It's official: May 5 marks Normal Public Library's 50th anniversary in this building. NPL has existed since 1938 as a tax-supported public library (and before that, as the Normal Reading Room), but we moved to this space in 1973. Our recent exhibit in the gallery space highlighted some of the ways in which the interior of the library has changed over the years. Can you spot some of the ways we differ from then to now?
Let's get you started:
- The 'original' library building consists only of the east half of the building as it stands. We added our west half of the building 20 years later in 1993 as we had dramatically outgrown our space for collections and programs.
- In 1976, we had 52,881 books for our 19,553 cardholders. Today we have 142,457 print books (plus many more e-books!) for our 28,530 cardholders. You'll only find our new books in the east (original) half of the building on the main floor currently. Older items are shelved in the west half. We've also added collections of DVDs, Playaways, video games, and CDs, all formats that didn't exist fifty years ago. In 2023, we also circulate board games, musical instruments, and many other items via our Library of Things, another collection we didn't have in 1973.
- Do you espy any computers? No: we did everything 'by hand' back then, and so did our patrons. When we opened our new building on May 5, 1973, we had a tiny employee workroom, just the desk or two you see in the photo and a space 1/3 the size we have in 2023.
- Our exhibit gallery? We didn't have one, so no gorgeous works from local artists that rotate on a monthly basis as in 2023. And although we did have our 'cafe' space, it didn't host musical performances and lots of the other vibrant programs that we've added over time.
- We've moved our check-out desk, too: it's in the middle of the 1973 space. And instead of checking in books by hand as we did way back when, you can now feed them into the wall slot for our mechanical sorter and watch in fascination through the glass as they drop into appropriate bins.
How's our space holding up? That depends on your definition. Last year we welcomed 168,743 patrons through our doors, far more than we imagined in 1973. Space-wise, we can't add anything else within our building, whether it's a new collection or dedicated area, without taking away something else. And as you may have read recently, our fifty-year-old side of the building contains asbestos. Although recent testing reveals that the asbestos isn't entering the air of our public spaces nor workspaces as yet, we can't upgrade our lighting or tech wiring without disturbing it. So we're locked in place with a need to get rid of the asbestos before it becomes an active issue. That's why our wonderful Normal Public Library Board is strategizing the best way to keep the library functional, safe, and moving forward for many years to come. Want to invest with us in the lives of area residents? Consider a donation in honor of our anniversary to the Normal Public Library Foundation, our non-profit arm devoted to taking the library from normal to extraordinary in this building and beyond. Cheers to 50 years, NPL!