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Celebrating 140 Years!

April 24, 2015 - Celebrating 140 Years with The Urbana Free Library

It has been a pleasure to celebrate The Urbana Free Library’s 140th Birthday this past year. We hope you have enjoyed learning more about how different Library departments can serve you. As the world changes, TUFL will continue to change so that the TUFL of the future can continue to serve Urbana residents well for the next 140 years.

Coming soon: Strategic planning, new kinds of collections, even more events to attend, and Summer Reading Programs for Everyone! Suggestions? We would love to have them.

And now, let me introduce you to:

Shelver/Baristas at the Library Cafe and Friends Book Shop provide friendly smiles as you enter the Library via Race Street. When they are not creating excellent beverages and baking scrumptious cookies, they shelve the collections, provide room setup, and work on special library projects. They also work with the Friends of the Library to select interesting books that you can purchase for $3 at the Cafe. These funds are used for large, special purchases, such as the awnings over the Race Street porch.  If you would like to be a Shelver/Barista, we will be testing to see who qualifies to fill some current vacancies.

During 2013-14, Acquisitions Services added over 30,000 items to the collection. They order: books, DVD, CDs, audiobooks, kits, games, maps, materials for the Champaign County Historical Archives, and more. They add items to the catalog, physically process them for use on the way into the collection and withdraw them if they are damaged beyond repair or no longer meet your needs. Oh, yeah, they also repair lots of items so they can stay in the collection longer. Acquisitions Services staff clean the DVDs, CDs and audiobooks so they don’t skip. (When you notice ones that do skip, please let us know so we can fix them!)


Did you like the Fairy Tale Ball art and the characters on the wall in Megan’s Room? Graphic Services create these and maintain the website. Each year, Graphic Services collaborate with other Library staff to produce over 1,000 print and digital promotional pieces for the Library. Digital and print – they’ve got it all covered.

I bet that one way or another, you use technology at the Library. TUFL’s Manager of Information Technology plans, operates, and maintains information technology-supported systems, applications, and services in the library. This includes approximately 150 staff and public computers; network security, and points the Library to long-term technology leadership. What are your suggestions for IT enhancements? Please share.

TUFL’s Office Manager ensures that staff and bills are paid on time, as well as doing a fair share of “other duties as assigned.” The Associate Director leads the promotion and marketing efforts of the Library, as well as providing oversight to Library programming as a whole. Got ideas for events? We’d love to know. The Executive Director leads it all, empowering this awesome team of people to do what they do best – provide excellent Library service.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the Library and our volunteers and supporters over the past year, I do hope you stop in and say, “Hi!”

Celeste Choate, Executive Director


April 2015 - April is National Volunteer Month: Thank You to Our Volunteers!

Throughout the 140 years of The Urbana Free Library’s history, volunteers have been a critical part of the Library’s success. Volunteers donate their valuable time, leadership, skills, and fundraising efforts to The Library. They are our ambassadors into the community and we are grateful for their ongoing support:

  • The Board of The Urbana Free Library
  • The Urbana Free Library Foundation Board
  • The Friends of The Urbana Free Library
  • Grounds and gardens projects
  • Book sales
  • Home delivery
  • Technology support
  • The Fairy Tale Ball
  • Read to the Dogs and Read to the Horses
  • Projects in all departments
  • And more!

This year there will be a brief presentation about volunteers at the April 14, 2015, Library Board meeting at 7:00 pm. More details will follow about a Cafe Concert to celebrate our volunteers.

Celeste Choate, Executive Director

March 1,2015 - From the President of the Friends of The Urbana Free Library

The Friends of the Urbana Free Library (FUFL) is a group of people who appreciate and volunteer to support the Library.  The group was established in 1975.  Funds raised through book sales and donations have been used for purchasing books and eBooks; funding youth reading programs; plantings in the gardens and flower boxes surrounding the library; purchasing the awnings for the Race Street porch; repairing children’s library play areas; and the annual funding of the Herbert Goldhor Award, which is issued to a University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science student planning a career in public libraries.  The Friends also enjoy gifting library patrons on holidays, such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween with selected book bundles made available at the circulation desk. 

Meetings are scheduled throughout the year and posted on the Library’s online calendar.  Newcomers who love the Library and who are enthusiastic about its future are always welcome. 

Membership enrollment forms are available through service desks at the Library and online.  The annual cost is $10.00 for each adult.  Junior membership (12 years and younger) is $1.00.   Members of the Friends receive admission to book sales on Friends Night, prior to access by the general public. 

The Friends congratulate The Urbana Free Library on its 140th birthday and look forward to its continued success.

Theryl Newland, President
Friends of the Urbana Free Library

Don't miss the Friends of The Urbana Free Library Spring Book Sale.  NEW DATES:  March 12-16, 2015

January 29, 2015 - It's All About Community

There are so many reasons to celebrate The Urbana Free Library!  It has a notable collection that has something for everyone.  It has computers that are free and open to the public.  It has programs on a wide variety of topics.  But if you look beyond the resources and services the Library provides, you will find the best reason to celebrate—the community that has supported it for 140 years. 

The Library’s rich history is the key to its bright future; the Library was founded through the vision and support of the community, and it continues to be supported to this day.  As the Library continues its 140th birthday celebration, in February we will honor and highlight the Library community.  

  • Listen to live music.  Get crafty.  Get creative.  Share your love of reading.  Build community.  Library programs feature the best in local talent.  Check the Library’s e-calendar often and sign up for e-notification of events.    
  • Engage with the Library on social media.  You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, and YouTube.  
  • During our February birthday celebration, we’ll be looking for the community’s help with Library-related selfies (shelfies) and the creation of a virtual community arts project (Library-themed, of course).  
  • As always, we’ll have displays of materials ready for selection and a special exhibit of vintage Library photographs through the Champaign County Historical Archives.  

We thank and invite you to celebrate with us!

Kathy Wicks, Associate Director

January 22, 2015 - You Like Us!  You Really Like Us!

Last June, we asked the library community to respond to the question, Tell Us Why You Love The Urbana Free Library.  We received so many wonderful comments that ranged from personal vignettes of library memories throughout the years to honest impressions from children that made us smile.  Once again we thank everyone for their comments.  The UFL is so fortunate to have the support of our community; we are unblushingly proud!

Take a look at what people told us

December 22, 2014 - Celerating 140 Years With Adult Services

As we celebrate the Library’s 140th birthday, we have been highlighting all of the departments and services that make The Urbana Free Library special. In January 2015, it will be Adult Services’ turn.  Here are a few things you might like to know about Adult Services and the resources we are happy to make available for you: 

  • The adult and teen collection contains more than 150,000 books, 20,000 CDs, 15,500 DVDs, and 3,300 audiobooks and fills two floors. 
  • The Library’s collection of music and movies is one of the best in the area.  Some highlights--the international folk music CDs, international language films, and documentaries.
  • We love getting your suggestions for the collection. You can let Adult Services know about items you think the Library should buy.  Just press the Suggest a Purchase button on the homepage of the Library website!
  • Adults Services selects the useful and fun eResources that cardholders from The Urbana Free Library can access from home.  You can learn a new language, stream a diverse collection of music to your computer, get trusted and up-to-date consumer information, and more. 
  • The Adult Services collection includes circulating NOOKs pre-loaded with popular adult and teen titles. We update content regularly so check back often!
  • If you have your own device, Adult Services staff are happy to help you show you how to install the apps to use My Media Mall, 3M Cloud, and Zinio so you can download eBooks, audiobooks, and magazines.    
  • In the Flex-n-Gate Computer Center, Adult Services staff and Technology volunteers from the UIUC Graduate School of Library and Information Science are available to help folks use the equipment and programs on the Library’s public workstations. 
  • Are you pondering what you want to read, watch, or listen to next? Ask us!  Adult Services staff creates many of the Library’s books displays and lists of recommended titles.  You can find those lists in our display racks, on the Library’s website, and on CU Catalog. 
  • We invite you to check out the Adult Services blog for updates on books we have read, collection highlights, new services, and upcoming programs. 
  • Indulge in great programs!  From musical performances to author visits, lectures and book clubs, technology assistance and local interest, you can keep up-to-date by email by signing up for e-notification of events.
  • Join the annual summer reading programs the Library offers for adults and for teens. Read, share your favorites by writing mini-reviews, and win prizes!

We encourage you to visit with the staff of Adult Services.  We can help you find fast facts or help you conduct research by phone (217-367-4405) or by email ( 

Mary Wilkes Towner - Interim Director of Adult Services


November 21, 2014 - From the President of The Urbana Free Library Foundation

As we celebrate our Library’s 140th anniversary, it is with great pride that we honor the past and look forward to the future in helping to supplement the mission of The Urbana Free Library. 

Established in 1997 as a fiscal guiding light in support of the Library, The Urbana Free Library Foundation looks with pride to a few of the significant contributions that we have made over the years.  These include the extremely large role the Foundation had in helping secure funds for the Library expansion in 2005, to projects such as our monthly music programs, the purchase of a piano, and our art enhancement program for the Library. You can see how vibrant our role has been, and the impact that the Foundation has had in helping supplement and support projects over and above the normal budgetary operations of the Library.

Because of the high level of support that we have seen for the Library from the Urbana community in providing outstanding facilities and excellent patron services, we continually look to keep our Foundation Board a reflection of the citizens of Urbana.  Please let us know if you have an interest in participating with us as a Board member.  As we have in the past, we look forward with optimism and strength in our support for The Urbana Free Library.

Larry Jobe, President, The Urbana Free Library Foundation


November 17, 2014 - We're celebrating The Urbana Free Library's 140th Birthday! If you look back through the pages of the library's history, it might be interesting to know that children have always been an important part of the library’s story.



October 23, 2014 -  Were Children Always a Part of The Urbana Free Library?

Looking back over the past 140 years of The Urbana Free Library, it might be interesting to know that children have always been an important part of the library’s story.

In the library's early years, reading was the focus of library services to children.  We suspect the stacks were closed for browsing, but we know from the first by-laws that “minors” could get a library card with the signature of a freeholder, then later with the signature of a freeholder or parent. The act of children getting library cards was even noteworthy, as documented in April 1938—"67 Children Get Library Cards."

We also know that at the end of the library’s first year, the library had amassed 105 “juveniles” or children’s books.  That number continued to grow in the decades following the library’s opening, and has increased to 67,999 books as of July 2014.  According to a September 1878 record, juvenile books accounted for 29.3% of the library’s circulation.  It is impressive to note that that percentage continues to today, as children’s materials account for 31% of the library’s circulation.

Berniece Davis Fiske was hired in 1927 as a children’s librarian, which began her 45-year career at the library.  Early photographs indicate children’s story times were held in the historic Busey-Mills reading room.  Reading Clubs made the newspaper, with headlines reporting the number of children signing-up for summer reading throughout the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, and the number who finished Ms. Fiske’s special program.  From a 1930s photograph in Leal Park, we also know that Ms. Fiske collaborated with outside organizations like the Urbana Park District to present story time.  By 1959, the children's department had outgrown their location on the first floor and was moved to the ground floor of the library.  City council members were invited by library director Eva Thayer Shively to visit the new children’s room, which included space for books, programs, and plays.  There was even a separate entrance for children directly off of Elm Street.   The auditorium served the children of Urbana until 1974, when the first major expansion increased the size of the children’s department. 

By the early 1990s, in addition to programs for children in elementary school, the library began programs for the youngest of library patrons--birth to age two.  Once per month, babies and their caregivers would come to hear rhymes and stories, do fingerplays, and sing songs.  Today, the children’s department offers 14 Babies' Lap Time programs each month that have a goal of building early language and literacy skills.

Increased use and demand for a wider variety of materials prompted a new vision for the department.  The 2005 expansion created the Children's Services space you visit today.  Large enough to simultaneously accommodate groups of different ages and stages, children and their teachers and families are offered over 30 programs per month, from early childhood programs (Babies’ Lap Time, Toddler Time, Preschool Storytime), to programs for children in elementary school, where kids can create and learn (Art Lessons, Chess Club, Write On!).

Children have been an important part of the library’s story since it began in 1874.  Materials, space, programs, and outreach have been crafted over the years to meet the changing needs of children and their caregivers.  We continue in that tradition to grow and change, whether offering self-check-out, circulating nature exploration kits, pulling books for teachers, offering online language learning (Muzzy), or collaborating with the community for events like Read Across America and the Youth Literature Festival.  Growing young readers, sparking a child’s imagination, developing resources and programming for children, and creating community relationships to support children are an important part of our story that will guide us well into the twenty-first century.

Elaine Bearden ~ Children's Services Librarian

September 15, 2014 - Teen Services @ The Urbana Free Library

In honor of the library’s 140th Birthday Celebration, October will spotlight Teen Services @ The Urbana Free Library.  What does Teen Services involve? Good question!  Teen Services encompasses all services, programs, and outreach offered by the library geared for those in grades 6 through 12.  This includes…

  • Purchasing new books for the Young Adult and Manga collections
  • Writing blog posts about fun books, music, and programs the teens might enjoy
  • Creating handouts and booklists that interest teens
  • Promoting the Young Adult book collection through media outlets
  • Maintaining the teen section of the library’s website, including the great homework help links and college planning tools
  • Creating partnerships with other agencies focused on youth advocacy, including the Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab; Makerspace Urbana; the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the SPLASH program at the Urbana Middle School, and others
  • Interacting with teens at the Urbana Middle School through book groups, writing workshops, and more
  • Offering tours of the library for local school groups
  • Supervising GSLIS practicum students focused on Teen Services
  • Applying for grants to increase programming possibilities
  • Interviewing and supervising new volunteers who help with teen programming
  • Presenting at local, state, and national conferences, and other local group meetings to spread the word about current teen programming
  • Leading the Teen Summer Reading Program
  • Planning and implementing specialty programming, such as the great Paper Airplane Competition of 2013; Bubble Painting; STAR WARS Snowflakes; the Superheroes and Villains Party; the annual Manga Mini-Convention; and the annual Zombie Prom
  • Participating in nationwide library events, such as March’s Teen Tech Week; May’s Get Caught Reading Month; October’s Teen Read Week; and the summer’s National Teen Lock-In, an after-hours program connecting more than 70 libraries across the country with virtual author events, Minecraft, and Minute-to-Win-It games
  • AND, running the popular Teen Open Lab (TOL) most Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The TOL gives teens a space of their own while introducing them to opportunities such as sewing, 3D printing, audio recording, drawing with graphics tablets, and more!

Teens, come get involved during the month of October—we have plenty of fun waiting for you!

Amber Cox, Adult & Teen Services Librarian

Speaking of Teen Services…October Programs!

Urbana Otaku Manga Club • Friday, October 3 • 4:00 - 5:00 p.m.
All things manga. Snacks and prize drawings every month!

Teen Open Lab • Most Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Afternoons • 3:00 - 5:30 p.m.
Film-making, 3D printing, music, reading, drawing, crafting, gaming, and just hanging out. 

Exquisite and Sonorous Corpses • Wednesday, October 15 • 3:00 - 4:00 p.m.
A performance by Noble Fowl Trio.

Zombie Costume Workshop • Tuesday & Wednesday, October 22 & 23 • 3:00 - 5:30 p.m. 
Let Makerspace Urbana and CU Community Fab Lab teach you how to use a little sewing know-how and other odds and ends to create your undead apparel for the Zombie Prom.

Zombie Prom: Nightmare on Elm Street • Friday, October 24 • 6:30 - 9:00 p.m.
Punch, ghoulish snacks, a costume contest, and more at this special after-hours event

All programs will take place in the Lewis Auditorium.  For more information, please call 217-367-4405.



August 18, 2014 - Fast Facts About Circulation Services

During the month of September, the 140th Birthday Celebration will focus on Circulation Services.   Everyone knows the circulation staff, but here’s a few fast facts you may not know:  

  • Thirteen of the circulation staff have worked for the library for an average of 8.15 years each—a grand total of 106 years.  Our tenure runs from 2 to 31 years. 
  • Our shelvers average 3.17 years of employment at the library, with nearly 51 years of experience. 
  • We keep library materials moving! We pull requests and place them on the hold shelf quickly.  And items go back to the shelves soon after being checked in.
  • We do our best to answer your questions when you call, or we will find another staff member who can. No recorded voices or numerical menus for you to plow through.
  • Circulation staff learn a gazillion (we counted!) of the library’s policies and procedures to be able to serve you well at the circulation desk.
  • It’s the shelvers (in collaboration with the custodians) who help set up the popular Friends of The Urbana Free Library book sales – getting hundreds of boxes of books ready for you to explore.
  • Your eyes are not playing tricks—some circulation staff members have more than one job at the library.  Some work at the Information Desk, at the library cafe, and in Acquisitions Services. 
  • It’s the circulation staff who manage the library’s popular Home and Courtesy Delivery programs, and some of us volunteer to select items too. Just ask one of us if you know someone who needs this valuable service.
  • You will find us at the Market at the Square the third Saturday of each month. We’ll have balloons for kids of all ages during August and September, so come see us.
  • We love The Urbana Free Library!  We know the collection and community well and are always ready to help you.  We’re proud to serve Urbana and look forward to the next 140 years!

Dawn Cassady, Director of Circulation Services

July 18, 2014

As we celebrate The Urbana Free Library’s 140th Birthday, we will feature each month a library department or support organization that has helped make the library into the community service it is today. What better place to start the story of the library than with the keeper of stories – the Champaign County Historical Archives

Nelle Carpenter, cataloger for the library and noted local history and Lincoln enthusiast, began collecting Champaign County historical materials at The Urbana Free Library in 1956, storing those materials in a four-drawer filing cabinet.  In 1959, the Historical Room was established in a newly vacated basement room in the library.  Housed there were Nelle’s collected items, the Library’s collection of Illinois historical works, and the Judge Joseph Oscar Cunningham book collection, which had been contributed to the Library upon his death in 1917.  From this modest beginning the Historical Room’s collection, now known as The Champaign County Historical Archives, has grown throughout the years to include 3,500 linear feet of personal collections, business records, photographs, audiovisual materials, ephemera, and Champaign County records.

Located on the second floor of the library, The Champaign County Historical Archives  maintains a research-level collection on the history and genealogy of Champaign County.  In 1987 it was designated the official repository for non-current Champaign County records.  Although it focuses on Champaign County, the Archives holds extensive collections dealing with the rest of Illinois and other states that document the migration routes of Champaign County communities. Whether you have Champaign County ancestors (or no connections to the county at all), or are interested in local history, there is a wealth of materials available for your research. 

In honor of the 140th birthday of The Urbana Free Library, the staff of The Champaign County Historical Archives has created an exhibit from materials in our collection celebrating the library’s history. The exhibit, located on the first floor near the Cafe and Friends Bookshop, will be on display for the month of August.  If you cannot make it in person be sure to visit our digital exhibit.  And remember you can always browse The Champaign County Historical Archives collections via our catalog Local History Online, keep up with us on our blog, or stop by the second floor and visit us in person.  We would love to see you.

Sherrie Bowser, Archives Librarian


July 8, 2014

After much brainstorming, the library now has a plan of action for the year-long 140th Birthday Celebration.  Each month through May 2015, we will feature a library department or support organization, which over the years has helped to shape The Urbana Free Library into the much-admired community service it is today.  We’ll share history, special displays, library trivia, and tell you about “surprise” services you may not have known existed.  We also want to hear from you—so watch for informal surveys and trivia quizzes! 

Here’s the monthly theme of events for the140th Birthday Celebration: 

  • August – The Champaign County Historical Archives
  • September – Circulation Services
  • October – Teen Services
  • November – Children’s Services
  • December  – The Urbana Free Library Foundation
  • January – Adult Services
  • February  – Our Community
  • March – The Friends of The Urbana Free Library
  • April – Our Volunteers
  • May – Behind the Scenes Staff (Administration, Acquisitions Services, Maintenance, Graphics Services, and Baristas.

Kathy Wicks, Associate Director



July 1, 2014

In its early days, the library resided in various spaces in municipal and commercial buildings in downtown Urbana.  When philanthropist Andrew Carnegie turned down the Board’s proposal to endow the construction of a permanent home for the library, hope was lost until 1917, when Mrs. Mary E. Busey offered $35,000 to erect a library building as a memorial to her husband, General Samuel T. Busey.  The building was dedicated on July 18, 1918.  

Fast facts about the original library building:

  • The architect, Joseph W. Royer, also designed several well-known Urbana buildings, such as the Champaign County Courthouse and the Urbana Lincoln Hotel.  
  • A.W. Stoolman was the contractor for the library building.  He also built several campus buildings, and built and owned the Virginia Theatre in Champaign.  
  • At the roofline on the north side of the building, a verse by Ben Jonson is carved that is only visible in winter months.  The verse reads, “When I would know my thought looks, upon thy well made choice of friends and books.  Then do I love thee and behold thy ends, in making thy friends books and thy books friends.”  
  • The building is constructed of Indiana cut limestone in the classic revival architectural style.  

The 2005 library addition included reconstruction of the outside walls from the 1975 addition.  These walls also were made of cut limestone to integrate the two expansions into the style of the original 1918 building.  The historic structure, with its Race Street entrance, remains the library’s visual identity and connection with the downtown community.

Kathy Wicks, Associate Director

June 15, 2014

Once upon a time in 1872 in the thriving City of Urbana, 52 men active in the interest of their community, formed the Young Men’s Library Association.  With the prospect of ultimate success and the encouragement of the County Gazette, the first meeting of the library leaders was
held in January 1873.   With committees in place and enthusiasm in abundance, the Association opened a downtown reading room, offering books and periodicals for browsing to the public for a small fee.  In the spring of 1874, a movement to have the City government take over the library was launched, and on July 2 of that year, The Urbana Free Library was created by the City Council.  And we have lived well-loved by the community ever after.

In 2014, The Urbana Free Library is celebrating its 140th birthday. To commemorate this landmark moment in history, the library is inviting the community on June 22, to a very special UFLive! Birthday Bash with Don’t Ask, an event that will kick-off a year-long celebration of events that will tell the story of the library and its service to the Urbana community.  We’ll have music and birthday cake, and The Urbana Free Library Cafe and Friends Book Shop will offer a special Cherry Alley Iced Tea for sale.   

The library’s rich history is the key to its bright future; the library was founded through the vision and support of the community, and we continue to be supported to this day. We thank you and invite you to come celebrate!

Historical content from The Urbana Free Library: It’s Early Years (available through the Champaign County Historical Archives)

Kathy Wicks, Associate Director

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