Journey to the Johnsburg Library

Continuing with our Expedition and tours of the McHenry County libraries, I had the pleasure of meeting with Beth Ryan, the Library Director for the Johnsburg Public Library. The Johnsburg Library has one of the smaller square footage of the local libraries, but Beth assures me that that doesn’t prevent them from offering many of the same things and similar programs as the larger ones.

The Johnsburg Public Library is located on Johnsburg Road, less than a half mile from the roundabout. It can also be accessed from West Fairview Avenue.

The current library building was built in 1996.

Address: 3000 N Johnsburg Rd, Johnsburg, IL 60051

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 Johnsburg Public Library

Johnsburg decided they wanted to do something a little different than what the other libraries were doing. For their Library Lovers Expedition activity, they went with a scratch-off. And before you hop in your car and immediately rush up there, there’s no money to be won here.

That said, scratch-offs, with their sense of mystery and unknown possibilities, are always fun, regardless. And they even have a coin you can use, but of course, you are always welcome to provide your own lucky coin if you have one.

As for what you can win, well, you’ll have to stop in to find out. In addition to the prizes, they also have some challenges that kids can do as well.

Beth said that the Expedition has also been helpful with internal perceptions. After some of her library board members toured some of the other libraries, they mentioned how great it was seeing the other libraries, but it also helped them better appreciate their library. Being a smaller library, it’s easy to think that you must be lacking in some way, until you go out and realize that you’re doing just as well.

“It’s been really a wonderful program in so many ways, not just getting people into the different libraries, but for the libraries. The camaraderie that we have now, it’s like we’re working together and we have gotten to know different staff members of other libraries. I feel like we’re friends and it’s been great.”


Most importantly though, she feels the program is great for patrons to be able to get to experience the different libraries. Especially for those with little kids, to be able to get out of the house and go experience a different library, with different materials and toys, it’s always good to have options.

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Beyond the Expedition

Blast into the Children’s Area

While Johnsburg may be tight on space, they don’t let it restrict their ideas. As you enter the Children’s Area, you can’t miss the giant “rocket” they built out of recycled egg crates and plastic bottles. Large enough for the little ones to crawl in, it provides a little space of their own to get in and let their minds soar. To aid that exploration, inside they’ve placed some books related to rockets, space, and robots.

I can only imagine what may be there on your visit!

Near the windows, they have the regular play space, where you can play the giant Connect 4 game if it isn’t checked out, comfortable seating for adults, as well as a view out onto an outdoor garden space where they grow sunflowers, but also tomatoes and the occasional watermelon, which they put out for patrons to take or drop off at the food pantry.

Homeschool Resource Center

Beth says that one of their most notable features is their Homeschool Resource Center, which she says brings people down from Wisconsin, even though they can’t check out the materials. In 2001, Johnsburg Public Library was awarded a grant to establish the Homeschool Resource Center, the first of its kind within a public library in the US.

While it was already a popular draw, that grew over COVID with what Beth termed as “accidental homeschoolers.” Accidental or intentional, it’s great knowing that there is such a valuable resource right here in McHenry County.

Participate in Citizen Science Month

Along our tour, Beth introduced me to one of her librarians, Melanie, who is leading up the library’s first-ever participation in Citizen Science Month. Melanie explained that she has been collaborating with a librarian from La Salle, who is quite versed in Citizen Science Month. Of course, it is these kinds of collaborations, even outside the county, with other librarians and libraries, that help the individual libraries to continue to grow, undertake new initiatives, and offer new programs.

Melanie explained that Citizen Science Month takes place every year during the month of April. The initiative allows scientists to expand their research by turning to the public to help with projects by collecting, sharing, or even helping to analyze data. Participation is open to anyone, even those with no background in science at all, or even a college degree.

This is also a great way to expose everyday people to science, educate them on how science and research is performed, and hopefully remove some of the mystery or misunderstanding that people might have regarding science. And perhaps best of all, it gives people the chance to potentially play a role in solving a problem along the way.

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There are all kinds of projects, so people can often find a project to participate in that also aligns with their interests, which is another way to help remove the intimidation that may be felt by those outside the scientific field. She explained how they just did a program monitoring birds and were going to do another at a local park that involved counting and documenting birds.

During COVID, as more people took up baking, there was a project to identify variations in yeast bacteria in sourdough bread. From birds to bread, there is probably a Citizen Science project that would interest you.

Library of Things

Beth says they struggled at first with how to start a Library of Things. Like most libraries, but especially being limited in space, it wasn’t so much about whether it was something they should add or what to add to one, but how to store or display the things they would have to offer.

She said, “I thought that we couldn’t do it. And then the Woodstock Public Library actually started one and posted a picture. They just hand it in a display case, and I thought, ‘well, wait a second, we have a display case.'” The display case is located near the information desk, so it is easily viewable. She acknowledges that it isn’t a huge collection, but they are focusing on those odds and ends that patrons might need but aren’t necessarily things they want to buy.

Some of the things that are very popular might surprise you. Such as a giant Connect 4 game that resides in the Children’s Area when it isn’t checked out, which apparently it is constantly during the summer months, or the metal detector, which, admit it, is something we all would love to play with.

Some other Things:

  • Various board games
  • Bike repair kit
  • Portable air pump
  • Giant Jenga game
  • Digital luggage scale
  • Comb binder
  • Label maker
  • Volleyball/Badminton set
  • Roku, pre-loaded with Netflix access

It certainly looks like the Johnsburg Library’s Library of Things is the place to go ahead of your next indoor or outdoor party!

Library Staff, the Real Pride and Joy

Perhaps Beth’s greatest pride and joy is the staff she has. She feels very fortunate that most of her staff have been there for a long period. In fact, she jokes that Melanie has been there since she was 4 years old. Joking aside, Melanie states that she’s actually only been there since she was fourteen.

While longevity is great, it’s also as much that they are all very collaborative, get along, and are very creative. That creativity comes into play not just in normal day-to-day functioning, but they also enjoy using their creative interests and talents to help shape the programs and activities that the library offers.

Future Directions

Beth says there aren’t any major projects in the works for the library at the moment, other than currently reconfiguring some of their space. They moved the Homeschooling Resource Center out of a small room onto the main floor to make it more accessible and free up that room for a staff office and workspace. Currently, they have four staff members all trying to work in one small space, figuratively and possibly literally at times, on top of one another.

The library also has a Community Room which they use for activities and programs…Beth is happy to say they are pretty much back up to a full programming schedule. The room may also be reserved by outside groups. For that space, she says they are planning some small improvements, such as moving the projector from a rolling cart to a ceiling mount.

They are currently accessing their offering coming off of COVID, the impact of which was not always predictable. Wireless hotspots were something that was popular pre-COVID. When COVID hit, even though schools and many people started working remotely, in many cases the schools or employers responded themselves to make sure that people had access to the Internet. So now, hotspot demand has actually declined.

Likewise, DVDs, which had been pretty popular before, have seen a drop in demand as well as more people started using or became more reliant on streaming services. But each library has its own patron demographic base, so what is popular and in demand at one library may not be at another library. It’s a constant evaluation and assessment on how to best serve their patrons and the community.

Similarly, they’ve seen a decline in computer usage. At the moment then, rather than replacing older computers, they are simply removing the ones that are no longer suitable for use.

Whatever the challenges may be, Beth and her team seem to be ready and able to tackle them. Be sure to check out the Johnsburg 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.


  1. Johnsburg Library has amazing programs, for all ages, but their kids programs ROCK! Great staff and friendly atmosphere!

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