That was the time that was:

The time Steve Bartman tried to help Cub left-fielder Moises Alou catch a foul ball, the time our country was mired only seven months into the Bush War. It was also the time our brave, new Oak Park Public Library opened with an intentional whimper, then a good-sized bang.

It took just 24 months from shutdown and teardown of the old library and transfer to, then from, its temporary quarters on Harlem Avenue to the grand opening of the beautiful main library of today. On Friday, Oct. 3, 2003 came the “decree” from Library Director Ed Byers who, with help from the staff, the board and the “Friends,” had spearheaded this project. Byers declared, “Let there be a modest sign on our front door bidding people to enter and behold.” And lo, it came to pass. A trickle at first for, intentionally, there was little advance promotion. Then they came singly or by twos and threes, quietly … befitting such a sedate institution.

Day two also was intentionally quiet. However, on Sunday, Oct. 5 a goodly crowd witnessed the laying of the cornerstone followed by a splashy open house featuring former Library Director Carol Brey as keynote speaker, with live music, food, drinks, clowns, jugglers, buskers, balloons and other excesses. Even with much merriment outside, many of those attending took a tour within. (Truth to tell, most of the staff hadn’t time to get that well acquainted with the place, so the playing field was level.) Monday, Oct. 6, then, became the first of some 1,800 business-as-usual days over the next five years.

At this point, the reader is asked to adjust to the first person (or personal) point of view. Oddly enough, this writer is the only known member of the species to have served simultaneously as part-time library staffer and freelance writer for the Wednesday Journal and Forest Park Review newspapers for the past 15 years.

As a humble shelver of books (versus an imperious one?) I’ve chosen to be privy to few of management’s innermost workings. Not to imply anything sinister or arcane on the part of the administration-far from it. They’re a devoted group supported by a dedicated staff, and the main library plus its two branches are comprised of people who care to serve you well.

Putting books on selves allows me to be an observer out there “in the field.” As I shlep books, I see a microcosm of people, mostly library lovers-my kind of folks. I also enjoy a very nifty work environment. It’s quiet, it’s clean and it’s comfortable. I encounter young people, mid-rangers and Q-Tips-the white-haired-all engaged in their library-related business.

Library Director Dee Brennan and Assistant Director Jim Madigan reminded, with pride, just how carefully the architects planned our library, and how well they, the park board and zoning board all worked together. Their concerted effort resulted in a grand, continuous sweep of Scoville Park that permitted it to reach almost to the building’s front door. “We lost some of Grove Avenue but married some great architecture to a lot of natural greenery,” said Brennan.

One of the finest views in town may be seen from the east windows of the second floor. One is rewarded by stopping and looking out and down from bird-level at the lovely, leafy greensward of the park. If you haven’t done so, do so. Take time to enjoy the prospect at your pace. For three seasons, it’s a contrast of greens, and in winter there’s the stark, barren beauty of dark, laced branches against white. “Few, if any, libraries” said Madigan, “offer such a rare mix of suburban planning in an urban setting. It’s very village-friendly.”

Let’s go downstairs to a Juvenile Department that takes up over 50 percent of the first floor and carries more items than most libraries.

Currently, the full time staff numbers 125, exclusive/inclusive of those at the recently remodeled Maze and Dole branches. Add some part-timers and a sprinkling of volunteers, and you have a staff of good people. Every one of them is there to serve you. And every one could tell his or her story.

So. It’s been a dinger of a half decade. Happy Anniversary, brave new library. March on … and bring on the future.

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