Naperville’s Nichols Library celebrates 125th anniversary

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“What a library is at its core is a place for collections, a place for community,” said Executive Director of the Naperville Public Library Dave Della Terza. “Everything kind of ties back into that, why the library was started and what we do.”

In 2023, a staple in the Naperville community celebrated its 125th anniversary.

Nichols Library first opened its doors to serve the city’s 2,200 residents in 1898. Over the past 125 years, the library has moved locations and added thousands of books and resources, but one thing has remained consistent – its dedication to educating the Naperville community.

James Nichols creates Nichols Library

The story of Nichols Library began when six-year-old James Nichols arrived in the United States in 1857 with his mother and stepfather. The self-taught German immigrant attended North-Western College, now known as North Central College.

After graduating, Nichols returned to the school as a professor. He wrote “The Business Guide,” to use as a textbook, which sold over three million copies by 1917. He used the money to work on his publishing company, but eventually, decided to put some funds toward something that would have a lasting impact on the community.

“On his deathbed in 1895, (Nichols) wants to leave $10,000 to the City of Naperville so they can have a library,” said Andrea Field, Ph.D., Curator of History at Naper Settlement. “So the children of Naperville can access books in the way that Nichols didn’t.”

The original Nichols Library location at 110 S. Washington St. opened with about 700 books.

“(In) 1898, Naperville is still predominantly a small farming community,” said Field. “It has a pretty vibrant downtown. Nichols is involved in a lot of businesses. Nichols Library on Washington goes through a series of renovations as the town is growing to better serve that community. They introduce a children’s room. They will redo the stacks. They actually get an art collection.”

Over the next 125 years, the Naperville Public Library system was formed. Nichols Library moved to a new location in 1986, 200 W. Jefferson Ave., just a few blocks from the original site.

Nichols was joined by the Naper Boulevard Library at 2035 S. Naper Blvd., in 1992, and the 95th Street Library at 3015 Cedar Glade Drive, in 2003.

Nichols adapts to the ever-changing Naperville

Today, Nichols Library is home to over 350,000 items, including modern technology like downloadable eBooks and eAudiobooks.

“The community loves the library, but we’re always adapting to do things,” said Della Terza. “For instance, our technology when I started here was computers. Now we’ve got all kinds of things people can come in and do. Use our green screen room, our sound recording studio, digitize old photos and music, 3d print. We’re constantly reevaluating what we have here and trying to make sure that what we have is what the community is looking for and giving them things maybe they don’t even know they want that (are) interesting.”

Along with its resources, Nichols hosts events for community members of all ages. In 2010, to better serve the growing diversity of the city’s population, the Naperville Public Library introduced Dual Language Storytime

A Naperville local or volunteer who is a native speaker of the language shares books, rhymes, and songs with young children and their parents. Amy Mei has taught Chinese storytime for the past three years.

“It’s like my best time because they’re always smiling and they always hug me,” said Mei. “And I feel motivated… the best job I’ve ever had before. I used to work in (a) corporate office, but it feels so fun working in the library.”

COVID 19’s impact on Nichols Library

In-person programs like Dual Language Storytime were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, though the library pivoted to keep other services going. Della Terza said Nichols Library has seen a resurgence in attendance in the past year.

“Something that’s been very consistent is people coming in, checking out our materials, checking out books,” said Della Terza. “Another thing that’s been growing again since the pandemic is just people coming to meet here at the library. There was a lot of talk about the library is a third space, a space where people could come, feel comfortable, gather, and meet with people.”

Since taking over as the Naperville Public Library’s Executive Director in 2019, Della Terza has overseen Nichols Library becoming the second busiest library in Illinois. He hopes for more success in the years to come.

“One of the things that really drew me to working here is that the library is really well beloved by the community,” said Della Terza. “So many communities around here have libraries that are just not well utilized. And Naperville loves its library. Our collections are well used, our spaces well used, our programs well-attended. And that to me is just a testament that hopefully we’re doing what people are looking for.”

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