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'Such a gem:' Expansion at Peoria Public Library’s Lincoln Branch celebrates 10 years

Linda Daley remembers the effort that went into renovating and expanding the Peoria Public Library’s historic Lincoln Branch.

“I think this building is such a gem, and it looks as good as the day we opened it,” Daley said Friday during a 10th anniversary celebration of the expansion that tripled the size of the South Side branch.

Before her term as president of the library’s board of trustees, Daley was chair of the library’s building committee when taxpayers approved a $28 million system-wide modernization effort. That included an extensive update to the Lincoln Branch, a Carnegie library built in 1910.

“I look around here, there's not a ding, a stain, a dent. And I mean, 10 years of hard use tells me that people here really treasure what the public library has done here,” said Daley, now a Peoria County Board member. “I can't think of anything that's more of a testament to what the taxpayers voted to do 15 years ago.”

Cynthia Smith, manager of the Lincoln Branch, described being able to offer more to South Side residents in the expanded facility as “an awesome experience.”

“For me, it just doesn't seem like 10 years of this new extension of this building to this beautiful library, and maybe that's because the programming never stopped,” said Smith. “But the extension intensified what we could do, and that would be to do more. Do more programming, get more students involved, introduce adults to best-selling authors, having more computer users, which means more internet accessibility, and of course, more books, more materials, more of everything to choose from.”

The original Carnegie portion of the Lincoln Branch had a footprint of just 4,570 square feet. Smith said that small size posed limitations to what programming they were able to offer.

“When it was just the Carnegie, we had six computers (and) the most ... students that we could have was 12,” said Smith. “With this new addition, we have a computer lab that has 16 public computers, so we can have up to 30 kids learning technology.

“And when I say ‘learning technology’ — in the old part, it was basic computer skills: learning how to do basic things, learning how to even type on the computer. Well, now it's learning how to build Bluetooth speakers, learning about 3D pens, learning how to maneuver the 3D pens, learning how to print from a 3D printer. We would not be able to do that in the Carnegie, so it's a huge impact on this community.”

PPL executive director Randall Yelverton agreed the Lincoln Branch serves as a community hub and has helped the neighborhood come together more.

“We love all our libraries, but one of the things I love about the Lincoln Branch is it's a real example of a neighborhood library,” said Yelverton. “It's a vital part of the community. There's a lot of people here in the community meeting at the library, using the library for programming. It's a true testament to the neighborhood library concept, and it continues to be.”

Architect Edward Barry of the Farnsworth Group served as principal on all of the Peoria Public Library’s modernization projects. He said one of the challenges of expanding the Lincoln Branch was how to connect a contemporary wing to the Carnegie library without disrupting the existing classical features.

“What we did, in a global sense, was tried to preserve as much of the exterior facade and have just sort of a delicate glass link, like a bridge, that takes you over to the original building,” said Barry, noting the library has landmark status and is on the National Register of Historic Places. “Then we separated that further with a large precast concrete arch wall that you see if you go around to the front.”

Peoria City Council member Beth Jensen joined Daley in characterizing the Lincoln Branch as a gem that serves a vital role in the neighborhood.

“I've been coming here frequently, regularly as a city council person, just to attend neighborhood meetings, SCUC (Southside Community United for Change) meetings monthly, where we bring in speakers from the city, the police, the fire (department), and city council,” said Jensen. “People are here to answer questions. So it's a real community center for the neighborhood, and it's really important to the city as a whole and to the South Side.”

Smith said neighborhood associations and other organizations regularly utilize the Lincoln Branch’s meeting rooms, agreeing the community is proud of the library and what it has to offer.

“I have had people come to me and say, ‘This building seems like it doesn't belong here,’ and I said, ‘Oh, yeah it does,'” said Smith. “It belongs here. It is your building; we will do these things for you, so you can come in and we will help to make this library experience be a lifelong experience for you.”

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