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Another northern Illinois library has been added to the Library Journal's 5-star list

Gail Borden Library
Gail Borden Library

A northern Illinois library was one in 16 new libraries in the U.S. to receive prestigious top honor for its service outputs during 2019.

For the past 14 years, the Library Journal has recognized several U.S. libraries with its star index awards based on data that is received from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Public Library Survey. Last year, the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin received 5-stars, which is the highest honor. This is the first time the library grabbed this award.

Meredith Schwartz, the editor-in-chief of the Library Journal, emphasized that the star awards only focus on the numbers.

“So, there's not like a secret cheat code to getting to be a star library. The whole point is to try to look at a generalized overview of library output performance,” she explained. “I want to emphasize that output word because there's a lot of great services that libraries provide that are not measured by this index. And that's because you can't numerically count them.”

Keith Curry Lance is a contractor for the Library Journal. He said all libraries are required by law to report this data.

It includes print and electronic circulation, physical visits, program attendance, public Internet computer use and Wi Fi use.

“And then the latest number we added to the index just two years ago, is what the Institute for Museum and Library Services, which actually collects this data,” he said, “calls successful retrievals of electronic information. Well, that's a bit too wordy for us. So, we just call it e-retrievals.”

Simply put this just shows how many times users accessed the libraries' available databases.

That’s an important number these days. A lot of important information on the internet is behind a paywall.

So, Lance said, having a library card is like having a key to an electronic fortune.

“Most of the databases that libraries provide access to, all of us as individuals, we could never dream of affording to subscribe to all those databases ourselves,” Lance said. “And our public libraries do that for us. And all you have to give to get in online to any of those databases is your public library card number.”

Lance said a few numbers took the Illinois library over the top.

“The Gail Borden library had above average numbers on print circulation visits, program attendance and in a big, big way, Wi Fi sessions and database use e-retrievals,” he explained.

Carole Medal is the CEO of the Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin. She said although this award is not based on the quality of service at the library, receiving it has caught the community’s attention.

“People react to things that are rated like that -- 5-stars. And we're used to that 5-star hotel, 5-star restaurant and all of that,” she mentioned. “And as a result, it did put us in the spotlight.”

Denise Raleigh is the division chief of public relations and development at the library district. She said the main goal of the library is to serve the community.

“And I do think what they're collecting, if it's impacting the community, we will be there, again, because of the tremendous value that we provide to others,” she said.

Schwartz said this isn’t the only time the Elgin library has been recognized by the Journal.

“The most recent version of the Jerry Klein Community Impact Prize, Gail Borden was one of the two honorable mention libraries,” Schwartz added. “They also have had staff members in the past who have become ‘Movers & Shakers,’ which is an award that we give not to libraries, but to individual librarians and other library workers.”

Schwartz said the Klein award is more about quality and not the numbers. She said this speaks more to the breadth than depth.

“It's not that you can't learn anything from the numbers,” she explained. “It's just that you learn something different from the numbers than you learn from a one-on-one interview with a library patron whose life has been profoundly changed. But you got to have both.”

Schwartz expressed that it is important for libraries to accurately report their numbers saying that some institutions don’t fill out all the information when they submit to the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The 2021 ratings reflect pre-pandemic numbers. Lance said he’s not sure how next year’s will look since some libraries had to close partially during that time.

“What I'm guessing will happen is that for a lot of libraries, there'll be a big shift from the more physical measures to the more electronic ones, because so much of the use will be remote,” he said. “It'll also be interesting to see what happens with things like program attendance.”

There are certain tiers that each library can fall under and those are based on the libraries’ budget. Gail Borden fell in the category for libraries that spend from 10 to 29 million dollars. Some other Illinois libraries who’ve received a 5-star rating include: Naperville, Elmhurst and Schaumburg.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.
Yvonne covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This could include how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities. Boose is a recent graduate of the Illinois Media School and returns to journalism after a career in the corporate world.