Today, a trip down Uptown Normal’s North Street reveals a neat row of shops and cafés, unfolding before you in an array of vivid colors and small-town nostalgia. Local favorites vary from Sugar Mama’s Bakery for sweet confections to The Coffee Hound for a savory roast. But when Joan Steinburg first arrived in Normal in 1959, the current site of The Coffee Hound satisfied another local craving: a longing for literature.
It’s hard to imagine Normal Public Library’s sprawling structure was once confined to a small reading room on North Street, but Normal Public Library Foundation Board Member Joan Steinburg easily recalls how the library bounced from place to place for years, constantly seeking more space and resources to meet the growing demands of the community.
Drawn by a love of books and a desire to keep her children entertained, Steinburg became involved with NPL almost as soon as her family came to town. She remembers how, on one occasion, she assisted in transporting the library’s donated volumes from the North Street Reading Room to the new location at the site of a former grocery store.
“We all walked the books down the hill and into the Jewel’s. They had some cars too, but a lot of us did [walk] all that way,” Steinburg said.
While commitment cannot be measured entirely in sweat or numbers, Steinburg’s anecdotes and statistics are compelling. She has served on the Normal Public Library Foundation Board for 33 years, and 12 of those years were spent as president. She has witnessed the library shuffle from place to place, settle and expand. Along the way, it has continued bringing knowledge, delight, and innovation to the community.
Steinburg insists that Normal Public Library changes as life changes. “We are not just a warehouse for books. We are lots of things, including books.”
Those things include being both a social and learning environment for people of all ages. But the modern library that NPL is becoming requires a great deal more space than what is available at the current site on College Avenue. That’s why, in recent years, the Normal Public Library Foundation’s main goal has been the construction of a new library.
The new Normal Public Library will be very modern and expansive, replete with sustainable features, natural lighting, and plenty of space for outdoor programming and parking. It will serve as both an anchor and a mirror to the community. While the planning and designs for this new library building are now finished, the board now faces the onerous task of raising enough money to make these dreams a reality.
While the completion of the project is still a long way off, Steinburg is optimistic and excited at the prospect of building a new library that the town can be proud of.
For Steinburg, it would be the crowning moment of a life of community service. “But for me, I would just love to be able to see it open. It would be super,” Steinburg said.