Historical Notes On Justice Public Library District
My Fifteen Years at the Justice Public Library by Arlene Ramey Robison
When I walked into the little yellow house on the corner of 76th and Oak Grove Avenue, on that August morning in 1978, it was empty -- except for a card table and a couple of folding chairs sitting in the middle of what had been a living room. There was a wall-hung fireplace with a phony stone chimney and a mantel. It was obvious that a wall had recently been removed at the back of the room because it had not yet been painted.
It was then that I met a lady who would become a big part of my library experience. Beth Mueller introduced herself and told me that she was a representative of the Suburban Library System and was here to hire a staff for the library that was to be housed in this building. After I filled out the job application, Beth explained exactly what was happening here. She said that a group of Justice citizens had approached the SLS in hopes of having a library in their town. With the aid of a federal grant and the loan of this empty building from the Village, a demonstration library would be made available to the public in September. It would operate for one year, being funded by the federal government. Later in the year a referendum would be held and the voters of Justice would decide whether on not they wanted the library on a permanent basis by being taxed for its operation.
Beth then added, "if they say no, you will no longer have a job." She said that is essence, for that one year, the job would be mostly PR We would be selling the idea of a library to the people of Justice. I was told I would be called in a few days and advised if I would get the job, but Beth felt that I should know that the pay would be considerably less that I was presently earning at the Economist Newspaper. I told her that it was not a problem, since I felt that I would be much happier in this type of work. As an avid reader, and an English Major who had once hoped to be a writer, this seemed like a really good place to be. I obviously got the job, because here I am fifteen years later, telling my tale.
The job really was not too difficult that first year. Everything in the way of running a library was done for us by SLS – such as, book ordering and processing (when we got the items, they were all set to go on the shelf). Payroll and bill paying was also done at SLS.
We were very fortunate to receive a great supply of books and other materials from a failed demo library – Flagg Creek. Their referendum failed – this fact did provide some feelings of doom.
Our first Director was Gail Langer. She was very quiet and business like at first. She certainly knew how to handle the task at hand. She taught us all so much that first few months. Our children’s librarian and Gail assistant, was Betty Hughes. She was wonderful with the children – friendly but firm. The rest of the staff consisted of Georgine Deacon, who lived in Bridgeview, and Rita DeJovine of Justice.
When we first opened, there were only two rooms used for books. The dining room (presently the E room) was used for E-J&YA books. The main room (or former living room/bedroom) is where we kept adult fiction, non-fiction, paperbacks, reference, the card catalogue, and the checkout desk. The utility room (now the paperback room) was our office, which contained a big old ugly metal desk with an ancient typewriter on it. There was also an old kitchen cabinet (which is now upstairs in the staff lounge) along with an old kitchen table, where we piled the new books that came in. There were obvious mismatched kitchen type chairs also. The door separating us from the public was glass, so privacy was not possible. We had to plug up hole in the wall where the dryer vent had been because the birds were getting through it – which’s where they built their nests.
At that time, which is now the J room, was a completely functional kitchen (which remained that way for quite a few years). There was a stove, a refrigerator; a sink and wall hung cabinets. The sink was at the back of the wall with a double window above it, looking out to the backyard. The night that our referendum passed, someone threw a rock through the kitchen window – obviously, not everyone wanted us to stay. Within a year or so we put the reference materials in this room after removing the refrigerator. Two sets of double shelving were put in. Our shelf list files sat up on the kitchen counter. Supplies were kept in the kitchen cabinets.
The bathroom was quite unique for a public library since it contained, not only the toilet and the vanity sink, but also a bathtub complete with shower and shower curtain. There was also a linen closet in the bathroom with very narrow shelves and daring little louver doors – we kept the Harlequin Romances in there. People who were fans of Harlequins soon learned to go right to the bathroom to pick out their favorite books.
The staff became adept at shelf building, plumbing, electrical work and general cleaning. We learned a lot that first year. Besides the workings of a library, we saw how a small group of dedicated people could show a small town that the whole world could be brought to them by simply having a library.
Parents became aware of how much information was available to help their children with school assignments. Children discovered that libraries weren’t just for doing homework, but also for getting information on hobbies, sports, cars, pets, and just about anything else they had an interest in.
The children were the ones who really helped to sell the library – not only by using it and convincing their parents and grandparents to vote for it, but also, by coming in to help stuff envelopes with referendum materials to be mailed and making posters telling people to vote yes. They were so enthusiastic, it was contagious! It was exciting to see them so involved. We were wanted; it was a wonderful feeling.
To promote interest in the Library, we attended and spoke to meetings of the PTA, senior citizen’s clubs, teachers’ meetings, condo and apartment building association meetings, and anyone else who would have us. Gail and Betty visited schools and pre-schools. They read stories and showed films and passed out information on the library. As the referendum date got closer (in February), we planned a valentine day party to get people in to see our library. It was to be held after regular hours on a Wednesday evening at 6:30. Besides the staff, several of the Board members were there to supervise and organize games and refreshments. We saw no reason to have a sign-up for the party, until we opened the door and saw a line all the way around the side of the building clear to the back. Kids of every age, along with some parents, poured into the library. We finally got them broken down into five groups of fifteen or twenty and somehow spaced around the three rooms we had to work in. It was a pretty good lesson in ingenuity. Each group was passed from one section to another. Each section has a game to be played or a story to be read or refreshments to be eaten. Since then, we have always had sign-ups for events or parties.
For awhile we had story hour upstairs, in the current office, because it was empty or roomy and had a nice shag rug on the floor for the kids to sit on. Unfortunately, we found out we were breaking the law, since there was only one exit from the upstairs in case of emergency. Another lesson learned!
In March, the push was on. We put out more flyers and passed out bumper stickers that read I Just Love The Justice Project Library. We made phone calls and went door to door urging people to vote. We glued messages into hundreds of donated paperbacks, which we left in area laundromats, barber shops, beauty shops, and doctors’ office waiting rooms. When our referendum passed we all just jumped around and hugged each other.
For the next year we continued to be funded by the federal government, until our tax money began to come in.
At Last We’re A Small Library
Our tax money started coming in and our grant money ran out. We were now a real functioning library district with a new official name: THE JUSTICE PUBLIC LIBRARY DISTRICT.
With the SLS no longer handling everything for us, a lot of work was added for us – such as book processing, processing, accounting, payroll, etc. Even though the workload increased, the number of staff members did not. We all took on new responsibilities and began going to workshops in earnest to be trained to do our jobs and also to learn how to do reference work. I had been in charge of registrations while we were a demo library, Georgine had done overdues and Rita had been in charge of the card catalog and shelf list files. Now we were moving on to bigger and much more time consuming areas.
After the referendum passed, Betty Hughes left for a job in the reference department of the Elmhurst Library. She eventually became the Director of the Downers Grove Library. Taking her place was Donna Weltyk. What a lovely person she was. The kids just adored her and came to the library just to visit and talk with her. She was also available to them and was just like a real friend.
Shortly after Betty left, Gail Langer also left us. She had wanted only to be part of starting the library and never had intended to be a permanent Director. Her successot was Verlyn Biere. She, like Gail, was a very quiet person and very warm and friendly.
After being our Children’s Librarian for about a year, Donna also planned to leave us for Elmhurst Library and a position in their reference department. She is still there. About two or three weeks before Donna was to leave, she and I were working together one evening, when a young woman and her two sons came in. She said that she had recently moved to Willow Springs and wanted to get a library card. We told her that since she didn’t live in Justice, she would have to pay a non-resident fee. She said it was well worth it for her boys to have access to a library. She has a degree in Library Science and, therefore, knew the value of a library. Donna’s ears perked up and she took the lade aside to talk to her about becoming the new Children’s Librarian. The position did not include a great salary but all the books her kids could handle and no non-resident fee! So Jeanne Glowacki became our Children’s Librarian… thank you, thank you, thank you Donna!
Several years later, when Verlyn Biere decided to start her family, Jeanne became our Director and remained in that position until 1991. She was, in my opinion, the best Director we have ever had.
Verlyn and Jeanne were a really good team. They complimented each other. Verlyn was quiet and conservative and Jeanne was more out-going and innovative. They struck a good balance and the library benefited, greatly.
They were also great friends in their personal lives. They both enjoyed outdoor life and spent a great deal of time together hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing. The staff all enjoyed hearing about their adventures when they returned.
Like Donna before her, Jeanne was much loved by all the children. She was an excellent storyteller. She would, not just read from a book, but commit stories to memory and tell them with such dramatics, that adults, as well as, children, became thoroughly entranced. She was also a good friend to the older, young adult children and patiently listened to their problems and tried to help them.
If you have got the idea that Jeanne is one of my best friends, you are correct –
but my opinion is really not slanted. Most anyone who remembers her and her years at the library would, in all likelihood, say much the same things that I have said.
Years Of Growth
After we became a real functioning library, and the need to grow started, we had a lot of help from some very talented people. The first place that we expanded to was the attached garage. There was a dirt floor in the garage, so a new floor was installed and then paneling and a drop ceiling were added with recessed lighting. Carpeting and an air conditioner were the finishing touches. To the best of my recollection, Ted Pahalek and the White family did most of the work. Others may have helped also, but I do not recall their names (sorry).
Into that room, we put adult fiction and the junior and young adult fiction. We also, on occasion, used it for meetings – which made it rather restrictive for patron browsing. Library Board meetings were, at that time, held upstairs in what is now the processing room. Moving adult fiction from the main room did help free up space for more non-fiction and, taking junior and young adult items out of the E room, helped a lot. Despite this, it was not long before we started to feel the pinch again.
Our office was moved upstairs so that the utility room could be our next expansion project. After that the kitchen was completely dismantled and another room was created to be used at our disposal. Needless to say, we filled it up in a jiffy!
The next answer to our overcrowding was the purchase of the module unit that was attached to the back of the building. My gosh, talk about space! We thought this was it, we would never run out of space again – but we did. As all of this growth was happening, the size of the staff remained the same. We just had to spread ourselves around more, which was not any easy trick. I forgot to mention that during one part of the expansion, the bathroom was remodeled – no more tub and shower, and, of course, no more Harlequin romances. It was at least finally handicapped accessible. The entrance to the building was also made handicapped accessible by installing a ramp and larger platform porch with rails.