Library branch to expand

Library branch to expand

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

Read all about it—the Rockford Public Library will turn to the next chapter in the saga of the library’s Montague branch.

Local officials and community members will commemorate the groundbreaking of the Montague Branch Library Addition & Renovation Project at a ceremony at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 24, at 1238 S. Winnebago Street.

“The branch is 78 years old and desperately needs renovation,” said Dana Delanty, the Rockford Public Library’s community relations representative. “The architect will blend the new with the old to make it look like it’s been there forever.”

David Hagney & Architects will double the branch’s size from 5,000 to 10,000 square feet. Bricks, roof and interior, oak woodwork in the new section will bear a close resemblance to the old structure. Several original oak bookcases, along with the fireplace, will be renovated. Other improvements will be effected by creating to two community rooms; a public wireless computer area; a kids’ storytelling space; an adult reading space; a handicapped-accessible elevator; better lighting; new heating and cooling; and an accessible book drop.

The extension will be completed in late spring 2002. A contractor hasn’t been chosen yet.

The cost is $1.6 million. The library will use $750,000 from the city’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. The remaining $850,000 will be funded by Friends of Rockford Public Library, the library’s capital improvement budget and other private and public funds.

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John Brien, library board president, said the changes will improve the building. “It’s a wonderful landmark and has been a valuable asset in the community, going on 78 years now. It is critical to save this and make it viable for the community. It’s something we need to do now.

“We have to be responsible and bring this to ADA-accessible [and] offer the public an opportunity to see what a branch library should be.”

Brien also said growth in the community has created the need for a larger library. “With space limitations, you have to tailor some of the needs to the area,” Brien said. “By increasing the space, it allows us to have a more broad-based selection.”

When the library closed in early May, it contained about 18,000 materials. It will continue to maintain a yearly circulation of 18,000-19,000. Shelves have been added throughout the years to accommodate more. Initially, the branch featured a circulation capacity of 12,000 books.

The library is located in a diverse neighborhood, and since its inception it has had an array of ethnic materials. The library initially had several books suited for the Italian and Lithuanian population. The library has created a wider selection for the even more diverse neighborhood, consisting largely of African Americans and Hispanics.

The library was named after Richard Montague, an early Rockford settler. Architect Chester Wolfey designed the Spanish Renaissance-style building, which is the sole branch owned by the Rockford Public Library.

The branch opened on May 16, 1923. Sara Reynolds, Friends of Rockford Public Library president, grew up near the library and recalled the early years of the branch in the 1930s. “As a youngster, I would walk to the Montague Branch Library and take out as many books as I was allowed to take out,” she stated.

She said that Miss Cooper, a librarian, introduced her to biographies and autobiographies, which she continues to enjoy. She also credits the library with instilling in her a zest for reading.

“I moved from the area but of course, my heart has also had a soft spot for that library,” Reynolds said. “That’s where I learned to read, and it’s fostered my love of reading.”

In a library brochure, Valeri DeCastris, B.A., M.S., noted that the branch offered several Italian-American children opportunities.

“I can say without hesitation that I have a master’s degree today in large part because of those 5-7 books I hauled home from the Montague Library to Cunningham Street every week,” she said.

“… I can still remember the reverence I felt for all of those books, the nice and new way they smelled and the cool calm of the air conditioning on hot summer days, The Montague Library enriched our little community. May it continue to do so for generations to come,” DeCastris said.

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