I had been wanting to do something with the local libraries, so when I heard about the McHenry County Library Lovers Expedition (LLE), it was a no-brainer. While I was pulling together the details for the Library Lovers Expedition for the Set Out On The Library Lovers Expedition article, I decided that this presented an entirely new opportunity for, not just an article, but an article series, featuring the participating libraries. And what better place to start than at the Crystal Lake Public Library (CLPL), which is our own “home library” and the origin of the McHenry County Library Lovers Expedition. Come along and let’s explore!
The Crystal Lake Public Library is located just a few blocks southwest of downtown Crystal Lake.
It is conveniently positioned within a residential area and just across the street from Husmann Elementary School.
During COVID, the library actually underwent some interior remodeling and rearranging (Checking Out at the Crystal Lake Public Library), as well as some technological upgrading of their material handling systems.
Address: 126 W Paddock St, Crystal Lake, IL 60014
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.
I met with Stephanie Price, Public Relations Coordinator, and Seanine Brady, Youth Services Librarian, as they gave me a walking tour and even a behind-the-scenes look at the library.
McHenry County Library Lovers Expedition
While each of the local libraries are their own entities, that didn’t stop the Youth Department Librarians from networking together to share experiences, program ideas, and even materials. Coming off of COVID, one of the challenges they were coming together to tackle was encouraging people, especially those with children, to return to the library.
That’s when Seanine tossed out the seed that would grow into the Library Lovers Expedition. Together they created this program that would have people visit 11 McHenry County libraries over the course of a month doing little activities for the chance to win gift baskets.
Coordinating a program like this across 11 separate libraries spread out across an entire county certainly raised the “program management” bar. And even without the COVID factor, this was a considerable gamble because it had never been done before. Without prior programs of this scale to compare against, they had no idea how successful, if at all, it would be.
Fortunately, it turned out to be a pretty safe bet. Over 700 people participated, with around 300 completing the entire expedition by visiting all 11 participating libraries.
Expanded for 2023
2023 not only saw the return of the Expedition but an expansion. The program has expanded to all 13 libraries this year. Instead of one month, the expedition will span February and March. And while the original Library Lovers Expedition program came out of Youth Services and was highly targeted to the youth patrons (and their parents), Adult Services wanted to get in on the action this year as well, with some of the libraries adding separate activities for the adults.
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And this year, the program has taken off strong, and at the time of publication, has already exceeded last year’s numbers!
This year for the Expedition, Crystal Lake Youth Services rolled out a compact mini-golf activity built by Josh, one of the Youth Librarians, and thanks to Prime One Insurance, Inc., who sponsored the materials for the build. While the mini-golf may be downstairs in the youth area, adults are invited to come by and take a swing.
Upstairs in the Adult Services area, they wanted to join in the fun as well, though keep it a bit more lowkey. There, adult and young adult patrons can take a spin with the Spin-and-Read Challenge gumball machine to receive a small container…but I’ll let you go see what you get.
Built on Collaboration
The real secret to the success of the Expedition, I think, has very little to do with LLE itself. The secret ingredient here was the collaborative network between the Youth Services librarians. Library Lovers Expedition may have just been one of, if not the biggest, challenge they took on together. Talking with Seanine, you quickly get a sense of just how much this group works together to help and support each other.
As Seanine shared, “We share programs, we share ideas. We go to different meetings all the time. If I have a program and I tell you, ‘hey, this really worked’ that’s a huge thing.” From an “escape room” program kit to a full dinosaur costume and decorations to button makers, this group is ready to collaborate and share whatever they have with each other to make sure they can all offer the best programs and experiences to their patrons.
Beyond Library Lovers Expedition
While the Library Lovers Expedition originally set out to just encourage a return to the library, and that remains its primary objective, it also serves as a conduit to the greater library offering. Many may pop into the library on a mission to complete the expedition, complete an activity or just get their sticker, stamp, ribbon, and/or just get their official entry completed for the gift baskets.
But hopefully, the expedition will do more than that, such as getting people to visit more than just their home library and learn more about the different resources and programs that are available. And I have to say, if you haven’t been inside a library within the last decade, or even post-COVID, you may be blown away at what is available, both in programs as well as materials.
Even at the CLPL, my home library, which I have frequented since before and after COVID, Seanine and Stephanie still introduced me to a number of offerings that I had no idea were available.
Crystal Lake is fortunate to not only have a dedicated space for its younger patrons, but a dedicated staff of Youth Services librarians, which is something that not all of the libraries have. Beyond the Expedition, the Youth Services always have some general programs and activities in play, from scavenger hunts to I-Spy (which the kids go crazy for), as well as some theme that helps anchor the decor and decorations, as well as activities.
Of course, they have all sorts of regular books, a large picture book collection, and age-appropriate DVDs, but they also have a whole array of special materials. Here are just a few things you might not be aware of:
- STEM (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Kits, providing everything you need to learn and experiment with a specific STEM topic
- Literacy Kits, which may include a book and related toys
- Wonderbooks, which feature a built-in audiobook for “listen and read” interaction
- A kid’s foreign language section that has books in Spanish as well as Polish
- Launchpads, which are tablets with pre-loaded content
- Ozobot, a fun and interactive robot for learning to code
- Sphero kits for STEM learning
There are also creative ways to approach things like DVDs and video games. Have you seen the price of video games lately? Makes me miss the Atari 2600 days! Before dropping hard-earned dough on video games, see if CLPL has it and check it out. That way you can find out if your kids can play it and actually enjoy it enough to want to buy a copy, or is it more likely to sit abandoned on the shelf after a week of playing?
The playspace also provides a great area for parents or grandparents to bring the little ones and let them be active and socialize with others.
Youth Services also creates a lot of programs and activities that go beyond just materials. They have the “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” to get kids off on the right track to reading, and the Winter and Summer Reading programs to encourage kids of all ages to read.
They also partner with organizations outside the library, like promoting the winter reading program through District 47 schools. Or by hosting musicians like Ralph Covert, Alina Celeste, Jim Gill, and Crystal Lake’s own Strikers, often partnering with the Crystal Lake Park District to hold these at park facilities.
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Adult & Young Adult Services
But not to be outdone, Adult Services continues to create programs that extend beyond the traditional library experience, or at least put a different spin on it.
- Go on a Blind Date With a Book
- Pick up Take-and-Make craft kits like the Yarn Banner which has remained popular even after COVID
- STEM Kits, like the children’s versions, but geared for teens and adults
- Mystery Files for those wanting to exercise their inner detective
- Escape Room activities
- Playaways, which are compact physical audiobook players, pre-loaded and no Internet or Wi-Fi required
- Intro to Trades Programs, like learning how to wire a light or tile and mortar
- Computer Classes
Some programs and activities are just about helping people connect, whether through a book club or around a shared interest like the Crafter Dark Social Hour.
Everyday and Special Services
The CLPL also has more general offerings that are meant to service needs that extend beyond traditional library materials.
- Checkout a mobile hotspot, which might be real handy for vacation use
- In-library computers for Internet access or to use with popular software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop Elements
- Copiers that can also email you the file rather than print it
- Remore printing, which enables you to print from home or even a smartphone to a library printer
- Photo scanners and digital converters of other analog media
- Some physical items, such as a digital projector, projection screen, or even binoculars
- Explore More Illinois and Museum Adventure Pass, which can provide for free or discounted admission to a number of attractions
- Passport services
- Free notary public service
Touring Crystal Lake Public Library
Stephanie and Seanine took the time to give me a tour of the library, pointing out many of the materials and resources mentioned above, as well as sharing information on other aspects of the library itself.
A couple of years ago they made some important upgrades to better serve patrons. One of the most noticeable was the new material handling systems. The checkout process is much faster now thanks to the new RFID system which enables a stack of books to be checked out just by placing them on the machine. In most cases, no longer do patrons have to locate and scan individual barcodes.
Perhaps even more substantial, thanks to the RFID chips, the return processing is now mostly automated with a system that checks in each item, immediately reflecting that in the patron’s account, and then quickly sorts it into the appropriate bin…whether returning upstairs, downstairs, to be returned to another library, or getting that material to the next patron it is being held for.
They also added a drive-up window for picking up or returning items. This has been a very helpful addition, whether you are just swinging through on your way to somewhere else, didn’t want to deal with the hassle of getting kids in and out of carseats, or have mobility challenges.
They’ve also rearranged the overall space to better suit the needs of patrons, whether that’s large open table space, reading and work areas throughout, or just decreasing the size or reducing the number of shelving fixtures to create a more open and inviting space.
Being one of the larger libraries has certainly benefited CLPL. In addition to the larger space, it also allows them to maintain a large collection and to offer many programs, services, and activities, as well as being able to staff dedicated Adult and Youth Services Departments.
But more importantly, Stephanie feels it comes down to the staff. They are extremely creative and that leads to so many unique and diverse programs. And they’ve found that patrons get to know the staff and many programs that are run by the staff themselves bring in more attendees than some that are run by outside people.
Their excitement is certainly contagious, which is good because there are 12 more of these Library Lovers tours coming up! Learn more about the Crystal Lake Public Library.