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County libraries enjoy a resurgence in recent years

SANDWICH – The Sandwich Public Library will be the latest addition to the library resurgence in DeKalb County as officials expect to break ground on a new $5 million building within months.

After 71 years in a 4,780-square-foot building with no handicap accessibility, the Sandwich library received a $1.6 million state grant and overwhelming support for a tax increase that will generate another $3.4 million. The new 17,000-square-foot library will be next to the city’s schools and YMCA.

The project is just the latest example of the wave of support libraries have received from communities in DeKalb County in the past few years.

Somonauk built a new 15,000-square-foot library in August 2009 with the backing of increased tax support. Sycamore Public Library completed a $731,000 renovation in October, and DeKalb’s library is looking to local fundraising to help pay for an expansion.

For Sandwich, the new facility was needed to save an important community resource, said library board president Nancy Sanders, because the existing library is falling apart. In 2004, sagging second-story floors collapsed under the weight of library materials. The library was built to support 15,000 books but housed more than 34,000 books, DVDs, periodicals and other materials.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Sanders said of the successful referendum. “It was great it passed two-to-one. We’ve been very excited about the response we’ve received from the community.”

The investments communities are making in their libraries are well worth it, said Julie Harte, director of the Somonauk Public Library.

When the new building opened in August 2009, Harte said the library issued more than 450 new library cards in the first month and saw enough increased activity to warrant opening on Sundays for a few hours.

She said the recent surge of support for libraries throughout the county shows the evolution of libraries from a place to mostly search for books to a social gathering area where educational programs, electronic accessibility and organization meetings take place.

“When we told people what kind of services we could start and expand, they were very welcoming to the idea,” Harte said. “People use the library in so many different ways now.”

Jennifer Burke, Sandwich Public Library director, has heard similar responses in her community. The new facility will feature study rooms and a community room where programs can take place, a 24-7 drive-through to drop off books and pick up reserved materials and a large computer laboratory.

Burke said she expects to see an increase from the 42,588 people who used the library last year when the new facility opens in fall 2014.

“When we sent out a survey people said what they wanted most was space for meetings, activities and other programs,” Burke said. “It’s going to be wonderful to finally have that.”

The support for libraries also helps schools, said Rick Schmitt, superintendent for Sandwich School District 430. Schmitt said it is great the new library location will be close to four of the six schools in the district and believes more partnerships with the library will happen.

“It’s going to be very beneficial to the learning community,” Schmitt said. “I think it speaks highly of the citizens of our community that they value education and learning and are willing to support it.”

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