Much more than your traditional library, this Elgin institution is investing in learning activities, programs and exhibits for kids and adults.
Most cities have a library, but few are as impressive as the Gail Borden Library in Elgin. Each of its three branches has activities for visitors of all ages.
Walking in the main library at 270 N. Grove Ave., you never know what you’ll see – maybe a robotic giraffe, maybe a collection of Star Wars action figures, or maybe even a 32-foot tall dinosaur skeleton. It’s not unusual for out-of-town visitors to stop by.
“Businesspeople bring their clients here – that’s how you know this is a cool place,” says Denise Raleigh, division chief of public relations and development. “People bring their out-of-town family here. That’s a really wonderful thing for us to see.”
The main library gets 2,500 to 3,000 visitors per day. About 145,000 residents are served by the three libraries: the main branch downtown, the Rakow Branch at 2751 W. Bowes Road, and the new South Elgin Branch at 127 S. McLean Blvd. According to Raleigh, 72 percent of people in the district have library cards.
“People come back time and time again because it’s so interactive, and there’s always something new,” Raleigh says. “People have a lot of pride in these libraries.”
A Tour of Gail Borden’s Main Branch
Right when you walk in the main library, a “marketplace” of popular books, movies, CDs, video games and other media awaits exploration.
“This is new from last year, and it’s proven to be a big success,” Raleigh says. “This way, people who just want to stop in really quick for something new can do so easily. It’s a heavily used area.”
Nearly 60 percent of the collection is checked out at all times.
Gone are the days when books are checked in manually. Now, a 23-vent sorter immediately registers when items are returned. The result is that people never have to wait to check out new items, and returned items are usually back on the shelf within the hour. The staff members who used to manually check in material are now out on the floor, helping the thousands of visitors find what they’re looking for.
Walk past the marketplace and you’ll quickly discover what appears to be a playground. Crafts, puzzles, puppets and games are dispersed amongst a trove of children’s books.
“This is our kid space,” Raleigh says. “We want to show that books aren’t something separated from your everyday life. So, we intermix books with a play area. The kids learn to associate reading with fun.”
Just a few steps away is a Middle School Zone, where kids in grades 6 through 8 can play Minecraft, participate in Magna and Anime Club, or work on school projects at grouped tables.
The first floor also contains a cafe, a 200-seat auditorium and a computer area. Besides using the computers for research or recreation, adults can take classes in both English and Spanish to gain computer skills, while students can take classes to learn coding sills.
Upstairs, the library offers activities geared toward teens and adults.
“The teen area is really something impressive,” Raleigh says. “This is a great place for them to come after school.”
Teens can relax, play games or collaborate on homework. There are walls that they can write on and comfy chairs where they can sit and plug in electronic devices. A craft table has many types of supplies to finish school projects, while an audio/visual media studio has technology the teens may not have at home.
The second floor contains many shelves of books, but it also has the library’s genealogy section.
“We are the largest genealogy resource in Kane County,” Raleigh says. “People come here all the time to research their families.”
Perhaps the most popular area of the library is the River Room at the very back of the second floor. Since the library is located off the banks of the Fox River, the River Room provides library visitors with gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape.
In the wintertime, people enjoy sitting close to lighted fireplaces and watching for eagles outside the window.
“It’s really beautiful, especially when the river freezes,” Raleigh says. “Sometimes you can see the eagles land on the ice. It’s a beautiful site. We start noticing them in early January.”
Though the main library has the most amenities, the Rakow and South Elgin branches boast their own unique features. At Rakow, visitors can find a 24-hour MediaBank DVD dispenser, a computer cafe, Science Saturday events for middle school students as well as programs for all ages. The South Elgin branch has an abundance of collaboration areas and study rooms, in addition to a laptop dispenser for computer usage.
What Else Does the Library Offer?
Combined, the three Gail Borden branches hosted more than 2,000 programs in the 2015-16 school year, with 69,450 people participating.
“We have a very large, economical staff that organizes a lot of programming,” Raleigh says. “There’s something for people of any age.”
One program that particularly stands out is Read to Rover, a program at the main branch that invites certified therapy dogs into the library so elementary-aged children can read aloud to them.
Proficient readers and struggling readers alike enjoy participating, Raleigh says.
“A lot of times you see kids who are reluctant to read on their own,” says Jennifer Bueche, director of the Kid Space. “They’re afraid of reading out loud and making a mistake, but the dogs aren’t going to say anything. The dogs won’t judge them.”
Bueche finds that Read to Rover can also be a great way for parents to introduce dogs to their children.
“It’s not the same dogs every time, but there are quite a few that stand out,” Bueche says. “There’s a white Pit Bull that comes in with pink bows. There’s a giant, white dog that’s just the fluffiest thing you could ever want to hug. It’s a great experience for the kids to practice reading out loud with these loveable dogs.”
Read to Rover occurs the second Saturday of every month. Children can bring their own book or pick up one at the library upon arrival. Spots may be available on the day of the program, but advanced reservations are encouraged.
In addition to programs, the library often hosts exciting events. For example, this past year kids had the opportunity to speak live with astronauts on the International Space Station.
“There were discussions on how space is portrayed in movies compared to real life, as well as discussions on the future endeavors of NASA,” Raleigh says. “The library is a hub of creativity, and that event certainly provided a creative spark for those kids.”
All branches have lists of fun upcoming events, from the 12th annual Black History Family Festival to concerts from the Elgin Symphony Orchestra. Sign up for programs or discover more information on events at gailborden.info.