Wrapping Up at the Marengo-Union Library

As life happens, so has the time since my trip to the Marengo-Union Library District and the Library Lovers Expedition. But now our journey comes to a close. It was quite a journey across libraries in McHenry County. Each has its own unique space and approach to serving its unique patrons. Best of all, each was an absolute pleasure and delight to visit, and that’s no less true with Marengo-Union.

Representing both Marengo and Union, the Marengo-Union Public Library is located in Marengo on Hwy 20, just east of the Marengo Community High School and north of the Coral Woods Conservation Area.

Address: 19714 E Grant Hwy, Marengo, IL 60152

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.

Judging the Book By Its Cover

There is an old saying that most of us are probably familiar with that says, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” While ideal, that’s often not the reality, which is why publishers sometimes republish books with different book covers. Turns out, that sentiment is equally true for libraries.

If it wasn’t for the large sign by the road, you could be forgiven for driving right by the Marengo-Union Library building without realizing it. This rather industrial building previously held the Miceli Drapery Company, which had moved a few miles east to Union. But in 2011 the Library purchased the building, began remodeling it, and opened it to the public in 2014.

Inside was completely transformed, except for the factory portion, which means the Library has a space they can continue to grow and evolve into as needed.

“So many people are pleasantly surprised when they actually come into the building and see what’s been done with it.”


The space is open, colorful, and contrary to the gloomy mid-March photos, bright and cheery inside. In addition to the open spaces, there is a meeting room and three study rooms that are available for public use, a computer lab, as well as an interior Book Store that is run by the Friends of the Library.

McHenry County Library Lovers Expedition at the Marengo-Union Library District

The library went with a “book character-based” scavenger hunt for its Library Lovers Expedition activity. When the characters are found around the library, they provide a clue, and all of the clues help solve a puzzle.

They also came up with a second activity as well. Along the back wall, they placed “library parking lots” on the wall where the kids would be able to put up a cutout car representing where they traveled from.

Beyond the Expedition

Creating a Children’s Destination

Sondra says they’ve been working to make the library more of a destination where children (and their families) could come in and actually play, in addition to finding and checking out materials. This is certainly a shift that we’ve seen across libraries in general as they move to more dynamic, interactive spaces as well as available materials and resources.

This also complements their homeschooling group and programming. She says there are a lot of homeschoolers in the area, so this is one more way the library can help serve the community.

Not just physical space, the children’s area stretches across the tech boundaries too. In one area you can find the Crayon Kiosk, featuring individual tablets, and an AWE Learning station, which is a specialized interactive, early childhood learning computer. You can also find a light table with Magna-Tiles as well as a play area that changes themes monthly.

In addition to picture books and young reader books, they also have a growing collection of Wonderbooks, which combine traditional books with a built-in audio player. In addition to new readers, Sondra says they are also great for ESL (English as a Second Language) students because they allow them to see and hear how words are pronounced.

As for future plans, they are planning to build out a collection of STEM kits.

A Special Theatre Collection

Along one wall sits two bookcases flanked by a plaque designating the George A. Wilson Memorial Theatre Collection. George was active in theatre, film, and television, working both as a professional actor and as a stage manager.

George worked and performed nationally before moving to Marengo, with his wife June, to become the stage manager for the former Shady Lane Theatre. George and June made Marengo their home for over 40 years. George passed away in 2019 and in 2021 his wife donated the collection, which not only included plays but also books on theatre production.

Sondra considers this collection to be an especially valuable resource for small theatres and those interested in theatre, both locally and beyond.

All About the Binge

While movie and show bingeing has become immensely popular thanks to streaming services, The Marengo-Union Library, along with many others, have adopted the old-school version. Back in the day, they might have been called “movie nights” or “marathons” or simply named for the series, such as “Monty Python night.”

Of course, that meant having to round up the individual DVDs (or in those days, VHS tapes) to assemble such an undertaking. Today though, the library has done the work, offering compiled “binge bundles” that include all or a selection of DVDs. These bundles are sometimes not only based on a particular series but might be theme based, such as “80’s Brat Pack,” “Western collection,” or “Horror collection.”

Good Old DVDs & CDs Too

Regular individual DVDs are still popular too and Sondra says they see a lot of their collection being checked out fairly regularly. Streaming services have further led to the decline of brick-and-mortar movie rentals, so it’s good to know that libraries continue to support these collections.

“The one thing I thought was funny was that we still have music CDs, which I know is outdated, but we found that once we joined RAILS, they actually started to go out more because people from other libraries were finding them and nobody else has them,” said Sondra. “Our music CD collection has actually increased.”

RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library System) provides a number of beneficial services to libraries, including interlibrary loan.

She says, especially with older patrons, audiobook CDs are also still popular.

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On the Tech Side

However, she says that they are seeing an increase in streaming and online services as well. Hoopla and Libby are especially popular.

This also extends to physical devices, which we’ve seen in many cases as a direct outcome of COVID. The library has added two more hotspots, bringing them to a total of six, which Sondra says are being checked out consistently.

Another growing area is in offering Rokus that are “preloaded” with access to Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus. Sondra says they just recently updated theirs to newer models as well.

The library also provides access to additional online resources and databases. In fact, the list is quite impressive beyond the already mentioned Hoopla and Libby:

  • Brainfuse – homework help
  • Chilton Auto Repair Manuals
  • Creativebug – art and craft instructional video classes
  • Flipster – magazines
  • Linkedin Learning – online classes
  • Mango Languages – language instruction
  • Peterson’s Test Prep – high school placement tests, college admissions tests, and career certification exams help
  • and several others

Fun & Games

Sondra says they have a fairly popular board game collection. These include games that are more for the younger children that the family can play together, as well as “tabletop games,” which are more detailed, with more intensive and complicated rules, that can often be played for hours on end.

In addition to the games, they also feature a puzzle exchange where patrons can trade out jigsaw puzzles.

Future Library of Things

Sondra acknowledged that they are a little behind on the Library of Things, but are building it out. They have already started assembling some items, but still need to catalog everything and work out how to manage and offer them, which at the time of our meeting in March, was aiming for sometime in the summer.

Some of the unique things already on their list include:

  • Ghost hunting kit
  • Telescope
  • Microscope
  • Crochet needles
  • Stud finder
  • Fishing poles

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Seeding the Future

Sometimes, the best way to enjoy the library is to get outside.

Marengo-Union Library started a seed catalog last year and that continues to draw interest. They even offer programming related to it and gardening.

Building on this outdoor focus will be a future garden. Sondra says the library has purchased the adjoining lot and is planning to create a small garden area. In particular, she says that “The community is very involved with this monarch pledge where they’re trying to build up areas for the monarchs, and we might be able to develop some of that area going forward. So we’re excited about that, too.”

The garden is still a work in progress though. While this summer will be all about clearing and preparing the area, she hopes they’ll have something in place by next summer.

Supportive Community & Friends of the Library

Sondra says that the library is very fortunate. The community is very generous and supportive, in general as well as in providing donations to support specific undertakings.

“We wouldn’t be anywhere without the support of the community.”


Likewise, she is especially grateful to their active Friends of the Library group. She says, “They have sponsored our movie licensing, and for any type of professional programming that we do where we have a performer come in from outside, they will cover the cost of programming.”

Speaking of Programming

One of the areas that has experienced a change due to COVID is programming. While Sondra says they are starting to see people come back into the library for programs, they still do a lot of virtual programming. This is especially helpful for people who are interested but have trouble working around specific times when programs may be provided.

She says, “Our patrons seem to really appreciate being able to take the project home and do it on their own timeline. We do a lot of make-and-take crafts that they can do and do on their own time. Then we usually post a video so they can go and see the video on YouTube and follow along.”

While they offer all kinds of programs for all ages, she says they also have a Youth Services employee that does a lot of gaming programs. “We do Pathfinder, D&D, and Jackbox Games, as well as actual tabletop games, too,” she says. “We actually offer a variety of in-person and virtual types of programming for the kids.”

Whether you live in the Marengo-Union area or are heading that way, be sure to stop in at the Marengo-Union Library District and be ready to be pleasantly surprised.

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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