Champaign library's Douglass Branch: Small but mighty

Champaign library's Douglass Branch: Small but mighty

CHAMPAIGN -- On Friday afternoon, two kids surf the web on a couple of the 25 computers available to the public at the Champaign Public Library's Douglass Branch.

A few seats down, a woman clicking away at a mouse searches for jobs while an elderly woman across the way catches up on email.

Sitting on a red sofa near a window, University of Illinois student Ritse Adefolalu thumbs through a book, one of thousands, along with video games, movies and CDs that line the bookshelves of the 6,074-square-foot library adjacent to Douglass Park.

The Douglass Branch might not be the monstrosity that is its two-story, 121,000-square-foot counterpart across town, but it offers just about everything its members within its neighborhood need.

"Even though we are a small space, we get to really know the people who frequent the branch and our staff might be more equipped to help our customers because they know what they like, what they don't like and we are able to give them that one-on-one service that they appreciate," said branch director Essie Harris.

The Douglass Branch has been providing that kind of service since it was organized in 1970, operating inside a single room at Douglass Community Center. It moved to a small building at 310 E. Bradley Ave. in 1976 before moving to its current location at the corner of Fifth and Grove streets in June 1997.

And as it prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its current building with an event from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at Douglass Park, the expectation is to continue providing that same level of service for decades to come.

"It's convenient, it's right here in the neighborhood," Harris said. "Kids can walk here from school or walk here from their homes."

That's what attracted Adefolalu, a library and information science student. He has an interest in smaller libraries that serve its immediate community the way Douglass does.

"I feel like a lot of times libraries will be less likely to be well-furnished and active in neighborhoods that have fewer resources in some of the more marginalized communities," he said. "I've been to the libraries in Chicago a lot and I've found the norm is the bigger ones are more in the middle of the city and the kids who use it are from other communities like the South Side so they've got to come all the way out instead of having a good option in their own communities."

The Douglass Branch offers a tech program for kids after school during the school year. On Mondays in the summer, it sponsors a program called Kids Create Apps in partnership with the UI School of Information Sciences, in which kids ages 9-11 are taught code and how to create apps and games.

"We have a variety of things for the kids to do here," said Harris, who has been with the Champaign Public Library for 48 years, the last 14 at Douglass. "It's a safe place for kids to come. They have access to computers, books, magazines. For people who can't afford a computer, laptop, tablet, they can come here and use the Internet for free."

There's plenty for adults, too, including the ability to check out Kindles. The adult book club, which meets from May through September, is especially popular.

"We specifically discuss books by African-American authors, so that's what separates us a bit from the main branch's club," Harris said.

Earlier this year, famed author Terry McMillan of "Waiting to Exhale" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" fame was even a guest of the club. Her appearance had to be moved to the main branch because of space limitations at Douglass.

"It was wonderful. She's a very gracious lady and was very kind to all of us," said Gary Walker, a member of the Douglass book club.

Walker grew up in a small town south of Champaign and enjoys the small-town feel of the branch, which is why it's continues to be his library of choice.

"I'm used to going to the library where everybody knows your name and you visit for a few minutes as I'm checking out my books," he said. "Having a small branch like Douglass, you can get what you need and get out while getting great customer service in the process."

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bones1 wrote on June 14, 2017 at 10:06 am

"The Douglass Branch might not be the monstrosity that is its two-story, 121,000-square-foot counterpart across town, but it offers just about everything its members within its neighborhood need."

 Well, I guess it is interesting to have the dimensions of the main library, but why the qualifier that it is a "monstrosity"? Is that your opinion, or the opinion of the staff at the Douglass Branch or perhaps that word is on the front door of the main library?  It just seems totally unprofessional for you to refer to that building as a monstrosity.  I am not sure if this is a news report or an opinion piece.   

Champaignite wrote on June 14, 2017 at 7:06 pm

Agreed with the inappropriateness of the term "monstrosity" in reference to the Main Library.  Mostrosity by definition refers to a very large and unsightly building.  I would argue that given the fact that the Main Library has won several design awards and is considered by many residents to be a treasure in local facilities, the author's choice of that word is inappropriate and misguided at best.

I am glad to see this article on the Douglass Branch though because I think it is a hidden gem and really provides an important resource particularly for the community around it as well as the community as a whole.