History of Skokie Public Library

Skokians have been enjoying the resources of their local library for over seventy years. Below we've listed some of the highlights of the Library's history in the Skokie Public Library Timeline. If you would like more information about the history of Skokie Public Library please consult the following web sources:

You may also wish to consult one of the following print sources in the Library:

Skokie Public Library Timeline




The Cosmos Club (later the Civic Woman’s Club of Skokie) is organized. Members decide to start a public library.


The Niles Center Public Library opens on the second floor of the Blameuser Building at Lincoln and Oakton. The Library contains one thousand books and is open ten hours per week.


The Library is closed when the space it occupies is rented to other groups.


A referendum is requested for the purpose of obtaining tax support for a library, but fails by about 30 votes to secure a majority. Mayor John Brown clears out a room in the Municipal Building, and in April 1933 the Library moves in. Under George Blameuser, who became Mayor that spring, the Village sets aside a small monthly sum from the general fund to provide for a regular half-time librarian.


The Village of Skokie appropriates funds to hire a part-time librarian. Bertha Rosche is selected.


On November 4, the Cosmos Club offers the Library to the people of Skokie. Skokie voters approve a tax-supported library. The library tax rate is set at a maximum of 1.2 million dollars.

Ethel Griffin and Mrs. Regan are appointed to fill two of the six original Board of Trustee positions. For 18 years until 1959, Mrs. Griffin was the President of the Library Board and remained a Trustee until 1969. Mrs. Petty served on the Board for 31 years. She became a trustee in 1941, served as president for a term, and performed many special tasks such as Chairman of the Building Committee on the first building program. During those years the Library grew from its simplest beginnings into one of the major Library institutions in the Chicago area.


Clara Blameuser leases 4913 Oakton Street to the "Board of Directors of the Skokie Free Public Library" for a five-year term ending December 31, 1946. The Library occupies half of the building and the post office occupies the other half.

Bertha M. Rosche is hired as full-time librarian.


The post office moves and the Library takes over all of 4913 Oakton Street. At this time, the Library has more than 18,000 volumes on its shelves.


Bertha Rosche retires. Mary Radmacher is hired as Head Librarian. “The Library Board knew when they hired me that I was going to do things differently. I made several things clear at my interview. One of them was, if I became Librarian, the Library wouldn’t have an unlisted number. I just couldn’t believe, when I phoned for an interview, there was no number listed for the Library. The telephone company had to contact a neighbor to have the Library call me back.” Her first act as Librarian was to take down a long white sheet of paper across the doorway, bearing the word, “SILENCE”. One of her first assignments was to line up architects for the proposed building. Ever since the Library was organized it had been in rented quarters and the current lease was to expire on December 31, 1959.


The Bookmobile goes into service, serving eight different locations in Skokie.


The Library Board holds a successful referendum, asking for $850,000 to build and equip a new library. A number of years before, the Board had purchased land on Oakton, west of the Village Hall at a very reasonable cost from a civic-minded person.


Mary Radmacher asks Allen Schwartz to begin a Great Books Discussion Group at the Library. The group has met continuously since then.


photograph of new library, 1960On February 1, the new library (34,200 square feet) at 5215 Oakton Street opens. The capacity of the building is 150,000 books. When the Library opens it contains 50,000 books. The Library staff consists of twenty-five people, half of whom are part time. The architect was James W. Hammond of Skidmore Owings & Merrill.


The operating budget for fiscal year 1961-1962 is $264,175.


The new library wins the "Chicagoland’s Best" architectural award.


The library building is honored by the American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association.

Free library cards for non-resident students are no longer available.


A monthly book discussion group is started. The group is still meeting today.

The SPL Board votes to name Mrs. W.C. Griffin “President Emeritus” for life.


Economic woes cause the Library to cut the book budget, terminate bookmobile service as of May 1, 1970, and shorten the Library's hours.

Mrs. Griffin retires from the Board.


Bookmobile service resumes and Library hours of operation are restored in the fall, after passage of a tax rate increase.


photograph of library addition, 1971On February 5, groundbreaking for a new library addition takes place. The Library’s collection stands at 200,000 volumes.

Chicago and Skokie Public Library set up a reciprocal borrowing agreement.


The Library closes for several weeks as the new addition is finished. Almost 67,000 square feet are added to the 34,200 square foot original library. Book capacity of the new library is 350,000 volumes. The architect was James W. Hammond of Hammond & Roesch and later with Hammond, Beeby and Associates.

A resolution is adopted by the SPL Board that the “auditorium-theatre in the newly-constructed library expansion be named the Selma Regan Petty Auditorium”.


On February 25, the new addition is dedicated.

Fees are eliminated for the rental plan books.

After forty-three years of service, Selma Petty resigns from the Library Board of Trustees.

The Board unanimously votes to dedicate the new Conference (Board) Room in honor of Mrs. Griffin.


On May 25, the first Library book sale takes place. Approximately ten thousand books and periodicals are offered for sale and almost $1,400 is taken in to be used for the Library's book fund.


The American Nazi party makes plans to march in Skokie. In preparation for the march, law enforcement agents place machine gun mounts on the Library’s roof. The march does not take place.

Ethel M. Griffen, first president of the Skokie Public Library Board, passes away.


The painting "Carousel" by Leroy Neiman is donated to the Library.


"Swans," by Skokie sculptor Elliot Balter is dedicated.


A new bookmobile is purchased.

New carpet is laid in the Library.

Video tapes are added to the Library’s collection.


The Library is depicted in a cachet by Skokie artist Doris Gold for the "Libraries of America" stamp issued by the United States Postal Service on July 13.

Sidewalks and driveways surrounding three sides of the Library are replaced.

Paulette Lieb loses control of her automobile and crashes into the front vestibule of the Library. No one is hurt.


A TTY/TDD machine is installed.


photograph of library, 1985Mary Radmacher retires after twenty-nine years as Head Librarian. Carolyn Anthony is hired.

At the instigation of Eva Weiner, the Library applies for and is awarded a State of Illinois grant to begin a pilot program of offering services to the disabled. This marks the beginning of the Skokie Accessible Library Services (SALS) program.


An overheated transformer causes a small fire in the Library utility room.

The card catalog is replaced by GEAC, an online catalog.

Compact discs are added to the Library’s collection.


A new Midco telephone system is installed. The Library's rotary-dial phones are now history.

The Young People's and Children’s Department is renamed Youth Services.


Dial-in access to the Library’s computerized card catalog is implemented.

Representatives of George Bush, Sr.’s presidential campaign request that he be allowed to make a speech in the Library. He is refused and speaks in front of the Holocaust Memorial. The Library is closed to everyone except reporters, who fight over the library telephones.


On April 30, Florence Burmeister retires after twenty-five years of service as Head of the Children’s Room.


The "Most Wanted" collection is started.

The Library’s first volunteer, Patricia Kretchmer, is named Pulitzer Lerner newspaper’s "Citizen of the Month."

Merle Jacob, the Library’s first Coordinator of Collection Development, is on the cover of the September 1st issue of Library Journal.


The Library is remodeled.


A new online catalog system, Dynix, is implemented.

Staff member Tobi Oberman is the first co-winner of the North Suburban Library System's "Public Librarian of the Year" award.


On May 19, Arlene Reed retires after forty years of service.

The Library receives approval to build a new parking lot.


The Library launches its first website.

The newly-built first floor meeting room is named the Mary Radmacher Meeting Room. Six months later, the Mary Radmacher Art Fund Committee, chaired by John Wozniak and John Graham, embarks on a campaign to raise funds for an art purchase to grace the newly-named room. Brian Monaghan’s Search, a sculpture of Mary Radmacher’s choosing, still stands outside the room today.


The Guide to Internet Job Searching, co-authored by librarians Steve Oserman and Frances Roehm, is published.

Telephone renewal (TeleCirc) service begins.

Skokie Public Library wins the North Suburban Library System "Library of the Year" award.


On June 24, Librarian Steve Oserman dies at age 54. He had worked at the Library, off and on, since his teen years and continuously since the age of 19. He developed the Employment Resource Center, one of the first Library resources for job seekers in the country.

The Library acquires a new bookmobile.


The auditorium is renovated.


SkokieNet, Skokie's web-based community network, celebrates its fifth anniversary.


artistic rendering of library, 2001A new online catalog and circulation system, Innovative Interfaces, is implemented.

Work begins on an expansion and renovation of the Library. Robert D. Hunter was the Design Architect from O'Donnell Wicklund Pigozzi and Peterson. Fred Berglund & Sons, Inc. was used for construction management.

Library volunteer Ashley Sero receives the North Suburban Library System "Volunteer of the Year" award.


Librarian Bruce Brigell receives the North Suburban Library System "Public Librarian of the Year" award.


Director Carolyn Anthony receives the Illinois Library Association's  "Librarian of the Year" award.

Librarian Frances Roehm receives the North Suburban Library System "Public Librarian of the Year" award.

On June 29, the Library holds its Grand Reopening. Highlights of the project include the addition of a third floor and expansion of the first floor on the west side of the building (with a new building entrance); construction of a garage for the Library Bookmobile; upgraded HVAC and lighting systems; the addition of two state-of-the-art computer labs, a children's craft and program room, an ongoing used book sale area, and a new book discussion room; an expanded meeting room; and a new dance stage in the Petty Auditorium.


Director Carolyn Anthony receives the North Suburban Library System "Public Library Staff Member of the Year" award.


Mrs. Margaret Hagedorn (Jane) retires after serving as a librarian for more than 40 years.

Mary Radmacher, Chief Librarian of Skokie Public Library from 1956 to 1985, dies on June 9, 2008.

Skokie Public Library is awarded the 2008 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.


Skokie Public Library wins the North Suburban Library System "Library of the Year" award.

Youth Services Information Assistant Cathy Maassen wins the North Suburban Library System "Staff Member of the Year" award.

The Digital Media Lab opens on September 9, 2009.


Preschool Services Coordinator Holly Jin and SALS Librarian Gary Gustin win the Alexander J. Skrzypek Award sponsored by the Illinois Library Association for outstanding contributions to the advancement of library services for the blind or physically disabled in Illinois.


Director Carolyn Anthony elected as 2013-2014 Public Library Association president.


Skokie Public Library wins a second place LibraryAware Community Award. Under the auspices of Library Journal, this new award recognizes communities that are aware of, and use, the services of the public library in their community.

National Medal

2008 Winner
National Medal for
Museum & Library Service

"...offering all of its visitors–regardless of race, ethnicity, or ability–numerous opportunities to interact and learn"