Champaign Public Library

The first library in Champaign started out as a private collection. In 1868, about 300 books and periodicals were assembled in a modest reading room on the second floor at No. 7 Main Street in Champaign. Forty members of the private Champaign Library Association paid dues to use the collection.

After several years of ups and downs and a move to the second floor of No. 26 Main Street, the association voted itself out of existence in 1876 and gave its assets to the city of Champaign, with a vision of creating a library open to everyone.

The Champaign Public Library and Reading Room dates to July 21, 1876, when the City Council accepted the Library Association‘s gift and budgeted $1,000 a year for the library. The library moved next door to No. 24 Main Street and boasted 750 volumes. The librarian was paid $20 per month.

At the time of the library's opening, anyone over the age of ten could borrow books, though only the librarian was allowed to distribute and reshelve them. After thirteen years, the library was moved to the southwest corner of the then-new City Building at the corner of University Avenue and Neil Street, where it stayed until 1896.

In 1894, Champaign banker and philanthropist A.C. Burnham announced a substantial gift of $50,000 for a new library as a memorial to his wife, Julia Finley Burnham, a former member of the library board. Of the total, $40,000 was for the site and building and $10,000 was for a book endowment. The Burnham Athenaeum at 306 W. Church St. was opened on December 17, 1896, with two librarians and 5,593 books. When it closed, the same building was bursting at the seams with forty employees and over 100,000 items.

An approximately 40,000-square-foot Main Library at 505 S. Randolph St. was dedicated in November 1977. Designed by Hammond Beeby and Associates of Chicago, the building was funded largely by a $2.3 million referendum.

Thirty-one years later, a new, state-of-the-art Main Library opened in January 2008 with a collection of 285,000 items and three times the space of the building it replaced. Ross Barney Architects designed the building at a cost of $22.8 million, which was funded by a combination of public and private funds.

As of 2012, the library has been recognized as one of the busiest and best in the nation, lending more than 2.2 million items per year, with one of the highest per-capita checkout rates in Illinois. The library’s success has been recognized with 4-star ratings from Library Journal magazine is ranked on the national “Top 100” libraries list from Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings (“HAPLR 100").

Today’s library has two locations, a Main Library at 200 W. Green St., and the Douglass Branch Library, at 504 E. Grove St. In addition to books, DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs, audiobooks, and video games, the library offers numerous online magazines, eBooks and audiobooks to download, and pre-loaded Kindles to borrow. Its public computers and free Wi-Fi are heavily used.

One-on-one help with computer questions and job applications is available, and librarians still answer reference questions on every imaginable topic. Free events for all ages include music performances, author talks, and film screenings. Weekly story and activity programs help build reading skills for preschoolers.

A bookstore on the lower level of the Main Library sells like-new books to benefit the library. A café off the library lobby serves beverages, snacks, and light lunches, and offers catering for the adjacent Robeson Pavilion meeting rooms.

Text courtesy the Champaign Public Library

Images

Champaign Public Library at night

Champaign Public Library at night

Image courtesy Champaign Public Library View File Details Page

Champaign Public Library's interior bridge

Champaign Public Library's interior bridge

Image courtesy Champaign Public Library View File Details Page

Cafe seating area inside the library, with a view of the outdoor patio

Cafe seating area inside the library, with a view of the outdoor patio

Image courtesy Champaign Public Library View File Details Page

Douglass Library branch

Douglass Library branch

Image courtesy Champaign Public Library View File Details Page

New Champaign Library, 1978

New Champaign Library, 1978

In 1978 the doors to the new Champaign Library opened at 505 N Randolph Street. Unfortunately, within a few short years it was clear that this library was not big enough to handle the ever-growing use and plans began to develop for another larger library. Photo courtesy of the Urbana Free Library and accessed through the University of Illinois Built Environment: http://images.library.uiuc.edu/projects/blueprints/index.asp View File Details Page

Burnham Athenaeum, 1978

Burnham Athenaeum, 1978

The Burnham Athenaeum was funded by the philanthropic Burnhams in 1896 and was the first building in the city to be specifically built to house the library collection. It served as the Champaign Library for 81 years, from 1896 until 1977 when the new library opened. Photo courtesy of the Urbana Free Library and accessed through the University of Illinois Built Environment: http://images.library.uiuc.edu/projects/blueprints/index.asp View File Details Page

Champaign Library Bookplate

Champaign Library Bookplate

This is a photo of a bookplate that was used to mark the books purchased with the Julia F. Burnham Memorial Fund for the Burnham Athenaeum. Photo courtesy of the Urbana Free Library and accessed through the University of Illinois Built Environment: http://images.library.uiuc.edu/projects/blueprints/index.asp View File Details Page

Burnham Athenaeum

Burnham Athenaeum

In 1895 Albert C. Burnham donated $15,000 for the creation of a public library building. The Burnham Athenaeum served as Champaign's public library until 1978. Image courtesy University of Illinois Archives View File Details Page

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“Champaign Public Library,” ExploreCU, accessed July 27, 2017, http://explorecu.org/items/show/194.
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