Our Values: Preservation

A black and white photograph of the library from 1960A black and white photograph of the library from 1960

If you ask people to describe a public library, many would mention books, storytimes, computers, or research. Less well-known are the core professional values supporting every library service. In celebrating National Library Week, we’re spotlighting three foundational library values: intellectual freedom, preservation, and education and lifelong learning.

The term preservation may conjure images of dim rooms full of delicate parchment and creaky leather-bound books. And while that may describe some archives, preservation in public libraries typically means collecting meaningful images, documents, books, and other materials in a way that ensures they can be accessed now and in the future.

Not surprisingly, our library’s preservation focus is on the continuing history of Skokie and Niles Center (as Skokie was once called), in an attempt to document the geography, people, institutions, and activities of enduring value to the community. Most of these materials take the form of online archives, including extensive coverage of the attempted Nazi March, Skokie’s 1967 Fair Housing Ordinance, and the life of Dr. Louise Klehm, Skokie’s first female physician who practiced medicine in the early part of the 20th century. Many of these digitization projects were done in collaboration with community partners such as the Skokie Heritage Museum and the Village of Skokie.

We also preserve more seemingly commonplace materials that spotlight the many lives involved in the community, including digitized telephone directories, Niles Township high school yearbooks, photographs of Skokie’s historic businesses and homes, and interviews with residents that capture some of the history and daily life of the village. In fact, the materials in our collection have uncovered evidence that the first road paved with concrete in Cook County was a stretch of Church Street in Skokie! Our materials have also helped a Korean art history student research a local exhibit of the work of legendary Korean artist, Su-Nam Song in the 1980s, and have provided background information on a local polio vaccination drive in the 1960s that led to an Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribune.

A cornerstone of our archival initiatives centers on local newspapers. We maintain online indexes of Skokie newspaper articles and obituaries, each carefully cataloged by staff members to enable easy searching by our staff and the public. In an exciting recent development, we’ve been able to digitize the complete text of local newspapers, with coverage beginning in the 1930s. This means that any researcher inside the library building can search for, read, and save articles directly. Not in the building? Contact us and our information services staff will get cracking on your request!

Of course, the library also maintains a print collection focused on the community, including books and videos about Skokie history, criss-cross directories, and microfilm. We look forward to unveiling future digital projects documenting the library's early history as well as several local history reference books.