Checking out a success story: how one library gets community support

Borrowed books in hand, five-year-old Eric and three-year-old Kevin race enthusiastically into the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. Their mother, Cindy Kramer, carrying record albums featuring Captain Kangaroo and the Muppets, follows close behind. Their mission: to return these materials and take out new ones.

''We come at least once a week - we love it,'' Mrs. Kramer says. ''I read aloud to them, and we usually get through all the books on the first night.''

The Kramers are not the only ones who are getting more use out of their neighborhood libraries these days. Across the country, circulation of public library materials is up.

The loan rate at this library happens to be particularly high - 1.7 million books, films, records, and the like checked out over the last year - for a community of 66,000. Executive librarian Frank J. Dempsey warns that the high figure is ''a little misleading,'' since patrons of other community libraries can also check out materials, and interlibrary loans are up.

Still, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library's circulation is higher than that of Chicago's central public library, and higher than that of any other public library in Illinois.

Arlington Heights has the kind of library that many communities dream of having. Located in a modern, one-story building that sits on the equivalent of almost two city blocks, the library is open every day, and stays open until 10 p.m. every weeknight.

Marilyn Shuman, editor of the library's monthly letter, says: ''[The hours] may be the secret of our success because almost anytime you think of going to the library, it's open.''

The library has something for everyone. One department holds the regular library mix of records (one section here looks like a commercial record store with open racks for browsing).

Besides audiovisual materials and books, patrons can check out Polaroid cameras, art prints, and sculptures. Youngsters going on vacation can borrow canvas game bags and book bags.

In addition to many inviting reading areas, including a skylight atrium where one can read amid the trees and plants, the library has four Apple computers for patrons to use. A bookmobile van serves local nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and parks. And workshops are offered in everything from money management to speed reading.

''It's the most community service-oriented library I've ever seen,'' says library intern Joan Chase, who heads a school library in another Chicago suburb.

''The more it does, the more people expect, and the more the community is willing to support it.''

This library spends 20 percent - a higher-than-average portion - of its $2.7 million annual budget on new materials.

''Any library can always use more money, but we've been lucky,'' Mr. Dempsey says. ''Our support has been such that we haven't had to make serious cuts in book purchases or charge user fees.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.