Highland Park Celebrates 125 Years!

When it’s football season in Chicago and the Bears are playing, that’s all that matters. And when it’s the season opener, it’s hardly an ideal time to schedule a library program. And yet, on a recent Sunday afternoon during the Bear’s first game of the season, Highland Park (Ill.) Public Library kicked off their 125th anniversary celebration and 300 people came out to celebrate.

How did the library mark such a milestone, and what drew such a crowd? The library chose to celebrate with stories and words. With the hopes of providing patrons with a truly memorable afternoon in which to mark the library’s anniversary and note its importance in the community, a group of Chicago’s literary and cultural icons, including Elizabeth Berg, Billy Corgan, Jonathan Eig, Joseph Epstein, Aaron Freeman, Michael Halberstam, Welz Kauffman, Bill Kurtis, Donna La Pietra, Martha Lavey, Mike Leonard, and Mary Schmich, were invited to the library to read excerpts from their favorite works of literature for the library’s “Chicago Reads” event.

On Sunday, September 9, those icons gathered at the library—among them were winners of a Pulitzer Prize, Emmy Award, and Grammy Award, along with bestselling authors. Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan not only served as host, but lent the idea for the event, based on a similar event he hosted elsewhere. The audience was entertained and awed by the talent present in one room, and moved by the readings as one after another literary or cultural icon from throughout Chicago took the stage. Readings brought tears, shivers, "awws," and applause from the standing-room only crowd.

And after the event? Patrons, both the regulars and those who rarely come to a library event, were talking about it around town. One patron described the afternoon as “magical.” To another, it was “spectacular.”

Two weeks later, the celebration continued with more stories and words as noted storyteller, humorist, author, and radio personality Garrison Keillor spoke at the library. The goal was the same—to mark the library’s anniversary, and reflect upon what it stands for in the community—with a memorable event. It was another packed house, and patrons were excited to take part in the library’s celebration.

The library’s anniversary celebration will continue until next spring with other special events planned. In the meantime, visitors to the library are enjoying an exhibit of items from the library’s archives that provides a look back in time. The exhibit was curated by Sara Bartels, Jeanette Hopperton, and Eric Newman from Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Located in the library’s lobby, it’s attracted a lot of attention.

Also located in the lobby as part of the celebration is an old card catalog and thousands of cards that once filled it. Jim Edstrom, Professor of Library Services and History at nearby Harper College in Palatine, lent the card catalog and provided the cards. The library then turned to Chicago-based design studio INDO’s Crystal Grover and Linsey Burritt to create a special installation using these emblematic library components.

Grover and Burritt, who always work with recycled materials in their installations, turned more than 17,000 used card catalog cards into a textural piece of art called Open Book to celebrate the library’s milestone anniversary. The sculptural piece, close to twelve feet wide, is made entirely of used catalog cards. Mounted on a wall in the library’s lobby, visitors can’t miss it, yet it’s only upon close inspection that it becomes apparent what it’s made of. And embedded in the piece is the shape of an open book, yet another iconic library image. The cards are placed in such a way as to create a fringe effect, much like the pages of an open book.

The installation also includes an interactive card catalog where each drawer features a book-related question. Patrons are asked to recall moments from favorite reading experiences, and to share them with others, answering questions such as “Wwhat book character would you love to meet in real life?” or, “What was your favorite book in high school?” Patrons can record their answers on a used card catalog card and flip through the responses, discovering others’ answers.