PLAINFIELD – The Plainfield Public Library doesn’t have many open spaces.
The only place to stand without obstructing a walkway on the main floor is at a window bay, which already is littered with chairs and desks.
“We’re making do with what space we have,” library Director Julie Milavec said, adding that the staff has been creative in using library resources efficiently. “We’re still limited in what we can do as a library for residents.”
Behind the scenes, library employees work in carefully laid out rooms that maximize the space. Sometimes, employees have to turn sideways to walk through the circulation area behind the reference desk.
“A challenging and creative thinking is required, and patience,” said Michelle Petersen, the head of circulation services. “We’re all so close to each other, so we try to stay as positive as we can and have lots of patience with each other.”
The Plainfield Public Library District serves more than 75,000 residents in about 27,000 square feet of space.
Taking into account the growth of the district, Milavec said library standards demand that the library needs three times that space to accommodate its patrons.
When Milavec and the library board asked the public in 2009 for permission to take $30 million in bonds in a referendum, the library was 40 percent over capacity.
The plan included using those funds to expand the library to 70,000 square feet, create another 30,000-square-foot library facility in northern Plainfield, more than double the library collection and number of public computers, increase programming, create more meeting space to accommodate local organizations and businesses and add more cultural programs and events.
While the village of Plainfield, Plainfield Community Consolidated School District 202, Plainfield Township Park District and state legislators supported the referendum, it failed, partly because of low voter turnout and the election coinciding with Plainfield schools’ spring break, Milavec said.
In 2009, cardholders totaled more than 27,000 patrons.
Today, circulation is up eight percent and cardholders have increased by about 11,000, even after considering the library’s limited growth and collection.
“Just after we found out the referendum failed, we realized this had to last for a minimum seven more years with the same space,” Milavec said. “We had to give the library the best bang with the buck.”
Board of Trustees President Sharon Kinley said that library staff showed much creativity in dealing with the increasing demand for library services.
“We will listen to the public, but at some point, we’re going to have to do something,” Kinley said.
The library has evolved its operations to continue providing more services to residents. And that has led to library staff becoming creative with programming.
The library reaches 25,000 patrons with programs within the library, but about 40,000 people with programs outside the library.
“We’re very space crunched here so we focus on programming,” Milavec said. “We have excellent partnerships with the school district, preschools. We try to visit every child in a Plainfield school, sometimes using their facilities.”
Petersen said that while the staff has become adept at using resources in interesting ways, employees have maximized their potential.
“Sometimes we come after hours to just redesign the library,” Petersen said. “At this point we’re stunted. We’re just trying to survive.”
The library also is cutting edge in e-books because of the lack of physical space, Milavec said. The library’s e-book count is nearly twice the size of the physical collection.
“This gave us the impetus to stay on top of where digital is going,” Milavec said.
In 2011, the district put out surveys and focus groups asking the residents what they thought of a referendum. Milavec said the response was that the public understood the library’s space issues, but didn’t want taxes raised at the time.
Library officials are gearing up to hold public discussion on a possible referendum in 2016.
Milavec said because it’s a national election year, voter turnout is likely to be higher. If a referendum doesn’t materialize, or if it fails, Milavec said the library would need to make costly long-term repairs, according to a 2012 building evaluation.
“This is on the back burner all the time,” Kinley said about the possibility of another referendum. “If we don’t get it, we would really be in dire straights.”