Hanging Out at the Huntley Library

The Expedition took me to Huntley next where I sat down with Doug Cataldo, Head of Marketing for the Huntley Area Public Library. With Huntley being one of the younger villages, the library was opened in 1989 and moved to its current location in 1999. Under Huntley’s rapid growth over the years, that 15,000-square-foot building was quickly strained.

Under the direction of library director Frank Novak and thanks to overwhelming community support, considerable renovations were made to not only improve and update the library but expand it to 36,500 square feet, which was fully reopened in February of 2022.

The Huntley Area Public Library is located at Ruth Road and Main Street, next to Parisek Park, near the Huntley Fire Protection and the Village Hall.

Address: 11000 Ruth Rd, Huntley, IL 60142

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 Huntley Public Library

Doug says he loved the idea of the Library Lovers Expedition (LLE) when it was presented last year and they were especially fortunate. The launch of LLE coincided with the library’s grand reopening coming off of its renovation. They already had tremendous community attention with people lined up out the doors to see the new library, and LLE only served to pull even more visitors from outside the Huntley district.

No doubt this was also mutually beneficial to the Expedition, with many Huntley residents showing up for the reopening and being exposed to the LLE.

As yet another demonstration of the collaboration between the libraries, Doug created the logo that was used for LLE. While the program was being developed, he was getting ready to publish their newsletter and wanted to include information about LLE. As a logo hadn’t been designed at that time, he created one to use in the newsletter, shared it with the group, and the rest, as they say, was history.

This year, the Youth Services created a library scavenger hunt for the Expedition.

Beyond the Expedition

Renovation & Facilities

I spoke with Doug and Frank Novak, Library Director, about the success of the recent renovation. The renovation was critical to the success of the library being able to meet the needs of the community. While not easy, fortunately, they received tremendous support from the community with 67% of voters supporting and approving the 2019 ballot referendum.

Doug attributes much of that success to their deep connection to the community. Not only did they run surveys to help understand what the community wanted in the library, but they also went out into the community to talk with groups beforehand. Whether it was talking with chamber members, Sun City residents, or just meeting with people at local community events, they proactively sought input from the community to not only understand what they liked and didn’t like in the current library, but what features, services, and programs they needed and wanted going forward.

Frank said that they knew they had to strike a balance with what the community wanted but would also support financially. It had to be reasonable, so they focused on addressing the needs, built-in as much flexibility into the space as they could, and made sure what they were doing wasn’t going to be seen as “extravagant.”

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Doug took the time to give me an in-depth tour of the renovated space, and I would have to say that they clearly met their goals…flexible and spaciously comfortable without being extravagant. The only thing they felt they would have done differently if they could have magically known beforehand, would have been to have added even more study rooms than the five they have now.

While it was over a year ago that the renovations were completed, they’re taking their time to button everything up. Doug says they have purposefully held off on finalizing things like signage, artwork, decor, and furniture arrangements. It has been important to give patrons time to live in the space…use it, see what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t, and make adjustments.

Study Rooms, Meeting Rooms, a Quiet Room, & Program Rooms

Like most modern libraries, the Huntley Library has taken a very open-space approach to its configuration. Balance has been achieved by creating a number of general closed-off spaces that can serve anywhere from one person to well over 100.

The five study rooms provide convenient space for individuals to work and Doug says that they are almost always in use.

Next, the two meeting rooms can accommodate up to 4 individuals in the Collaboration Room and up to 8 in the Huntley Conference Room, which also features a camera and drop mic for Zoom calls. These rooms also include useful features like whiteboards and TVs for projection.

Of course, the library environment has changed considerably over the years, at least with regard to noise and volume. Gone are the days of “shushing,” in most cases. Enter the Quiet Room which features a variety of seating options, whether you want to lounge in a casual chair, sit at a table, or work at a mini desk. The only requirement is that it is 100% quiet, 100% of the time. While usage may vary at times, it was high on the list of what patrons wanted to see in the new library.

On the other end of the spectrum are the three Program Rooms. These large open spaces each feature 96″ televisions and can be configured for nearly any event. Individually, each room can host around 50-55 people, but more importantly, feature retractable room dividers that can allow two or all three rooms to be combined into a larger space. Not only can the Program Rooms be used for hosting library programs and events, but they are also available and have already been used by other Huntley businesses for training sessions.

Speaking of local businesses, library programs aren’t limited to just the library or even just in the library. Doug says the community partnerships, whether with the other municipal services or local businesses are very important to the library. Two that are very popular are outside storytime events that involve partnering with Culver’s and the Huntley Police Department for Cone with a Cop and Fries with the Firefighters.

Children’s Room & Teen Section

Perhaps one of the greatest improvements would have to be the new Children’s Room. Prior to this, Doug said that the children’s space was actually 3-triple-wide trailers that were combined and connected to the library. While they were designed to appear as though they were just an extension of the library, they had extreme limitations, most critically being capacity. The space was cramped and it was easy to max out on fire code occupancy levels.

That’s no longer a concern. There is plenty of space and they’re now able to house all of the children’s materials in one space for the first time. They are also able to accommodate various seating options for both kids and adults, as well as play space, a LEGO table, a train table, and more.

But more than just higher occupancy and more space, the new Children’s area was also designed to be able to enhance the type of programming that the library can provide. The Children’s Room and Program Rooms, including restrooms and the snack vending area, can actually be sectioned off from the rest of the library. This allows the Youth Staff to be able to better provide enhanced after-hours programming. This could just be a late night at the library or a full-on library sleepover event.

The renovation and expansion also enabled the library to dedicate an area for a Teen Space. Not only does it hold all of the teen and young adult materials, but it also allowed for creating a hangout area that was teen-friendly.

Local History and an Artist Wall

Another important focus was to be able to reflect on the local community. This started with dedicating space to local history, both Huntley specifically and the local surrounding area. What was previously limited primarily to two large cabinets expanded to include two display cases and a larger collection space to house a collection that has largely been donated to the library over the years.

In addition to memorabilia, photographs, video footage, yearbooks, and documents, in some cases dating back over 100 years, they also have a collection of McHenry County Journals dating back to the 1800’s.

But it isn’t all about the past. Dalton, one of the library staff members, and Doug helped create a Huntley historical coloring book, which they did in collaboration with the Village and the Huntley Historical Society.

On the other side of the Local History section is the hallway they turned into an Artist Wall to host pieces monthly by local artists. Doug says that at some point they would also like to use this to display items they have within their own collection, such as local historical photos.

Creative Studio

While the previous areas have mostly been about expanding and reshaping the old library, the addition of the Creative Studio is not just additional space, but a reshaping of the library experience. Certainly, as some of the other library Spotlights have shown, libraries have begun a transformation in not just their spaces but in the programs and services they offer.

Huntley’s new Creative Studio takes that to new levels. It not only provides a home to some of the library’s collection of Things, such as digital conversion equipment (both photographic as well as audio and video materials), photography light box, and laminators, but is also home to their in-house 3D printers, laser cutting, and etching machines.

But it again goes beyond just having equipment. The Studio is run by Alex, a dedicated staff member who not only runs related library programs, but can work one on one with patrons to help them realize their own creations using the highly specialized equipment the library has on hand in the Studio.

Gaming Room

Also a new avenue, but not unheard of these days, is the addition of a new Gaming Room. Including comfortable seating for six, the Gaming Room has a large wall-mounted TV and a Nintendo Switch gaming system, with plans to add a PlayStation 5 and possibly an Xbox as well. The consoles have pre-loaded games and controllers can be checked out from the desk.

If that wasn’t enough, the library even has its own Minecraft server and hosts a Friday afternoon Minecraft Free Play in their separate Tech Lab. Their Technology Trainer actually heads that up, monitoring play and helping players get started.

Recording Studio

While some of these additions are on the leading edge and still on many libraries’ own wishlists, nothing could prepare me for the next space. Still under development, at least at the time of my visit, is a full-fledged recording studio. Rightfully so, Doug doesn’t want to take away from the future launch of this space, so I agreed not to take or share any photos of the studio.

He did give me a tour and shared details of what it will entail, a few of which I will share here if only to whet your appetite.

It will feature a separate control booth that will include a soundboard and a Mac running Sibelius and Pro Tools music software. It will also be set up with a monitor for digital camera feeds.

The actual recording studio will of course be set up for both audio and video, with multiple mic and camera options, and a green screen. The sky will be the limit when it is completed, whether you are looking for space for your band to cut a few tracks, a place to host your audio or video podcast, make a training video, or just a clean backdrop for headshots.

“What’s the next thing we can add? What’s the next thing that people want to check out?
We’re always looking at that, whether it’s trying to get a grant to help fund it or making room in our budget to get new things. We try to keep our collection as diverse as possible and make sure at the end of the day that there’s something for everyone to explore. There’s endless opportunities.”


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Reshaping the Library Experience

All of these changes at the Huntley Library point to a bigger transformation than just renovations and expansions. As they have demonstrated, today, libraries are having to be more flexible and adaptive than ever. And not just floor plans.

We are undergoing a great digital transition. There will always be a place for physical media, but more and more, digital is entering the picture, and providing incredible advantages. Digital materials have the potential to be shared without regard to boundaries, both by place and when you factor in concurrent usage, by time. Not to mention the potential for digital materials to be “searched” or for a single instance to potentially be used for those with visual impairments in place of an “over-sized” version or even read audibly.

Digital has also led to an expansion of online or app-based systems that libraries can provide access to that truly extend beyond the physical boundaries. A library’s offering is much less constrained by its physical footprint than ever.

As we’ve seen with Library of Things offerings, the library experience is moving beyond typical materials, whether physical or digital. In many ways, the library focus is moving beyond “what materials do patrons want,” to “what problems are patrons dealing with and can the library provide a solution?” Certainly the Library of Things addresses the limited usage needs, limited space and storage challenges that some patrons may have, or even offer try-before-you-buy benefits.

But we’re also seeing a transformation of specialized staff, whether that is through tech professionals teaching classes at the library or on-site staff like Alex, helping patrons with 3D printing, laser cutting, and other technical creative skills.

Adaptability was also demonstrated through COVID and the library’s renovations, two things individually, let alone overlapping, that could have easily justified shutting the library down for extended periods. Doug said that the library’s response to COVID was one of the things he is most proud of. They set out a goal to avoid shutting down during COVID, whether that was through reducing the number of staff in the building at any one time, masking, shifting to digital program offerings, or providing curbside service.

In the end, one of the greatest differentiators Doug feels the Huntley Area Public Library has is its partnering. That starts with the Heart Group, which is a group that meets monthly made up of municipal services, including Village administrators, the school district, the park district, police and fire protection, along with the library. This group comes together to coordinate programs, share content, and participate in each other’s events.

And that then leads to their partnering with local businesses and organizations, and most importantly, staying connected with the community as a whole.

This of course is but a brief glimpse into what they have to offer. Be sure to check out the Huntley Area Public Library yourself.

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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