Galena, Illinois is a pretty town. Nestled in the bluffs of the Galena River, Galena is renowned for its mid-Nineteenth Century architecture, its quaint shops, and its history. It was once the home, albeit briefly, of Ulysses S. Grant, future Commanding General of the Union Army and later 18th President of the United States. He lived here for about a year before serving in the Civil War. Galena considers him their favorite son.
The library is a Carnegie delight. For those not in the know, around the turn of the Twentieth Century, multimillionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie set up a fund to construct libraries primarily around the United States and in his home country of Scotland. This particular one is a Beaux Arts design, sitting up atop a hill, looking down majestically upon the community it serves.
I got to chatting with Linda Klug and Colleen Keleher, librarians who were manning the front desk that afternoon. They both seemed to be in awe of their surroundings, even after many years working there. They liked their library a lot, showing me the different cool things the library has that others may not, including a shelving unit of ornate iron design work from the original library (this is the second building) a cozy seating area with original woodwork and accompanying fireplace all the way up to an electronics charging station that featured all the major plug-ins to the latest gadgets. The library shelves were strewn with objet d'art including busts of famous writers, ancient Roman architectural features, maps, the Eiffel Tower... Probably the coolest thing though is something called a Quartoscope. It is essentially a machine which after you've inserted a coin, (though it's free now) you'd put your eyes to the viewer and it projects pictures of people and places throughout history, randomly selected. Kind of like a 1890's version of Google Images I'm Feeling Lucky. As to their circulating collections, they had all the necessaries, including books, eBooks, DVDs, audio CDs, playaways and the like. Near the end of our conversation, the ladies suggested I take a walk downstairs and check out their historical and genealogical collections.
I met with Scott Wolfe, Historical Librarian downstairs. He said he had been on the job for about thirty years and shared the responsibility of housing many of the historical paperwork of the town going back to the 1830's, including censuses, plats, newspapers, city directories, church records, etc. I was amazed at the variety and volume of documents for a town with a population of only 3500, but Galena has a lot of history to it and its library is proud of it. It should also be noted that most if not all of these documents have yet to be digitized, so if you're interested in a digitization opportunity, I would definitely contact them.
Overall, I have to say the warmth and welcoming feel of the place is reflected from the faces of those people who work here. It did bother me though that I figured out that the only person working there who is full time is the director, with most of the work being performed by part-time staff and a lot of other resources provided by the Friends of the Library group. I know first hand, however, that funding, especially in Illinois is tight. It warmed my heart to know that places like the Galena library still seem to thrive despite nationwide public library funding issues.