From board member to book club leader: One Addison resident's enduring love for the library
Judy Belanger has lived in Addison since 1965. In her 56 years living in Addison, she spent 30 of them serving on the Addison Public Library's board of trustees.
Before joining the library board, Belanger often visited the original Addison library with her family, creating many memories along the way.
"The library was in the village hall, along with dancing lessons. Our daughter was about 5 at the time. We took her to classes and she'd tap dance down the hall to the library at the other end of the municipal building," Belanger said. "The library was quiet, and the head librarian used to cringe every Saturday morning at the tap shoes coming down the hall."
Belanger joined the board in 1971, just three years after the first standalone library building opened. During her time on the board, Belanger and her fellow trustees oversaw the front addition to the original library building at 2 Friendship Plaza, which is now a District 88 administrative building.
"The old library had a balcony. The choir from the high school sang Christmas carols from there. It was lovely," said Belanger.
Between attending monthly board meetings and annual library conferences, Belanger was an active board member who was unafraid to go to bat for the things she wanted to see at the library. Since then, she's been pleased to see the changes that she wanted finally take effect.
"Before I retired I wanted concessions in the library, so that when I went to board meetings I could grab a Coke and take it with me, and I was voted down at the board meeting. As soon as (the new library building) opened I noticed the vending machine," said Belanger. "Another time in the late '90s, we voted on a staff dress code that there would be no denim worn. I had a denim jumper that had fairytale characters all around the bottom, so I wore that jumper every chance I had after they voted me down about the denim. And now in (the new) building, staff can wear jeans!"
Belanger's final year on the library board was in 2001, seven years before the current library building opened. Since then, she has remained a library supporter who regularly makes use of her library card.
"It's been fun to watch how the library has grown with the growth of the community," said Belanger. I would have never guessed how things could have changed in 30 years. The growth is unbelievable. Even when I was still subbing, even the change from when I retired to now is unbelievable."
One such change was seeing Mary Medjo Me Zengue, originally hired during Belanger's tenure in 1996, earn promotions over time and eventually become the library's executive director in 2004.
Since leaving the board, Belanger has remained in Addison and enjoys two physical reminders of her service on the board: her family's names on the bricks in front of the library, and the statue of the reading boy that sits outside the current library building. Belanger has a miniature version of the statue at home that was gifted to her upon retirement.
"It's been great having (the library) available in the town all this time," said Belanger. "It's been a part of my life for a long time. That's why we're at Clarendale, that's why we're staying here."
Belanger moved to Clarendale when the building first opened and was one of the first 12 people to live there. She wasted no time connecting with her fellow residents, starting a book club soon after moving in.
"To have a book club of 20 is quite a growth over the year and a half, two years," Belanger said. "I am proud of it."
As a retired school librarian, Belanger is no stranger to reading book reviews and keeping up with the latest releases from book publishers, making her a natural fit to lead the new book club. At Clarendale, she and other residents began swapping book recommendations and decided to make the book club official.
"What I have enjoyed about it is we meet every week, so we divide the book into 4 by pages and talk about a fourth of the book each time," said Belanger. "You can really get into what the story is about when you spread it out over a month at a time."
Belanger knew she could rely on the library to support her book club, working with library staff to order copies of their selected books through interlibrary loan as needed and delivering books to Clarendale and via curbside pickup.
"The library through all of this experience has been so great to me, getting the amount of books I need plus large print and a couple of audiobooks for my clientele," she said. "They have been fantastic in helping me meet the needs we have had in order to run book club. And it's obvious that it's not because they know I was a board member."
A true library advocate, Belanger often encourages her fellow Clarendale residents to take advantage of everything that is available to them at the library.
"I bring residents when the library comes and see that they get registered for their library card. I also bring my laptop with me when we have book club in case they want to learn how to download books," said Belanger. "I'll even call the library (on behalf of residents) to request they bring books when they come."
Clarendale residents got to learn even more about the library services available to them during a personalized tour of the library in late summer 2021. Belanger was one of the tour attendees, and said she was surprised and delighted by all the technology that has become available, including the large format printer, sewing machines, and 3D printers.
"Everyone at Clarendale has been so impressed," said Belanger. "Some people came from towns where they had larger libraries and they liked ours better. Others came and couldn't believe how much stuff we had here."
Between her experience as a school librarian, library trustee, and book club leader, Belanger truly knows the value of a library, especially for children. She hopes everyone in Addison comes to know the value of their library, too.
"This library has really kept up with the times. I can't wait to see what comes next," Belanger said.