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Cook Memorial Library at 100. The 1960s (Part 1)

As the 1960s opened, the Libertyville Township Library continued to face the pressing problem of a severe lack of space to serve a growing patron base.

In 1960 the population of Libertyville Township, the area served by the library, stood at 19,481. [1] The home of Ansel B. Cook had been a boon to library service in Libertyville in 1921 but was barely adequate forty years later. The bookmobile, purchased in 1958, helped fill in some of the service point gaps, but it couldn’t solve the whole problem. The library building needed to grow.

The library’s annual report from March of 1960 presents a good picture of the Cook Memorial Library in Libertyville Township on the cusp of a new decade. In 1959 the library had recorded a total circulation of 114,025 items, 40% of which was handled by the two-year-old bookmobile. The library’s operating budget was over $50,000. The previous summer, 1275 children had participated in the summer reading program. The Library Board had begun providing for staff retirements by enrolling them in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. And one of the most important steps the library board had taken was to hire a company called Library Building Consultants, Inc. The library board charged this group with furnishing “a statement of program for the future of the library. This included recommendations and criticisms of the present library services also recommendations for future growth of the building and service to keep the library service up to population trends and demands.” By June of 1960, Library Building Consultants had finished their report which the library board began studying for future action. [2]

Independent Register, July 21, 1960, p. 1
Statement of Program prepared for Cook Memorial Library by Library Building Consultants, Inc. 1960.

The Library board also went to the Libertyville Village board to make them aware of their deliberations before proceeding with actual plans. [3] Simply put, the Village owned the property that the Library wanted to build on. As Vance Ray, president of the Libertyville Township Library Board, pointed out:

“…the ownership of Cook Park by the Village of Libertyville and use of the library building by another taxing body, the Libertyville Township Library District, ‘creates problems.’ Since the village owns the property and the Library District merely leases library facilities, agreement between the two taxing bodies is required on projects such as possible building expansion.” [4]

A momentary distraction from the library issue appeared in late October of this presidential election year. The Cook Memorial Library building served as a backdrop to a campaign rally of the popular Democratic candidate, John F. Kennedy. [5]

Independent Register, October 27, 1960, p. 1

The Library board again hired the Chicago architectural firm of Cone and Dornbusch to draw up the library plans. [6] On May 4,1961 the Independent Register published a front page article and picture of the proposed library addition.

Independent Register, May 4, 1961, p. 1

While the mayors of Mundelein and Libertyville, among others, commented favorably on the plans at their unveiling, reactions to the design from the general public were not positive. Letters to the editor of the Independent Register included the following remarks:

“A proposed mutilation of this beautiful landmark…cancer of modernity…let the Cook Library alone! (James Feeny) [8]
“The addition [should be] simple and sizeable, placed as much as possible behind the present structure…” (Nancy Ross) [9]
“Let’s not have an addition that looks like a box!” (James Cameron) [10]
“Monstrosity” said Libertyville trustee Warren Nicholas. [11]

Hoping to move forward with the building expansion, on May 31, 1961 the Township Library Board held a special meeting. At this meeting Vance Ray presented a letter to be sent to the Village of Libertyville to address the circumstance that the Village owned the land upon which the Township Library Board wanted to build. The Village, through its citizens, would need to give permission to the Township Library Board to build on Village property. The letter read,

We respectfully request that the Village Board conduct a referendum in the Village to ascertain the desires of the people concerning the construction of an addition to the present library with Township Funds. [12]

Meeting Minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township, May 31, 1961.

For several meetings Village trustees discussed the library’s request. At their August board meeting, however, they brought up a new option, that of going back to having a village library. [13] Perhaps they entertained this option because so many people, including at least one Village board member, didn’t like the proposed design (See Warren Nicholas quote above.). Perhaps it was because, as the Independent Register summarized, “It is a fear on the part of trustees of the Libertyville Village Board that sometime in the future the community will lose control of its foremost landmark – the old Victorian mansion which houses the library as well as the land upon which it stands – to persons who reside outside the village limits.“ [14]

Whatever the reason, the original question of whether the people of Libertyville would approve of a building project on village land was completely sidelined. Through August and September the Village Board discussed and debated how to ask their citizens about having their own village library instead of supporting and using the Township library. By September 12 the Village Board had decided on the referendum wording. [15] At the October 17 election they asked the residents of Libertyville:

Independent Register October 12, 1961, p9.

The voters spoke loudly and declared, 1428 – 645, “No.” They wanted to keep the township library. [16]

The township library had the support of the community but still did not have permission from the village of Libertyville to build a new building. The library remained cramped and was getting more so every day.

No major changes were made at the library until the end of 1962. By this time we can imagine that the Township Library Board felt forced to take drastic measures in order to have enough space in the library. In December of 1962, Township Library Board president Vance Ray announced that the library would move the children’s section to an empty storefront on Milwaukee Avenue and expand bookmobile service. [17]

Independent Register January 31, 1963, p.1

Perhaps this move had made an impact on Libertyville citizens’ views. In the spring election of 1963, the people of Libertyville voted to allow the Township Library Board to build a library addition on the grounds of Cook Memorial Park. [18]

Independent Register, April 18, 1963, p. 1

Finally the Township Library Board was able to move forward. They immediately began planning for an addition to the Cook Library. At their first meeting after the successful referendum, they reviewed the earlier plans by Cone and Dornbusch that had been so controversial and decided that these plans would be the basis for an expansion program but, according to board president Vance Ray, would “have to be changed to avoid the public controversy that cropped up in 1961.” [19]

Unfortunately, controversy continued to plague the library’s plans, much of it based on the fact that about half of the village of Mundelein resided in Libertyville Township. Thus, they had Cook library cards and had to use the Libertyville Township library in Libertyville some four miles away, instead of going to the Fremont Township library in Mundelein that might have only been three blocks from their house. [20]

Libertyville Township map, 1965, showing portion of Mundelein at lower left
Lake County maps citation

The Mundelein Chamber of Commerce announced their opposition to the referendum to build an addition to the library in Libertyville [21]. Mundelein residents in both Libertyville and Fremont townships filed a petition to create a new Fremont library district that would include all of Fremont Township and the half of Mundelein that was located in Libertyville Township. [22]. The Libertyville Township library could could hardly act while this petition was still unresolved.

Independent Register, September 10, 1964, p. 1M

About this time, Fremont and Libertyville Township library boards began discussing a cooperative agreement in which the patrons of each library district would be able to borrow materials from the other. When the two libraries announced this agreement in June, the petitioners of Mundelein withdrew their court case. [23] Now referendum plans could begin in earnest.

On October 1, 1964 the Independent Register carried an article in which head librarian Mrs. Catherine Littler explained that the library’s collection of 30,000 books for a population of 21,000 fell well below the minimum standards of 2.5 volumes per capita. She added that many volumes were stored inconveniently in the basement, reading and study areas were usually overflowing with the result that children had to be turned away. The book stacks and hallways were crowded and blocked with people. The office and technical services areas were so cramped that staff had a hard time finding space to work. [24]

In the same issue, Libertyville resident A. H. Hagerty expressed objection to the addition in a wordy, two column letter to the editor outlining a “6-Point Opposition” to the referendum. Some of his objections were that students should use school libraries instead of public libraries; the library was not used enough by the taxpayers, and that libraries would soon be obsolete. [25]

On October 10, voters went to the polls.

Independent Register, October 15, 1964, p. 1

Cook Memorial Library lost the election by a slim 47 votes. The library board thought their case was clear; however, many factors seemed to work against them: Mundelein residents overwhelmingly voted against the plan; according to the paper there was a low voter turnout; and the election had been held on a Saturday which conflicted with Libertyville High School’s homecoming as well as the World Series and college football game telecasts. [26]

Libertyville Township Library Board President Vance Ray could offer no explanation for the defeat. “I don’t know how we could do much more in the way of providing information,” he said. The board would have to go back and figure out what to do next. Ray added, “We will do the best we know how to continue operation of the library and continue cooperation with the Fremont Library. We’ll begin searching in our minds for the best move to take in the future, hoping we can arrive at a plan which is acceptable to all sections of the district.” [27]

The Libertyville Township Library board set about regrouping and looking for their next course of action.

Does any of this bring back memories of the Cook Library? Consider sharing your memories with us as part of our Centennial Celebration.

The following sources used in this post can be found in the Cook Memorial Public Library District’s collection.

1. 1960 U. S. Census. Number of Inhabitants – Table 7: Population of Counties, by Minor Civil Divisions: 1940 -1960, p. 15-21.
2. 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,
3. “Library Explores Expansion Possibilities,” Independent Register, July 21, 1960, p. 1.
4. Ibid.
5. “Kennedy to Speak in L’ville Tuesday,” Independent Register, October 20, 1960, p. 1
6. Meeting Minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township, March 16, 1961.
7. “Unveil $325,000 Library Addition Plan,” Independent Register, May 4, 1961, p. 1.
8. “Let Cook Library Alone He Pleads,” Independent Register, May 18, 1961, p. 4
9. “Another Idea For The Library,” Independent Register, May 18, 1961, p. 6
10. “Likens Library Addition To Box,” Independent Register, May 11, 1961, p. 4.
11. “Libertyville Ponders Its Own Library,” Independent Register, August 17, 1961, p. 1.
12. Meeting Minutes of the Board of Directors of Cook Memorial Library of Libertyville Township, May 31, 1961.
13. “Libertyville Ponders Its Own Library, ” Independent Register, August 17, 1961, p. 1.
14. “Why A Village Library Vote,” Independent Register, August 31, 1961, p. 1.
15. “Trustees Settle Ballot Question By Inserting Several Clauses.” Independent Register, September 14, 1961, p.1
16. “Elect Thomas Magistrate; Village Library Vetoed,” Independent Register, October 19, 1961, p. 1.
17. “Library Out of Brainerd Picture,” Independent Register, December 13, 1961, p. 3.
18. “Nix Band, OK Library, Choose Trio,” Independent Register, April 18, 1963, p. 1.
19. “Library Addition Plan Gets Scrutiny Again,” Independent Register, April 25, 1963, p. 1.
20. “Library Is For Children…And It’s Within Walking Distance,” Independent Register, September 10, 1964, p. 1M.
21. “Merchants Blast Library Expansion,” Independent Register, February 27, 1964, p. 1M.
22. “File Petition Asking New Library Body,” Independent Register, March 5, 1964, p. 1M.
23. “Library Referendum Petitions Withdrawn,” Independent Register, June 25, 1964, p. 1M.
24. “Space Problems Plague Cook Memorial Library,” Independent Register, October 1, 1964, p. 1.
25. “6-Point Opposition,” Independent Register, October 1, 1964, p. 4.
26. “Bond Plan Loses,” Independent Register, October 15, 1964, p. 1.
27. Ibid.

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