The Rock Island Public Library was the first library to open in Illinois (Nov. 25, 1872), and the library will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a community birthday party on Thursday, Nov. 10.

A full year of activities will kick off with the free party from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of the Downtown Library, 401 19th St. The drop-in event immediately follows the final Frieze Lecture, with speeches and proclamations starting the event. Activities available throughout the party include cake, refreshments, and special giveaways.

Guests may also sign the library’s birthday banner, which will be displayed at events throughout the anniversary year, take a behind-the-scenes library tour, and meet the first librarian, Miss Ellen Gale (as portrayed by library board member Jo Noon).

Rock Island library director Angela Campbell

Current library director Angela Campbell noted in a recent release that it truly is the Year of the Library.

“The creation of the Rock Island Public Library set the stage for literacy in Rock Island. Throughout 150 years, we have continued to thrive, changing over time to meet the needs of the community,” she said. “Our newest endeavor, a shared space with the Two Rivers YMCA on 30th Street, will be yet another way to keep our literacy efforts alive. Please join us in celebrating all of our accomplishments, as well as our future.”

The current main library at 401 19th St., opened in December 1903.

Library history will be on display at the event, and the public is also invited to bring their own items for placement in the library’s time capsule. Poems, photos, drawings, clippings, small books/trinkets, memories, and notes of the library’s past and present are all welcome. Items will be collected over the anniversary year, and placed in a 10” x 12” x 15” container for preservation in Special Collections.

The library plans to mark the capsule for reopening in 25 years, at the 175th anniversary.

“The details you provide about your item will help future community members understand the past. Even if you don’t have an item to contribute, you can write a note for future library lovers to read and enjoy,” said Karrah Kuykendall, RIPL Reference and Adult Services Director.

Guests are encouraged to dress as their favorite book character or show their library card to receive an additional ticket for door prize drawings.

Other activities at the event include opportunities for guests to pose for a picture by a professional photographer. Guests are encouraged to bring a favorite book or pick one from the library, or hold their library card.

Participants will be emailed after the event with a link to download their keepsake photo. The photo is theirs to keep, with printing up to the participant. The brief photo sessions will be available while time allows until 5:30 pm.

“Our Library is a Treasure”

Inside the Children’s Room on the ground floor, guests can emboss a treasure chest cutout, and add their thoughts to the “Our Library is a Treasure” column. The children’s room is also the location to pick up an entry for the all-ages “150 is Pretty Nifty” bookmark contest. Entry forms will be available until Dec. 9, with all entries due by Dec. 10. Prizes available for children, teens, and adults.

The Rock Island Public Library was the first public library to open in Illinois, in November 1872.

A commemorative library bag will be available for purchase for $6 at library service desks, and since the event is during open hours, guests can also check out items and renew or apply for a library card. (A list of 150 ways to use the library will be available. See how many you can check off!)

The library began celebrating in September with the availability of a commemorative library card and a display about the construction of the Downtown Library addition, The Big Build. The library’s October and November Frieze Lecture Series partnership with Augustana College also marked the occasion with the theme “Ideas that Changed Everything.”

A year of anniversary events marking local and national history of the past 150 years is planned through November 2023.

A rendering of the new combined Rock Island library and YMCA, being built at 2715 30th St.

The citizen-led initiative to open the Rock Island Public Library began Aug. 12, 1872, when the private Young Men’s Literary Association generously offered its entire collection, furnishings, and the services of its librarian to the city of Rock Island, according to the library release. The offer allowed Rock Island to open much earlier than other cities who had to purchase materials.

“Library services in Rock Island predate our first building. The library’s first location was in rented rooms inside the Mitchell & Lynde bank building, then located at 2nd Avenue and 17th Street,” said Lisa Lockheart, library publicity and outreach liaison. With the permission of property owner Modern Woodmen of America, the library plans to install a stone marker on the site as a lasting legacy.

The downtown library opened Dec. 15. 1903. For more information, visit the library website.