Cary Library Wants to Be Your Destination for More Than Just Books

Next up on my McHenry County Library Lovers Expedition was the Cary Area Public Library (CAPL). Of course, the beauty of the Expedition is that you can chart out your own course, stopping into the libraries in whatever order and timeframe that works for you. At the Cary library, I was joined by Becky Oberhauser, Youth and Teen Services Manager, and Linda Kaposnik, Marketing Coordinator, who sat down to chat and give me a tour of the space.

The Cary Area Public Library is located on Three Oaks Road, next to the Three Oaks Elementary School, just east of Cary-Grove Park and the Cary-Grove High School.

Set back off the road a ways, just look for their driveway sign near the road.

Address: 1606 Three Oaks Rd, Cary, IL 60013

This article is part of the Library Lovers Expedition articles, all of which will be linked from the Library Lovers Expedition article as they are published.

McHenry County Library Lovers Expedition at the Cary Area Public Library

Becky shared that the Expedition was very successful last year and they received a lot of positive feedback from people who stopped in. It’s also a good and free family activity, so they were looking forward to doing it again this year.

Since an Illinois library card can be used at any library in Illinois, the Expedition is also a great chance to educate people on that while also introducing them to the other libraries within McHenry County. While many libraries overlap in some of their offerings, each library has its own unique space and may offer some things that other libraries don’t, so this is a fun way to discover that as well.

Their Expedition activity this year revolves around origami forest animals. At the information desk, there is a display of ten origami animals, such as a bear, a cardinal, an owl, and a seal. There is a little seek-and-find sheet that includes a picture of each one that can be used for finding them and checking them off as they are found.

They are hidden throughout the library, which is primarily one large, open space. This way, participants get to explore the whole library. But they’ve also combined this with a Take-and-Make kit, which is always popular. The kit includes the materials and has a QR code on it that links to a YouTube video showing you how to make two of the animals, a bluebird and a rabbit.

Linda says that the Take-and-Make kits were a huge hit during the height of COVID too, especially as a family activity.

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Beyond the Expedition

COVID Carryovers

Like many of us, the libraries responded as best they could in dealing with COVID. When the status quo went out the window, the staff rose to the challenge, figuring out ways to continue to offer existing programs in new ways, or coming up with new programs to offer. Coming out of that though has also left them re-evaluating everything they did and do, and taking the learnings from that experience to move forward even stronger.

The annual Peeps Diorama Contest was one of the first programs they adapted for COVID. Instead of relying on entrants to bring in their dioramas, they were able to request photos be sent in.

“There’s a long history of libraries and librarians sharing resources with each other, and I would say in particular Northern Illinois, we’re heavily into sharing. ‘Hey, this is a neat program we had, you might have interest in your community,’ kind of stuff. Or if we’re not the first to try something, then we can refine it and then share our experience with the next group. So really it’s very collaborative; there’s always that conversation going on.”


Becky said, “We had to find ways to still reach people in our community and still try and help them. So that gave way to a lot of virtual programs and making pre-recorded videos that taught what our programs normally would do because we have a variety of science, art, and reading programs all throughout the year. And then as things slowly started opening up and we started doing curbside pickup for books, we were able to put together kits. We would make a video and then make a kit that has all of the supplies to do the activity so people could pick those up. And that’s something that has stayed. I think we have at least four different kits that we routinely put out.”

One kit is called “Yay! YA Book Bags,” which are book bags for young adults that include a book and an activity in it. The “Book Buddies,” which is similar, includes a book and an activity, but is done with chapter books and is designed for beginning chapter book readers.

Of course, not everything at the library is about books.

They also have “Kids in the Kitchen,” which comes with supplies and video instructions for a simple cooking activity. Not to be left out, there is also “Little Kids in the Kitchen,” which is the same concept but for preschoolers. Preschoolers also have the “Bilingual Beginnings” program, which helps pair English and Spanish language learning.

Everyday Library Life

Many things have returned, more or less, to normal as well. In some cases though, with increased interest, which might have been a result of COVID.

Take…literally…the Take-and-Make kits. While the program existed pre-COVID, it has gained even more interest and some kits are more extensive now as well. These are also very popular because they are activities to do, or even learn, that can be done around the participant’s schedule, at home or wherever…but they don’t have to be done at the library at a set date and time like a scheduled program.

The library underwent a renovation in 2016, which included the addition of private study rooms. The usage of these has picked up a lot post-pandemic with kids and high schoolers coming in a lot more after school and studying together as groups. These are also helpful because the Cary library is a single-floor, open floorplan.

Of course, libraries aren’t the zones of silence that they used to be either. So to further assist patrons who might be challenged in high stimulus environments, they’ve also created what they call their Serenity Box, which has fidget tools and things like that to help relieve stress and anxiety.

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Tool and Seed Libraries

One very unique program the Cary library has, which will be opening up again in March, is their Garden Tool and Seed Library for Cary cardholders. The Seed Library actually started in March 2020, so that was a program that had to quickly be adapted for COVID just as it was launching. The seed library lets people come in and choose from a wide variety of seeds, both vegetable and flower, which they can then grow.

And then at the end of the season, if they collect the seeds from what they grew, they can bring them back to the library to help restock and expand the seed library for the next year. Of course, what goes better with a Seed Library than a Tools Library.

“I think that our library and most libraries are always looking for new ways that we can help the community. We’ll see things, like the Seed Library, which probably started at a large urban library, or we’ll read articles through the American Library Association magazine or go to conferences, and see how we can take some of these bigger ideas and bring them to our community on some level.”


Library of Things

The Cary library has a pretty extensive collection of what they call their Library of Things. Like the Tools Library, these are kits or equipment that CAPL cardholders can check out the same way that they would check out a book, and then bring it back. But, they’re different types of things that people may only need to use once in a while or as a way to determine interest before buying something on their own.

Some unique Things:

  • Radon detector (check out our We Installed a Radon Mitigation System…And You Might Want to Also article)
  • Music instruments, like a ukelele, electronic keyboard, and an electronic tabletop drum set
  • Pickleball rackets
  • Fishing poles
  • Coin sorter and counter
  • Kodak Scanza digital film scanner
  • Stud finder
  • AccuQuilt cutter and die-cut kits

While these items are limited to CAPL cardholders, other patrons might want to browse the collection for ideas to check or request at their own library.

Future Directions

As for the future? They continue to seek recommendations from patrons as well as review aggregate circulation and usage data to better understand what patrons are interested in. They also look at the community demographics to sync up needs with materials and programs.

They just introduced some Memory Care Kits, which can help older adults or caregivers for older adults to help address memory challenges and disorders. Likewise, they are looking at the other end of the spectrum, focusing on early literacy with more literacy programs and materials targeting preschoolers.

For the preschoolers, they’re expanding the number of story times. Following COVID, storytimes had dropped to only Monday morning, but they’ve added a monthly sensory storytime for kids who are either on the autism spectrum or, just based on their needs, for whom traditional storytime doesn’t work as well. They added a monthly baby storytime, and starting in the spring, they’re adding a Monday evening storytime. So in all, going from one to four storytimes.

One thing is certain, the staff is continually looking for ways to broaden their reach, to be more flexible and responsive to their patrons, and to continue offering unique programs for their community. Be sure to check out the Cary Area Public Library.

President and Founder of Identity Developments, LLC, the parent company of the McHenry Life website. My hope for McHenry Life is to create a resource and destination for the residents and businesses of McHenry County alike. A place where residents can discover new places to explore, fun events and ways to spend time, and then share those experiences with others. A place where businesses can connect with existing and potential customers, and not simply market their businesses, but share their own unique stories.

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