At the start of March, at the Library Lovers Expedition halfway mark, I had the pleasure to sit down for an enjoyable discussion with Cherie Wright, Library Director for the River East Public Library. We met prior to opening one chilly morning because River East is the smallest library in McHenry County and Cherie was going to be the only one in that morning. As fate would have it, I just missed meeting up with this year’s first Expedition finisher, who had just completed her final library stop at River East the day before.
While River East Library may be small, it still delivers for its patrons, from online access and a robust Library of Things, to activities and storytimes. And it prides itself on being a place to gather with friends.
Address: 813 W IL Rte. 120, McHenry Illinois 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 River East Public Library
Over the course of my Library Loves Expedition, one library and one activity kept popping up, and I was finally about to experience both. While scavenger hunts and origami were certainly quite popular activities at many of the libraries, and the temporary putting green at the Crystal Lake Public Library was probably the most involved as far as the creation, I think River East may have been the most mentioned.
River East’s Expedition activity was a game of skeeball. In the lower level “basement” of the library is a mini-skeeball game, but don’t let “mini” fool you, the challenge is just as great. Perhaps the reason it was mentioned so much by the others is that it is a “regular” attraction as part of River East’s Basement hangout area, along with an indoor basketball game, pool table, board games, and more.
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In fact, descending the steps to the lower level really feels like being transported to a friend’s basement. When you reach the bottom, you walk through a doorway and are no longer in the library, but step back in time before basements held home theaters and mini-fitness centers. This is the basement that provided space for the kids to go play and hang out with their friends.
After seeing some of the dedicated teen spaces and gaming rooms that are being added to other libraries, I think River East both stepped back in time while also blazed a path forward for others to follow. Cherie acknowledges that some people feel it’s a little out of place in a library, but she says that it serves a need and fits their community.
While originally targeting preteens, it has attracted both older and younger kids. Best of all though, it provides a safe place for these younger patrons and gets them into the library. Additionally, this area can also be used for classes and other activities.
As for the Expedition this year, Cherie says that it has blown away expectations. So much so, she had to go out and buy more ribbon for the bookmarks and more candy for the little candy giveaway bags they were giving out for the Expedition.
Beyond the Expedition
What’s In a Name?
The River East Public Library was formerly known as the McHenry Nunda Public Library. This however was causing some confusion with the McHenry Public Library, in part because they both had “McHenry” in their names and both had McHenry addresses. Admittedly, I even assumed that River East must be a branch of the McHenry Library.
But they are not connected and actually have their own district boundaries. Cherie said that a decade or so ago, McHenry Nunda Public Library held a contest to rename the library. While some thought it should become the Lakemoor Library, they didn’t feel that was representative either, as they served part of McHenry and part of Lakemoor, but the building itself wasn’t in Lakemoor.
So the winning name was East River. No, that isn’t a typo. Cherie says that the library board felt the name sounded too “New Yorkish,” so they tweaked the name, reversing the order to be River East.
Library of Things
River East might be small, but they’ve built out a big collection of Things within their Library of Things. They’ve actually dedicated half of one aisle to Library of Things, in addition to some things kept in other areas. When space is at a premium, you have to weigh not just the needs and wants of the patrons, but alternative sources. Many books and traditional materials can be obtained digitally online or through interlibrary loan programs, but Library of Things materials are still often restricted to that library’s patrons.
Some of the Things available:
- Sewing Machine
- Dremel Kit
- Metal Detector
- Wi-Fi Hot Spot
- Lego & Duplo Building Kits
- Puzzles & Board Games
- Learning Kits
- Fishing Poles
- Knitting Looms
- Numerous Cookie Cutters, Baking Pans, and Molds
Responding to COVID and Beyond
When COVID hit, it might have been easy to just close up River East. Being the smallest library in the area, with limited staff and resources, it certainly could have been understandable. But like the others, River East forged ahead, shifting and adjusting to deal with this unique challenge.
They put together theme kits for parents to help entertain their children. For each theme of interest, they would gather up related materials…maybe a book, movie, puzzle, game, and maybe add some coloring pages or a project, and place them all in a plastic tub to create a kit. These were very popular and they’ve continued to offer these today.
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River East also added a set of lockers outside near the main door to aid in distributing materials. When patrons requested items, they could be placed within a locker for pick-up. This meant that patrons didn’t need to enter the library and could avoid close contact. These too continue to be useful for patrons for after-hours delivery.
Cherie also mentioned that online usage increased considerably. While it may have been out of necessity, many patrons learned that they could access information or get materials digitally via the library’s website. She is happy to see the large turnout this year for the Expedition and hopes that the “return” to the library continues.
“Because we are so small, we have people come that don’t check anything out and talk to you for 15 minutes. It’s like their touch point, really. I tell my staff that’s a big part of our service here.”Cherie
The next time you are out and about in the McHenry / Lakemoor area, do yourself a favor and swing into McHenry County’s smallest library. You may be surprised by what the “basement fun library” has to offer. Be sure to check out the River East Public Library yourself.