Don’t worry, you aren’t wrong and you didn’t miss the annexation of Wauconda into McHenry County. Not only is the Wauconda Library not in McHenry County, Wauconda itself, unlike some of the other villages we feature, doesn’t cross over the McHenry County border. Like many of the library districts though, the area covered by the Wauconda Library district doesn’t follow village or city limits.
The Wauconda Area Public Library is located across from the Cook Memorial Park, just north of the Wauconda High School.
Address: 801 N Main St, Wauconda, IL 60084
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.
Where’s Your Library?
I had the pleasure to meet with Kim Simchak, Public Services Associate III, at the Wauconda Area Public Library, who also took some time to explain some of the districting challenges they face.
She explained, “We are not in McHenry County, though about half of our library district is in McHenry County. We encompass the communities of obviously, Wauconda, Island Lake, which is half McHenry County, half Lake County, as well as Volo, parts of Lakemoor, Barrington, as well as a few others. If you live in Wauconda, of course, you’re a part of the Wauconda Library district. But even that’s not true. There is a section of Wauconda that is actually part of Fremont.”
Don’t feel bad if you find all this confusing. Kim acknowledged that before she started working at the library herself, she too just thought that you go to the library in your hometown. In fact, she says that it is something they have to explain almost daily or at least weekly, as people come in to register for a library card.
Like emergency exits on airplanes, your home library may not be the one you think. Fortunately, any library can help you determine which library is your home library. Even better, between interlibrary loan, various consortiums, and reciprocity arrangements, patrons are rarely limited to just what their home library can provide.
While Wauconda isn’t part of any library consortiums, they invite Illinois library cardholders to register with them as a reciprocal borrower.
McHenry County Library Lovers Expedition at the Wauconda Public Library
“It’s been a phenomenal program and it’s been tremendously popular. We’re getting lots of wonderful feedback about it from the patrons,” says Kim. The Expedition gives people a chance to experience how unique and different each of the libraries are, both in physical space and how they feel, as well as in the specific features, programs, and materials that each has to offer.
She also feels that it is equally beneficial for the librarians, as many of them get out to experience the Expedition firsthand as well. It provides a great feedback loop for them to learn and get ideas from each other.
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Wauconda Library put a little spin on their Expedition by combining a scavenger hunt with a puzzle. While they limited it to just the lower Kid City area of the library, the hunt clues lead participants around to different parts of the library to find puzzle pieces, which are then assembled in the end. It’s fun for the kids while also teaching them about the layout of the library and what is available.
And in the end, they get to choose a prize.
Beyond the Expedition
Now Entering Kid City
While the Wauconda Library has lots of great features, Kim feels that one of the things they are most known for and what she considers to be their, “piece de resistance,” would be Kid City. While the main floor of the library serves many purposes and audiences, the lower level is focused on the library’s youngest patrons.
Kid City stands out as soon as you depart the stairs and come around the corner. From a big, colorful fish tank, to a giant, interactive touchscreen opposite the video gaming zone, on around to the colorful light wall, not to mention all of the bright colors throughout, you know you’ve entered a fun space. And then you see “it.”
Parked right there, what was once a giant “airplane” now sits as a giant spaceship, ready to blast off to the land of imagination. It makes a commanding presence and is large enough to have a slide that leads to another play area.
During COVID, they took the opportunity to rework the airplane, repaint everything, and turn it into a spaceship.
One thing is clear, Kid City is about giving kids the tools to help them learn, explore, and grow their imaginations. Indoor voices required, but there will be no shushing. Regardless of your age, Kid City is a joyous, colorful, active space that is well worth a visit…surely to take a good 10 years of “adult age” away, at least for a moment.
Spaceship and play zones aside, the lower level also features a homeschool collection of resources, a print center, STEM kits, lots of books from early reader on up, some computers, and even a couple of quiet study rooms. Or just sit and watch the wildlife outside on a cold blustery winter day, or in the heat of the summer.
More Than Books
“What many people don’t realize is that libraries are community centers,” said Kim. “We support our communities through more than just providing the books that are available. We’re constantly evaluating what the needs of our community are to make sure that we’re offering the right types of materials. Everybody has a different need and we’re constantly evaluating those things to make sure that we’re having enough materials to cover all of the different needs of our community. But in addition to that, it’s our services as well.”
“You do not need to be a Wauconda card holder to register for a program. That could change if program attendance got to such where our programs were booking out on a consistent basis. But right now, we have the space for everybody, so we welcome everybody.”Kim
Kim says she does a lot of community outreach, surveying patrons and talking with them out at other events, outside the library. They are continually evaluating their material offerings, the services they offer, the types of programs they provide, as well as the needs that community members have. This allows them to not only adapt their current offerings but plan how they can address unmet needs.
This evaluation and adaptation extends beyond just materials and programming. They look at how the physical space is being used and what kind of improvements can be made there, which could mean rearranging where materials are kept, rearranging furniture, or incorporating desks with outlets and charging ports.
“It is a whole-building approach, says Kim. “You will see most libraries, if you come back six months from now, things move. Our stacks might still be in the same place, but maybe this table isn’t it?”
COVID, Community, and the Friendliest People Around
Like all of the libraries I’ve met with so far, COVID, as Kim put it, “was a big reset for a lot of libraries because it really changed how we had to do business and it changed what our patrons needed.” COVID turned everything on its end and required the libraries to react even faster in evaluating and identifying needs. Of course, everything changed, so they had to not only understand how patron’s needs changed, but how COVID was impacting other services within the community, and whether the library was able to help.
Some ways in which they reacted was to increase their tech-to-go items, such as more mobile hotspots and Roku sticks with streaming services. They also found and responded to the increased demand for STEM kits and homeschooling kits.
“I’ve never worked for an organization that changes more than a library does.”Kim
They also adopted a grab-and-go system for material pickup. Post-COVID though, that has reverted back to a traditional hold shelf because that’s what most patrons preferred. And while most book clubs have reverted back to in-person meetings, one prefers to continue meeting via Zoom.
Community, as a whole, is a big focus. Kim says she, “does birth to 100 programming.” That might be preschool field trips followed by senior picnics. It is very much a whole-life approach of making sure that programs and services work for everyone and that apply to everyone. They’ve built out their website to be a resource with lots of information on their programs and services.
And one of the most important aspects of building community is being inviting. She proudly states, “One of the things Wauconda is known for is the friendly staff that is very, very welcoming. We are very open and we don’t ever want someone to feel like they are interrupting us. Please come and ask us questions. Come talk to us. We want to be your resource.”
As librarians, they are there to not only help patrons find what they need within the library, but they are also happy to help fill those needs that extend beyond the library walls. That might be finding help to fill out taxes or locating their nearest food pantry.
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While Wauconda Area Public Library may not be in McHenry County, it may still be your home library. Even if it’s not, they still have many reasons to stop in and check out the Wauconda Area Public Library.