Member Spotlight: Litchfield Public Library

Congratulations to Sara Zumwalt, Library Director, and the staff at Litchfield Public Library District. On Monday, February 26, the library opened for business in their beautiful, new building. Sara shares more of the story below.

This has been my dream.  I worked with the board, the architects, the staff, the patrons...all to provide what I hoped would become a phenomenal library. I think we won!

Sara Zumwalt, Litchfield Public Library District

Why the decision for a new library?

The Carnegie building, while beautiful, was not truly handicapped accessible. It was also beyond crowded and did not allow us to hold any programs for adults. In addition, the building was aging and had some mechanical issues that would be expensive to take care of, and the board did not want to invest a lot of money into a building that we did not own.

How long did the process take?

Talk of a new building has been in the works for 3-4 years. It took us over a year to find suitable property. We broke ground on May 4, 2017 and had our open house on February 25, 2018. 

How did you find the funds? 

The Library has been very fortunate to be the recipient of several substantial bequests from former residents. These funds were used to supplement the project, but the majority of the project will be financed with a traditional mortgage from Litchfield National Bank. Local grant programs provided the furniture and equipment needed in the new building, with $50,000 coming from the Darrel W. Kilton trust, and several other smaller local grants also providing funding.

The library annexed the school district in 2011, and the increase in annual tax revenue made the possibility of a mortgage payment much easier to imagine.

What enhancements does the new library have over the old one?

The main change from the old library is that everything is on ONE FLOOR! No more elevator and three floors to watch. Our restrooms are more visible to staff, which cuts down on vandalism and security issues. The open floor plan allows staff to see each wing of the building, and security cameras also help with spaces. All lighting is LED and energy efficient; the old Library had light fixtures which were not bright enough.  We were also able to incorporate a large meeting room into the building, which can be used by patrons or groups for a small fee.

Fun/interesting tidbits?

The two most asked questions from the beginning of the project were 1) what’s going to happen to the old building? and 2) are you taking the cat?

We have no idea what the city will do with the old building, but it was placed on the national register of historic places in 1999, so it cannot be torn down.

As far as the cat, she arrived on January 26, and after a rough couple days, has acclimated quite well to her new enlarged kingdom.

Illinois Correctional Industries designed and built our custom circulation desk, as well as wooden shelving. We were able to re-purpose many of the other shelving, tables, and chairs from the old library.

 Has there been any reaction from your patrons?

The original idea, when it became public in June 2017, was NOT supported by many citizens of Litchfield. However, the board persisted and continued doing what it believed was the right decision for the Library. We held a public forum in June 2017, and it was attended by over 100 people. Most of them were firm supporters of the library and appreciated the board’s plan to make a one-story building with closer parking. (It should be noted that NONE of the nay-sayers 1) had valid library cards, 2) chose NOT to speak at the public forum, because they were in the minority and 3) the negativity has died down since the building became a reality).

Over 600 people attended an open house on February 25, and the most common word overheard was “amazing!” The open floor plan, the natural light, and the simple open spaces were some of the things people appreciated.

One patron, who stated again and again that she was AGAINST the new library because there was “nothing wrong with the old one” came to me at the open house and said, “Sara, I apologize and I have to eat my words. This library is wonderful, and you were right, I DO love it and we DID need it!”

What is your favorite feature?

To be selfish, I have an office that is actually AN OFFICE now, as opposed to the room where I worked, and where the FAX machine was, and the public printer, and the everything else the staff needed on a regular basis.

As for the whole library, I love the openness and the light. The Carnegie was gorgeous, but there was no room and no real light.

I know it is a little early, but what do you wish you would have done?

I’m not sure there is anything on my “wish we’d” list... we all worked pretty closely with the architects to assure there WEREN’T any missed items. If I had to wish something, I wish we could get everyone in Litchfield to use and appreciate the Library and all we have to offer. (A local businessman wrote a long letter to the editor, stating he would give $10,000 to start up a “training center” in the Carnegie. Everything he listed – computer training, filling out job applications, writing a resume, tutoring – we ALREADY DO! Some people really have NO CLUE!!)

More photos from the Open House have been posted on the IHLS Facebook page.