The Cook Memorial Library entered the 1950s stuffed to the gills in a repurposed house in need of repairs. Discussion of a possible addition in the early 1940s led nowhere and the funds available for improvements to the building were low. Despite these challenges, the library continued to move forward to serve patrons of all ages throughout Libertyville Township.
Responsibility for maintenance of the library building had been a matter of contention since the establishment of the library in 1921. While the home and land was deeded to the Village for use as a library and park, money was not set aside for operations. Lots along Cook Avenue were left to the Village to sell and keep the proceeds in trust for the library, but the long held understanding was that these funds were intended to be used for a new building, not for operations or maintenance of the existing building. Within three years of the library opening, further revenue was required and through a 1924 referendum the library became a township library in order to expand its tax base. However, the Village of Libertyville still owned the building and the Village Library Board held the Cook Avenue properties in trust. So three boards shared some responsibility for the library. According to the Independent Register “the village owns the library property, the township library board is charged with financial responsibility for the building, and the village library board is the only one of the three that has any appreciable sums of money available for library purposes” .
The Village Library Board held a trust fund of about $30,000 derived from the sale of some of the Cook Avenue lots. Dr. E.H. Smith, president of the Village Library board since its founding, maintained that he had received oral instructions from Mrs. Emily Barrows Cook before her death that the money was only to be used for an addition . Vance Ray of the Township Library Board thought it was “impractical to hold the money in the hope of building an addition in the future when the library building is now cracking open” . Village Library Board member Max Kohner, formerly a member of the Township Library board, agreed with Mr. Ray. “At the present rate of deterioration, there soon will not be any library on which to build an addition….it could not have been the intent of Mrs. Cook that the money be held in trust while the library falls to pieces” . Dr. Smith promised to call a special meeting of the Village Library Board to further discuss use of the trust fund.
The next week’s Independent Register reported that Village Attorney Willis Overholser had reviewed certified copies of the documents relating to the bequest and Emily Barrows Cook’s will and there was nothing that specifically said the money had to be used for an addition, just for the “use and benefit” of the library. With this information, village and township officials felt the money could be used for repairs . In April 1952, the Village Library Board approved an expenditure of $6000 from the trust fund to be used for an exterior renovation including relathing and restuccoing, and repairing and replacing gutters, downspouts, and windows . One crisis averted.
While the collection and building were now protected from the elements, funding for library services remained an issue. Libertyville Township’s population had increased by almost 50% between 1940 and 1950 and library service needed to keep pace with the burgeoning village . Plans for improvements included: increasing the number of books, “repair of floors and eventual redecoration of the library interior in keeping with the new external appearance; changes in building to provide for future growth;” more staff and reference materials; more story hours; more collaboration with schools; and “obtaining supplies not now available but common to all successful libraries” . The library board’s publicity committee wrote a series of articles outlining the library’s history in an effort to garner support for a referendum to increase the tax levy. One article likened the threat to library service to that of the nation. “Just as our country is engaged in a desperate fight to retain its freedom as a nation [through involvement in the Korean War], Libertyville Township was engaged in other fight to retain its public access to good books. The availability of and the free selection of reading is part and parcel of that nations’ freedom which we may yet lose through default” . The board’s efforts were successful and the referendum passed .
Unfortunately, long-time library leader Blanche Mitchell was not able to share the victory. Mrs. Mitchell had passed away in the upstairs library apartment on October 7, 1951, the victim of a heart attack . The Township Library Board minutes lauded her contributions:
“The Board of Trustees of the Cook Memorial Library was called to order by the chairman, every member was keenly aware of the absence of a loved, faithful guiding hand of Mrs. John T. Mitchell, who for almost twenty-nine years served as Librarian and who passed away suddenly on October seventh.
Her faithful performance of her many duties over these years is greatly appreciated and had endeared her to our entire community. Her loyal and inspiring interest will be sorely missed in Cook Memorial Library. Mrs. Mitchell constantly gave her best without thought of self” .
The board appointed Catherine Littler, who had served as librarian during Mrs. Mitchell’s leave of absence in late 1948-early 1949, as head librarian. Under her leadership, the library expanded to the second floor of the house and introduced a number of new services and improvements.
Following Mrs. Mitchell’s death, Mr. Mitchell was allowed to continue living in the apartment, but by February 1952, discussions about the future use of the second-level led the board to ask Mr. Mitchell to vacate within 60 days . As a first step, office equipment was moved to the second floor and rooms used for staff work and book processing . Over the next two years, plans were made to repurpose the newly acquired square footage.
In 1954, the library completed both first floor and second floor renovations. On the first floor, the northwest room (today the kitchen in the Cook Home) became the Teen Age Room providing reference materials and a place to study for high school students . Upstairs, a new cased opening between the front two rooms on the south side offered a “suite for reading and relaxing” which also provided wall space for display of work by local artists . The nascent Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society established the Libertyville Historical Room in the small front room on the east side of the building, a role the room still plays today .
In addition to improving the offerings at the library, the introduction of the bookmobile in March 1958 expanded service to patrons in the more remote sections of the township. The addition of the bookmobile appears to have been spurred on by a controversy about library services for residents in the strip of Mundelein included in Libertyville Township. The Mundelein branch of the Cook Memorial Library closed at the end of 1948 when Mundelein residents established their own library, but the home library for Mundelein residents in Libertyville Township (Libertyville village limits west to Route 45) was still the library in downtown Libertyville.
As today, residents receive library service from the library to which they pay taxes. Upon the formation of the Fremont Township Library in 1955, the Fremont Township library board asked the Libertyville Township library board (Cook Memorial Library) for a reciprocal agreement where residents of both townships could hold cards in either library without having to pay an annual non-resident fee of $5 per family . The Libertyville Township Library Board consulted with the State Library Extension Service which suggested that if the two libraries had an equal tax rate and provided equal services, this might be workable, but since that was not the case, doing so might lead to problems down the road . The State Library Extension Service also recommended discontinuing the practice of loaning books to all students of Libertyville-Fremont Township High School regardless of their place of residence and to consider a mobile unit to provide service to the edges of the township. Despite appeals from Mundelein community organizations and a 1956 petition from the Mundelein Friends of the Library with 500 signatures, the Libertyville Township Library Board decided against a reciprocal agreement, but they continued to issue non-transferable, courtesy cards to all high school students. In addition, the board began to investigate ways to extend library service to people who had difficulty getting to the library in town . The bookmobile debuted at a March 1, 1958 ribbon cutting. By 1959, the bookmobile made stops at Hawthorn School, Diamond Lake, Oak Grove School, North Libertyville Estates, Rondout School, Lakewood Heights (Mundelein), Bush School (north Libertyville), Village Park (Mundelein), Fair Haven Shopping Center (Hawley Street, Mundelein), and the Celba Grocery (Allanson Road, Mundelein) .
The decade also saw the introduction of a themed summer reading program for children and new library technologies. In 1952, children participated in a summer reading program requiring completion of twelve books about the history of the United States . Other 1950s summer reading program themes included Hobbies & Fun, Fishing for Knowledge, Time to Read, Books are Bridges to Knowledge, and Space Explorers . A Gaylord Charging Machine “automated” the check-out procedure in the 1956-1957 fiscal year . Library cards with a metal plate were placed in the charging machine which then stamped the patron’s card number and the due date onto the book card.
In 1959, microfilm came to the library. F. Ward Just, publisher of the Independent Register and the Waukegan News Sun, donated microfilmed copies of the Independent Register and its predecessors covering 1894 through 1958, as well as storage cabinets for the reels . Those reels, plus many others, can be viewed today in the lower level of the Cook Park library.
Even with the new space on the second floor, the library was cramped. Board minutes throughout the 1950s record requisition of funds to build additional bookcases on nearly every available wall. New discussions of library expansion began in 1957. The architectural firm Cone and Dornbusch developed preliminary drawings and blueprints for expanding the library facilities . Local architect Rodney Wright presented his own unsolicited plans for a new library building. Wright conceptualized a two-story, cement and glass building with pylons and a surrounding flagstone walk to keep Libertyville “looking youthful, as its people are youthful” . Deliberations continued over the next few years, but neither an addition nor a new building appeared.
As illustrated by the graphics below, use of the library skyrocketed during the 1950s. As the decade came to a close, the library board hired Library Building Consultants Inc. to perform an analysis of library services and future needs to serve the growing community. The report was delivered to the board in June 1960 and would inform the library’s direction in the new decade .
Does any of today’s post bring back memories of the Cook Library? Consider sharing your memories with us as part of our Centennial Celebration. Visit https://www.cooklib.org/centennial
The following sources used in this post can be found in the Cook Memorial Public Library District collection.
- “Boards Seek Funds to Make Repairs On Cook Library.” Independent Register, October 25, 1951, p.1.
- “Village Attorney Obtains Document in Library Bequest.” Independent Register, November 8, 1951, p.5.
- “Library to be Repaired: Library Board Votes Complete Repairing Job.” Independent Register, April 24, 1952, p.1; Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township, April 18, 1952; “Library Faces Crisis As Population Grows.” Independent Register, July 31, 1952, p.14
- 1950 U.S. Census. Number of Inhabitants – Table 6: Population of Counties by Minor Civil Divisions: 1930 to 1950, p. 19. https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1950/population-volume-1/vol-01-16.pdf.
- “Vote Tuesday on Library’s Tax Rate Hike.” Independent Register, August 21, 1952, p.1.
- “Library Faces Crisis As Population Grows.” Independent Register, July 31, 1952, p.14.
- “Voters Approve Hike in Library Taxing Rate.” Independent Register, August 28, 1951, p.1.
- “Services Are Held For Mrs. Mitchell, Village Librarian.” Independent Register, October 11, 1951, p.1.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township, October 15, 1951.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township, February 7, 1952.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township, February 10, 1953.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township February 9, 1954; Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township March 8, 1955; “Cook Library Annual Report Tells of Steady Growth And Progress.” Independent Register, March 31, 1955, p.1.
- “Cook Library Annual Report Tells of Steady Growth And Progress.” Independent Register, March 31, 1955, p.1.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township August 11, 1953; “Libraries Near Pact on Usage.” Independent Register, July 28, 1955, p.1.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township September 13, 1955.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township September 13, 1955; Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township October 11, 1955; Chicago Sunday Tribune, October 7, 1956, p.N2.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township March 11, 1958; “Bookmobile Schedule.” Independent Register, November 5, 1959, p. 4.
- “Present American Heritage Awards at Library Tea.” Independent Register, September 11, 1952, p.10.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township 1952-1958.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township March 2, 1957.
- “Library Given Old Newspapers on Film.” Independent Register, April 16, 1959, p. 1.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township March 2, 1957; Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township September 19, 1957.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township November 12, 1957; “Propose $150,000 Library.” Independent Register, November 14, 1957, p.1; “This is the exterior…” Independent Register, November 21, 1957, p.1.
- Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township March 8, 1960; Meeting minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township June 14, 1960.