Champaign’s new library just $500,000 shy of total goal

By Jon Hansen

With state and federal governments routinely shelling out millions of dollars for thousands of causes, local residents raising $3 million for a new library may not seem like much.

But according to Marsha Grove, Champaign library director, it is extremely important for the future of the C-U community.

After three years and $2.5 million in large donations, the Champaign Public Library is reaching out to the community in an effort to raise an additional $500,000 for the new library building.

“The public library is a place where everyone can go, no matter your age or income level,” Grove said. “It’s where kids learn to love to read, or where you learn how to build that deck in the backyard.”

The campaign, aimed at public fund-raising, kicked off Friday night with a dinner at the Champaign Country Club. Larger donations that had already been collected, referred to as “leadership gifts,” were also made public.

Kyle and Phyllis Robeson of Champaign were announced as honorary campaign chairmen after pledging $500,000 to the effort. One donor – who wished to remain anonymous – contributed $1 million.

Other large donations have left the library just half a million dollars short of their goal.

Grove said that people can make donations by mail, Internet, or in person. Contributions of any value are accepted.

According to Grove, the city is paying $27 million for the new library, which is expected to be finished in the fall of 2007. Home rule sales taxes – which increased in January of 2005 – and an increased telecommunications tax are the main source of funding.

Critics of public library expansions argue that the Internet and other technological advances have left public libraries essentially obsolete.

Not so, according to Grove.

“When people say you don’t need the public library because of the Internet I just laugh,” Grove said. “I’ve been in this business for 30 years and it’s more busy now than ever before. When people use the Internet they find some information and then want to find out more, and they come to the library.”

The Champaign Public Library is particularly popular. According to Grove, the library checks out an average of 25 books for each Champaign resident every year, Compared tto cities with similar populations, where only about 9 books are checked out per resident.

“About 1,600 people come through the library every day … and our circulation has jumped 9 percent over the last year,” Grove said.

A major part of the project is the construction of five group study rooms, complete with a coffee shop.

“We want people to share ideas,” Grove said. “It’s more than a place for books, videos or DVD’s. It’s a democratic institution.”