Warren-Newport Public Library officially observed its 50th birthday Jan. 10, but patrons can expect a yearlong celebration of five decades of service.
From humble roots in a storefront, the Gurnee-based library has evolved into one of Lake County’s busiest in terms of circulation. As much as there is to look back on, library officials said, even more lies ahead.
“It’s a great year,” said Sandra Beda, head of communications for the Warren-Newport Public Library District, which serves more than 60,000 people within a 55-square-mile area that covers all of Warren Township and most of Newport Township.
“It’s not just a celebration of the past, but we’re also asking for the community’s help for envisioning the future,” she said. “We are truly viewing this as a communitywide celebration.”
Programs and events throughout the year will reflect on the library’s history, as well as envision the library’s future, Beda said.
Plans are underway to host an official birthday celebration in April, she said, with details expected to be released in February as part of the library’s spring newsletter.
Meanwhile, she said, patrons can find a wealth of programs and events on the library’s website at www.wnpl.info. Many will involve a 1970s theme.
“We’re kind of kicking it back to the ‘70s,” Beda said.
Among events, patrons will be able to learn about “The History of Stevie Wonder” on Jan. 25, she said, and library staff are planning more creative events to celebrate the 1970s time period.
Beyond that, library officials aim to create a new strategic plan for the future with input sought from the community, potentially through surveys and community cafes, she said. It all comes at a time when the library seems to be experiencing a rebirth.
While the pandemic limited in-person services, Beda said, more patrons now are returning to the library building at 224 O’Plaine Road in Gurnee and discovering everything the library has to offer both in-person and online.
“We envision the coming years as a real turning point,” she said.
While online services have expanded and remain in demand, she said, many still enjoy checking out physical materials and books, especially children’s books and those that lend themselves more to be used in a physical format, such as photography books.
But the library has become so much more than just a place for books.
Among growing services, outreach programs include preschool stops, deposit collection sites and home delivery of materials to patrons unable to visit in person for health and other reasons.
The library opened Jan. 10, 1973, after a push by the Gurnee Woman’s Club to establish library service for Warren and Newport townships. Back then, the library offered a collection of about 3,000 volumes.
After building renovations and expansions through the years, patrons now access a collection size of almost 320,000 items, along with numerous other services. In the past 50 years, the library has added public internet and online resources, digital downloads and streaming services, collaboration spaces, services for homebound patrons, a traveling bookmobile and more.
The library has evolved from a quiet environment to a space for collaboration, learning and fun events, all enhanced by modern technology, Beda said.
Families such as the Cookseys of Gurnee use a variety of services from the bookmobile to movie rentals to activities and programs such as the Museum Adventure Pass Program, which provides free admission to cultural destinations throughout the Chicago area.
“Even if the library is closed, I can get a book and read it on my Kindle,” said David Cooksey, whose daughters, 7-year-old Felicity and 12-year-old Abigail, also enjoy the library. “My girls will go and check out books for the week. We also do a Friday night movie and often get our movies from the library as well.”
Living in one of 24 neighborhoods visited several times a week by the bookmobile, the Cookseys enjoy that as well. They were among families stopping by the bookmobile at Gurnee’s recent Frosty Fest.
“The library is a great asset to the community,” David Cooksey said. “I hope people know what it offers and take advantage of it as much as they can. We try to.”