our own library," Catherine said. "All of us were used to (having) a library, so when the library had to pass a bond issue to put in the new building, the community as a whole, or at least the people I knew, got out and voted for those bond issues. You needed that in a community -- a library."
By 1968 the new building -- what is now the DuPage High School District 88 administrative offices -- had opened, and the staff and board members were hard at work serving the community.
"Every chance they got they'd be buying more books. I remember, when we first started going (to the new library), we thought we died and went to heaven," Catherine said.
Much like Catherine, her children were avid readers, and the family frequently visited the library and took advantage of the new offerings for children. But it wasn't just a new space that had sprung up in town; it was a newfound sense of community surrounding the library.
"It was a little village. You'd see your friends, stop and talk, sometimes you'd go to someone's house and compare your books. Everybody I knew went to the library," Catherine said. "I got to know the staff and they'd say 'You'd love these books' and it was real personal."
Catherine remembers the library's many changes over the years: the atrium added to the front of the building, the removal of the old card catalog system in favor of the online catalog system. And she remembers when the library needed to expand yet again to meet the growing community, this time expanding to a brand new building across the parking lot from the existing library.
The village of Addison provided $13 million in funding to build the new library, which officially opened on Sept. 21, 2008, about 46 years after Catherine and her family moved to town and went to the municipal building to check out books.
"There was a ceremony for closing down the old library. It was really kind of neat," said Catherine. "The last day they were closing down, they kept one book in the old library, and they had people lined up from the old library front door to the new library front door, and then the librarian came out and she handed the last book to the person in line and they passed it from hand to hand."
Visiting the new library for the first time, Catherine was thrilled. As a regular borrower of crime and mystery novels, Catherine always flocked to the new books section and the crime section when she visited the library, but she also took the library's free computer classes and got 1-on-1 help from staff when she needed to use the printer. Catherine has always been proud of her library, but has been especially proud of the library's work in the last few years.
"The library has been sponsoring English speaking classes for people, that's important to help people get a job and thrive. That was one of the things I was really impressed with, that the library would be doing that type of community service," said Catherine. "When I first started going to the library there was no such thing as those services because there was no personnel and no room. Now the new library is just wonderful."
Between watching houses and shopping centers and even new library buildings spring from the ground up, Catherine has witnessed a lot of change in the community over the last few decades. But one thing that hasn't changed is her support for the library. So what would a lifelong library superfan say to someone who didn't feel they had a need for the library?
"I'd say 'are you out of your mind?' 'Are you crazy?'" she said. "I have always been a reader. Why should I spend all that money buying books when my tax dollars are paying for it at the library?"
Since the library reopened after closing in response to COVID-19 in early 2020, she has been utilizing the library's home delivery service so she can enjoy the latest releases without leaving home.
Catherine is fully vaccinated now, but plans to use home delivery or curbside pickup for a while longer. But when she does return to the library, she's looking forward to seeing a few friendly faces.
"When you walk up the stairs, someone will always see you and say hello. Personal stuff like that means a lot to me," she said. "I've always had a good relationship with the people at the library. The quality of the people who work at this library is outstanding."