The Indian Prairie Public Library District serves all of Willowbrook, most of Darien, parts of Burr Ridge, and a number of surrounding unincorporated areas in west suburban DuPage County. In shape, the 43,400-square-foot red-and-brown brick building, at 401 Plainfield Road in Darien, with a tower at its entrance resembles a Medieval-era manor house, but is considerably larger than most such buildings actually standing in Europe.
Willowbrook was incorporated in 1959, and Darien was incorporated ten years later. The Darien Library was founded in 1978 as a volunteer library operated by the Darien Woman’s Club. The Willowbrook Library opened in 1980 as a Project PLUS demonstration library. In 1981, a new Darien Library opened as another Project PLUS demonstration library. [The Illinois State Library made Project PLUS grants that ran for one year. PLUS was an acronym for “Promoting Larger Units of Service.” The Project PLUS grants could only be granted to district libraries. The idea was to promote the establishment of library districts in areas underserved by municipal libraries. The grant was contingent on a referendum being held within 9 months to confirm a change in status to library district.] Both the Darien District Library and the Willowbrook District Library were storefront libraries. They stood about one mile apart.
On September 14, 1982, President Gregory of the Willowbrook Public Library District Board of Trustees appointed a committee of trustees and staff members to develop a Five Year Plan, chaired by trustee Elizabeth Angelus. The Suburban Library System assisted this committee.
In 1986, the Darien Library District served 16,622 people, and Willowbrook Library District served 17,227 people. They estimated that if they merged, the new library would serve 45,000 people by 1997, and 60,000 people by 2007.
In 1987, consultant Steve H. Larson recommended the two libraries proceed with merger plans and that the amalgamated library should open on July 1, 1990. The two districts merged on July 1, 1988, with the approval of 85% of the voters. This was the first such merger to take place in Illinois.
In 1988, the Northern Illinois University (NIU) Public Opinion Laboratory (POL) produced a report based on a survey of 449 residents of Dairen, Willowbrook, and other places served by the Indian Prairie Public Library District by NIU POL staff. Not quite 63% had visited the library in the past year. About two-fifths did not know the libraries of Darien and Willowbrook were due to merge on July 1, 1988.
On November 30, 1987, at the Joint Committee Meeting of the Whole of the Boards of Trustees, the name Indian Prairie was chosen. Alternative names that were rejected included the Amy van Allen Library, Ben Franklin Library, Bibliolibrary, BookLime, Book Worm, Books “R” Us, Books & Such, Bookword, Cass Library, Clarendon Plains Library, Daribrook Public Library, Darien-Willowbrook Library, Daybrook, Farmingdale Public Library, Knowledge Library, Kristina Costaras Library, La Grande Bibliotheque, Marionbrook Public Library, New Darien Library, Wildarbrook, Willien Library, Willow Hills Library, South West Library District, and Plain Corner Library.
In 1989, a bond referendum on construction of a new library failed to pass. In October of 1990, Anders C. Dahlgren and Pat Hogan of Library Planning Associates, Inc. submitted “Building Programs Statement: A description of the space needs in an expanded facility for the Indian Prairie Public Library District.” The next year, Indian Prairie Public Library’s Financial Advisor, Larson, suggested (another) bond referendum be tried.
Before the new library building was built, the library served 44,000 residents of 3 municipalities and unincorporated areas from an 8,500-square-foot storefront library. It depended heavily on ILL (interlibrary loan) to supplement 71,000 volumes.
In 1993, Bob Kampwirth, President of the Library Board; Lee Schacht, Library Director; and Steve Reardon, Chairman of Citizens for A New Indian Prairie Library spearheaded the drive for a referendum in 1993 to approve the sale of $4,950,000 in bonds “to construct, furnish, and equip a new library, to be built on the centrally located four acres owned by Indian Prairie.” A total of 230 people participated in this effort.
The initial plans to ask voters in a 1993 referendum to approve the construction of a new library called for a 34,000-square-foot facility. The bonds to finance construction of a new library were to be paid off by a property tax levy over 20 years. The assessment would be $19 a year for a family whose home had a market value of $150,000. The referendum passed 3,414 to 2,725 on November 2, 1993.
The library organization moved into the 43,400-square-foot library building in January of 1996. It cost $5,800,000 to construct, furnish, and equip the building. Money from the sale of the referendum-approved bonds covered only construction costs.
The Indian Prairie Public Library sued the original architects and general contractor over building defects after a water leak shortly after the library opened in 1996. The library got $570,000 from the Glen Ellyn-based architect and $300,000 from Chicago-based general contractor in a settlement.
In 2001, the library developed plans for unused space on the second floor, but scaled back those plans for lack of funds. As of 2003, there was 4,000 square feet of unused space on the second floor, but with the help of Winnetka-based WCT Architects, Inc. the Youth Services Department (Youth and Young Adult Services) expanded to occupy half the unused space. The space devoted to a meeting room was doubled.
In 2005, the second phase of organizational expansion to occupy the remainder of unused space on the second floor was completed. A new area for adults was built that would accommodate magazines and computers. Also, wireless internet service was installed everywhere in the building.
Library Director Jamie Bukovac reported in 2006, the Indian Prairie Public Library considered installing a drive-through window, but of 4,850 patrons surveyed, only 1,000 said they would use it, according to an article by Jane Michaels published in The Doings.
Starting in 2000, the library began to record accounts of World War II by local veterans as part of the Federally-funded Veteran’s History Project. These are oral history interviews (the specialty of the late Studs Terkel). Reference Librarian Joe Popowitch told Petras Barcas for a 2008 Suburban Life article that the interview process takes 25 to 40 hours from start to finish. By January of 2008, volunteers had interviewed 63 vets. The project received more attention from the local press when dozens of vets and their wives attended an event at the library in May of 2008 where teenage girls on the Teen Advisory Board dressed up as USO girls and handed out candy while the Tres Bella vocal group performed as the Andrew Sisters.
Today, the library has more than 170,000 items. It is visited by more than 1,050 people a day.
The interior is decorated and furnished to create a wholesome, almost cozy environment. Everyone I encountered on my visit there was polite and friendly.
The green landscape outside provides a park-like setting. It is not, however, literally a park, which may explain the bent “No Trespassing” sign I found on one corner of the property behind some trees, so don’t go picnicking or throwing Frisbees outside the library.
The phone number there is (630) 887-8760. Regular business hours are 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturdays, and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.