Library remains cornerstone of community

Despite many changes over past 130 years, HPL is still a valued resource for residents

Series: Quintessential Hinsdale | Story 6

With the creation of audio recordings and ebooks, the experience of reading no longer is defined solely by the turning of paper pages in a bound volume. Likewise, the local library is home to collections that offer far more than traditional books.

Yet Karen Keefe, executive director of the Hinsdale Public Library, said old-fashioned paper books are still the most sought-after objects among library patrons.

"About 20 percent of our circulation is now digital," said Keefe, who includes movies, DVDs and compact discs in that equation. "A driver of a lot of our activity is still the books."

One hundred and thirty years after the library first opened its doors, families still roam its aisles in search of books to enjoy at home, Keefe said. Families take stacks at a time to introduce their children to reading, students find resources in the collection to help with school assignments and bibliophiles of all sorts come to the library in search of their next read.

Often, it's the library's extensive collection of cookbooks and travel books that bring people in, Keefe said.

"From picture books and chapter books, to novels and nonfiction, our entire family uses and loves the library," said Natalie Jeckel. But there are plenty of other reasons why the Hinsdale Public Library is a favorite destination for families like the Jeckels.

Jeckel said she's made library programs part of her daughter's homeschool curriculum, and the family has taken advantage of Explore More Illinois and Adventure Pass, a pair of programs that offer free passes to places like Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Children's Museum.

Keefe said the library is constantly exploring new ways to serve the community.

"We're continuing to do more with what is called a library of things," she said.

By offering essential but seldom-used products as part of the library collection, the library can save patrons money and save the environment from items that are purchased, used once and then left to sit on a shelf or in a landfill.

Items available to borrow include an internet hot spot, international charging kits for travel and a paint matcher to help decorators find the perfect color.

"It's one of those things that most people don't need to own," Keefe said.

Decades after introducing her children to the library's storytimes, library patron Debbie Hopkins said she still visits the library frequently to feed her voracious reading habit.

"I read about 50 books a year," said Hopkins, who in addition to reading for pleasure uses the library to preview books for her professional library before deciding to purchase.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hopkins said she used the library almost exclusively for perusing its shelves for her next read. But while the library was closed, she began requesting books from the library's interlibrary loan network and soon discovered that she had access to far more books than can fit on the library's shelves.

In the last few years Hopkins has further expanded her use of the library to include some unexpected offerings.

"You wouldn't think that a spice club is something related to a library," said Hopkins.

But through the library's club, Hopkins has learned about the history of spices, their origins and how to use them. The club even provides samples that participants can smell, taste and learn to cook with.

Hopkins also is exploring her artistic interests at the library through art classes.

"Our library pushes the intellectual curiosity of our community," Hopkins said, not to mention her own.

The library itself is trying something new when it launches Hinsdale My Way. Planned for noon each Sunday, Hinsdale My Way provides an hour for families whose members might require a quieter, less crowded library experience. Keefe said lights will be dimmed and adaptive craft projects will be planned to engage families of all kinds.

"We're happy to make the library accessible to everyone," Keefe said.

That includes people for whom a trip to the library is difficult or impossible. She said library volunteers provide doorstep delivery of materials for Hinsdale's homebound neighbors.

"The Hinsdale Public Library is a place of convenience and community," Jeckel said. "What we love most are the people. Finding the helpers in life is so important and the kind-hearted librarians and staff at the Hinsdale Public Library help foster a love of learning and inquiry."

Since the Hinsdale Public Library was founded as the Hinsdale Library Association in 1887, the library has been growing and changing right along with the community. But Keefe said the fundamental purpose of the Hinsdale Public Library has remained the same.

"It's still a place for people to discover and explore information and ideas," she said.

It's just the delivery method that's changed.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean