Civic Treasure

August 2021 View more

In a city lauded both locally and nationally—for everything from its vibrant downtown to its top-notch schools and
well-appointed park facilities—Naperville’s greatest resource of all may just be its consistently excellent public library system

By Mark Loehrke
Photography by Michael Zajakowski
Illustrations by Dale Crosby Close

Beyond the Books

Haven’t been to the library in a while? It’s still a great place to find the latest New York Times bestseller or a hot beach read for the summer. But at the Naperville Public Library the possibilities go well beyond the titles you might find on the microfiche or in the card catalog. (Just how long has it been since you last visited?) Residents not only can get their books, but enjoy these unexpected offerings as well:

Tax services
If the very thought of April 15 induces a mild panic attack, low-income residents (with household income less than $60K) can make appointments for free tax prep assistance.

Hot spot rental
When the home internet goes down or you’re headed to a Wi-Fi-challenged destination, the library can keep you online.

Homebound program
Though still paused due to the pandemic at presstime, the library hopes to soon restore its book delivery operation, which serves around 100 homebound and assisted-living patrons throughout Naperville.

Bike locks
Few things are more Americana than a trip to the local library by bicycle. And as long as they’re in the business of loaning things out, why not locks for kids who may have forgotten theirs at home?

3D printers
Library patrons can take advantage of this technology at all three locations, submitting online job files—for anything from a product prototype to a fidget spinner—for which the library charges by the gram and prints within a week or two.

Foreign language books
Started roughly eight years ago, the system’s ever-growing collection now carries titles spanning nine languages—all based on community suggestions and requests.

The library’s startup center helps budding entrepreneurs grow their businesses through a variety of programs, one-on-one help sessions, and access to resources.

Technology services
The library has come a long way since James Nichols opened his namesake building in 1898. In addition to 3D printers, patrons can take advantage of high-tech resources like a green-screen room, a sound recording studio, VHS-to-DVD converters, super fast scanners, and more.

Cheap Thrills
Rather than reach for your wallet, maybe reach for your library card instead and get access to all of these great services for free. You’re welcome.

Recording studio The Brady kids could have saved themselves a lot of trouble and talent show appearances if they had only known about this facility at the 95th Street branch.
Newspapers Print is NOT dead, as daily readers of the Washington Post and Naperville Sun well know.
Research Database subscriptions can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but not for Naperville library users.
Magazines Don’t want your subscription to People to land you on telemarketer lists? Read it through the library instead.
Movies Avoid extra streaming fees on movie night and borrow Hollywood’s latest and greatest, right from your local branch.
Classes Looking to learn a new skill or computer program? The library’s activity guide is packed with free technology sessions throughout the year.

Popularity Contest

What have Naperville residents been reading, playing, watching, and listening to in 2021?
Here are the library’s most popular checkouts so far this year, per system administrator Mary Golden.

Children’s Book
Cat Kid Comic Club by Dav Pilkey

Adult Fiction
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Adult Nonfiction
A Promised Land by Barack Obama

Medicine at Midnight by Foo Fighters


Video Game
Super Mario Maker 2 for Nintendo Switch

The notion that the library is a heavily enforced zone of complete and utter silence is a stubbornly persistent one. But while the Naperville libraries still have quiet areas for customers looking for that type of environment, there are also lively children’s departments where kids can play and plenty of space for people to meet or attend a program—without being shushed.

Trophy Case
Throughout the 1990s-era heyday of the Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings (HAPLR) index, the Naperville Library System regularly held the top spot nationally for its population range. And even as Library Journal’s America’s Star Libraries system has supplanted the HAPLR index in the 21st century, Naperville hasn’t missed a beat—earning the highest five-star ranking year after year in the $10- to $29.9-million budget category (with a budget of just under $16 million). “The awards we’ve won are all about library usage per capita, so that means we have a community that really utilizes its library in a way not all communities do,” says executive director David Della Terza. “That’s why I’m so happy to see us consistently getting the five-star honor, because it means the community is embracing the services we’re offering.”

LIEbrary MYTH 2 ■ Google > Library
How relevant is a library when almost everyone has a computer in their pocket? Follow-up question: How reliable is the information in your Facebook feed? Libraries provide quality information, expert researchers, and trained staff members who can help with anything from genealogy research to learning Microsoft Excel. And as the pandemic abates, the person-to-person contact of a library may prove even more welcome than ever before.

By the Numbers

Paying the bills
of property taxes go to
the public library system

Card carriers
About 41% of Naperville’s 149,167 residents were active
cardholders in 2020

Not your average year
Total library visits in 2020
(Average is 1.5 million)

Pandemic effect
Total checkouts in 2020
(Average is 4 million)

Multi ethnic group of pre-school children in a classroom.

An Integral Part of the Community

From partnering with local agencies to sponsoring blood drives, facilitating early voting and hosting programs for special-needs populations, the Naperville Public Library consistently holds itself out as much more than just a place to get books. The community partnership program includes nearly 150 local business and organizational allies that provide donations, program partnerships, promotions, and more, and afford the library fresh exposure to a host of residents who might not otherwise be aware of its services.

“Working with other organizations in Naperville helps to strengthen our relevance in the community and gives us the opportunity to help our partners and our community grow and thrive,” says deputy director Ellen Conlin.
She cites the library’s partnership with the Naperville Park District as one of its strongest, encompassing dozens of programs throughout the year at all three branches, as well as an annual farmers’ market in the 95th Street parking lot and Wi-Fi for the 95th Street Community Plaza. The library also maintains tight working relationships with both Naperville school districts and the local YMCA clubs, enrolling summer school students and summer camp participants in its Summer Reading Program.

Three Locations, Three Personalities
While most people tend to patronize the library branch closest to where they live, some gravitate toward a certain location because of its distinct atmosphere or personality. “I’ve actually worked out of all three locations over the course of my time at the library, and I really like that each one has its own feeling,” executive director David Della Terza says.

■ Nichols Library
Located right in the heart of downtown Naperville, Nichols is the anchor of the system and a bustling hub of activity, as people visiting nearby shops, restaurants, and the Riverwalk stop in to make it part of their day.

■ Naper Boulevard Library
Nestled in a residential area, the cozy Naper Boulevard branch has the most distinctly neighborhood feel of the three locations, where friendly, longstanding relationships between staff members and regular patrons are commonplace.

■ 95th Street Library
An open and spacious design—not to mention a focus on technology—helps give the 95th Street branch a very modern feel, and its proximity to Neuqua Valley High School ensures plenty of student and study-group traffic.

Life Cycle of a Bestseller

All it takes for a buzzy upcoming title to go supernova is a rave in a national publication, a movie adaptation announcement, or a breathless word from the mouth of Reese Witherspoon. The latter, for example, is likely what propelled The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave into the recent stratosphere for the library. Collection development librarian Kiersten Doucette says print holds shot up to more than 150 over a few days in May and eBook holds exceeded 100. Here’s how a red-hot book like this works its way through the system and into the hands of those excited readers.

Meet the Staff

David Della Terza
Executive Director
Having grown up in New Jersey, Della Terza moved to Naperville and attended Neuqua Valley High School (as part of its very first graduating class), then headed to Los Angeles to work in video editing. Upon returning to Naperville, he worked in IT at the library for 14 years before heading back to school to get his degree in library science and making the move into administration—where he celebrated his second anniversary as executive director in June. “I love this place,” Della Terza says. “It fits me and my goal of serving people.”

Sue Karas
Naper Boulevard Library Manager
A 23-year Naperville resident and mother of three, Karas began her career in corporate America as a computer programmer, systems analyst, and computer consultant. She joined the library as a part-time computer lab assistant 16 years ago, eventually moving on to computer lab associate, web associate, and digital services supervisor before earning her master’s degree and becoming branch manager. “I am so proud to be a part of an organization whose sole purpose is to serve our amazing community and help make an impact on people’s lives,” Karas says.

Jose Maldonado
95th Street Library Manager
He took over as manager of the south side branch in January after having amassed more than 15 years of experience in various roles—from branch clerk to bookmobile supervisor to circulation manager—at northern Chicagoland libraries from Arlington Heights to Palatine to Evanston. “I enjoy the culture and the people who work for the Naperville Public Library,” Maldonado says. “It is always my top priority when exploring a new work opportunity, and I liked what I saw and heard during my interview process here.”

Yan Xu
Nichols Library Manager
She originally came to the University of Illinois from China to pursue a master’s degree in journalism, but after finding both a knack and a passion for library work during her time there, Xu eventually decided to shift her focus. Twenty years later, including 12 in the Naperville system, she still loves the work. And even though she now manages Nichols, she has worked in all three locations over the years and hesitates to single out a favorite. “I can sincerely say every library is my favorite because of the dedicated staff and our supportive community,” Xu says.

LIEbrary MYTH 3 ■ Everything’s FINE (as in late fees)
Nobody likes to be nickel-and-dimed for being a day late on a book return, which is why the
Naperville libraries—after doing extensive research that found libraries without overdue fines see
the same return rates as libraries with fines—eliminated its overdue fines on all materials over the past year. Just be a good person and return your stuff on time.

Photos courtesy ymca of metro chicago, naperville park district