Park Ridge Library begins new chapter at 100
Park Ridge Library Director Janet Van De Carr, right, and Mary Dalton, information coordinator, look over some historic photos in preparation for the library's 100th anniversary celebrations over the next year. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2013 6:09AM
PARK RIDGE — Exactly a century ago this month, a well-read 19-year-old woman took a job that would earn her a special place in Park Ridge history.
Ruth Colman, the city’s very first librarian, organized materials, checked books in and out, and helped adults and children with reading for seven years at the Carnegie Library.
Today Colman serves as the unofficial symbol of the Park Ridge Public Library’s centennial year.
Once a small building housing 2,000 books, the library today occupies 36,000 square feet of space and is a hub of free educational and cultural programs utilizing electronic and online media as much as its collection of printed works.
The institution recently kicked off a year-long celebration of activities commemorating the 100th anniversary which will culminate with a birthday party next December.
The Friends of the Park Ridge Library organization is marking the anniversary by selling gold-plated Christmas ornaments in the shape of the library building. And on display through January is a historical exhibit of Park Ridge in 1913. The collection includes rare photos, books and other artifacts related to the library’s beginnings, all of which offer a glimpse into what life was like back then.
“The library came into being with the town’s creation,“ said Mary Dalton, the library’s information coordinator. “It’s the center of town life and has been a witness to what’s happening (locally).”
In February, the library plans to unveil a restored 70-year-old mural that previously hung in the old Park Ridge Post Office at 164 S. Prospect Ave.
“We’re giving it a second life, a great life,” said Margaret Harrison, president and chair of the Library Board of trustees.
Harrison credits the community for helping the library achieve its milestone anniversary. After all, not all libraries funded by businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie at the turn of the 20th century are still in existence, she said.
“It’s pretty special,” Harrison noted.
In addition to various functions throughout the year, a special section on the library website, www.parkridgelibrary.org, is dedicated to its past. An online blog, for example, shares memories and photos of historical significance. Patrons are encouraged to contribute their own anecdotes and comments.
“What better way to honor the library’s centennial than to tell its stories?” said Dalton.
An interactive timeline documents the library’s major milestones. Included are its founding years beginning in 1910, when the Park Ridge Woman’s Club had the idea to request grant funds to pay for a library building. Construction of the original building at 1 N. Northwest Hwy. began two years later. The first books came in the form of a donation of a personal book collection from George Carpenter, the first village president.
The library opened for business on Dec. 6, 1913 and is “growing beyond what anyone could have imagined,” Dalton said.
Internet technology, for example, has allowed the library to expand beyond its bricks and mortar home which has been located at 20 S. Prospect Ave. since 1958.
“We look at the website as the second front door to the library,” Harrison said.
Dalton added: “With the rise of the Internet, a lot of people assumed that libraries would become obsolete, but those predictions have not come true.”
Instead, technology gave the library unprecedented access to information to share with patrons. Today librarians are adept at helping patrons navigate a premium online resources collection that contains many materials that cannot be found on the free Internet.
The library also remains committed to the cause of literacy which involves learning how to use computers efficiently.
Looking forward, Harrison said the library will continue to adapt while keeping its finger on the pulse of Park Ridge to best serve its residents.
“The library has had some really good years and is on a track to continue that,” she said. “I hope the library continues to be a very strong organ of the community.”