By Jared Olar
With this installment we bring our overview of the Pekin Public Library’s history up to the present.
As we recalled in last week’s installment, in June 2004 the library board and director had prepared a long-range plan to expand and update the library. The plan’s timeline called for the extensive remodeling and expansion of the library over the next five to 10 years, and featured a proposed new south entrance to replace the library’s two sunken entrances, a new south parking lot, and a brighter lobby and overall look.
Initial steps were taken to implement the plans in those years, and on Sept. 2, 2008, the board approved some preliminary expansion and renovation work at a projected cost of $9.6 million. Unfortunately, the stock market crash on Sept. 29, 2008, and the ensuing severe recession made it necessary to shelve the plans.
The nation was very slow to recover from the recession, but in May 2013 the library board revised and scaled back its 2008 plans, instead proposing a $6 million expansion and renovation of the library.
The revised plans retained many of the features of the previous plans, calling for a new south entrance, new south parking lot, a new upstairs community room, a conference room and study rooms, a quiet reading room, a storytime room, a new relocated local history room (in which the old ornate lamp that had been saved from the Carnegie library was to be installed, being restored and relocated from Marigold Plaza), new staff work areas and offices, and a brighter, airier look.
Later that year, on Nov. 12, 2013, the Pekin City Council voted to allow the library board to begin working with Dewberry architects on the design phase of the project, which would be financed through the sale of $5.6 million in bonds and the use of $400,000 of the library’s funds.
A few months after that, on Jan. 28, 2014, the library board decided that the library facility would be closed for just six months during the renovation and expansion work. Pekin library director Jeff Brooks said that while the facility was closed, the library intended to temporarily operate as a scaled-down version of itself from another Pekin building.
The Pekin City Council approved the bond sale to finance the library expansion on May 12, 2014. Then in July 2014 it was announced that the library would lease space at East Court Village (the former Pekin Mall), 3524 Court St., and relocate basic library operations there during the renovation and expansion of the library.
Over several weeks in October of 2014, the contents and furnishings of the Pekin Public Library were packed and moved, with most of it going to storage and part of it being set up at the temporary library location in East Court Village.
The Pekin Public Library opened at its temporary location in East Court Village on Nov. 10, 2014., with the expectation that library operations would resume at the home campus, 301 S. Fourth St., in June 2015. Later the same month, on Nov. 24, 2014, ground was officially broken for the library’s renovation and expansion project at a ceremony presided over by library board president Sue Crowell and library director Brooks.
As expected, construction and renovation work at the library progressed sufficiently over the ensuing seven months that on June 22, 2015, the remodeled library was able to reopen to the public. By that time the majority of construction had been completed and most of the library’s contents were able to be brought back out of storage.
Yet to be completed were the Quiet Reading Room in Adult Services, and the new area of Children’s Services (which had been shifted further to the south). That remaining work continued while the library was open to the public.
At last, with all construction and renovation work finished, the library closed a second time on Oct. 31, 2015, to give staff time to move into the now-completed new additions. About a week later, the library reopened to the public on Nov. 5, 2015. Since then library patrons have again and again expressed their appreciation for the library’s improvements and the new and brighter look.
There is yet one more major event in the library’s recent history that must be mentioned. On Dec. 1, 2018, an unusually severe rainfall inundated Pekin in floodwaters that overwhelmed the library’s pumps and overflow tanks and the city’s sewers, causing significant flood damage to flooring and drywall (but, thankfully, no damage to books or equipment). It was the second major flood to hit the library in its history since June 1980. The library had to close until Feb. 15, 2019, during restoration work that cost about $500,000.
The library subsequently installed several improved measures for dealing with floods – and, as if Mother Nature wanted to underscore the need for those improvements, another less severe flood affected part of the library while installation of the flood mitigating measures was under way. Since then, the flood prevention measures have functioned as intended.
Pekin’s library has undergone immense change and growth over the course of its 155 years of existence – and 125 years as a municipal library. None can really say what changes are yet ahead, or what kind of story will be written when the Pekin Public Library celebrates its bicentennial in the year 2066. Will the library still be a branch of the city government come the year 2096, which will be 200 years after the city assumed ownership of the library?
We’ll conclude with a quote from the remarks that library director Brooks delivered at the groundbreaking ceremony for the 2014-15 renovation and expansion:
“Last week I walked through this building after every sign had been removed from the walls, and every piece of furniture hauled away, and I was struck by how very unlike a library it is now. In fact, I could have been looking at any vacant office space.
“This got me thinking about what a library truly is.
“And so while next year our architects at Dewberry, and our new friends at Peoria Metro Construction, will give us a wonderful 21st century building — a building with huge potential, for any owner – in the end though it will be my staff who will work their magic, and fill that space with a library for all ages to enjoy.
“It’s the people who work here, their experience, their training, the books and movies and music they select, and it’s the services they offer the community that create a library.”