Every time I visit the Gail Borden Public Library near downtown Elgin, I’m initially amazed at all the commotion – people streaming in, cars waiting to use the drive-up window. It always brings to mind a popular mall on a busy weekend. And then I remember, “Oh yeah, this is an awesome library. Of course it’s busy!”
It’s also beautiful to look at. The two-story Prairie School-inspired building was completed in 2003 and sits on the east bank of the Fox River. Inside, it features a grand “Central Rotunda,” a coffee shop and the beautiful “River Room” – which features fireplaces and huge windows overlooking the Fox River.
But the main draw for families with young children is the “Early Learning Center.” This area features an elevated wooden play structure – almost like a tree house – that kids can scramble on and under.
The other happening spot is an area that features all sorts of wooden kitchen appliances, shelves, dishes and play food. Kids can put on costumes or play with puppets, games and puzzles. There’s a large freshwater aquarium to gaze at, and each week materials for a different craft project are offered at a counter that includes a sink. Caretakers can rest in chairs all around the area, although I can personally attest that if you help the kids “play house,” you’ll quickly be the most popular adult around!
The library also features a very large globe that lights up – a great spot for talking about geography. And right now, the library has binoculars you can borrow to look at the bald eagles that are currently flying and fishing along the Fox River near the library building.
All of the above can be enjoyed even if you don’t live in the library’s boundaries. Gail Borden also is somewhat unique in the large number of drop-in storytimes, movies and other events it offers that are open to families who live out of the district. I feature those on the Go West calendar, and of course you can get find information about them on Gail Borden’s calendar as well.
And in case you wonder why his library is not just called the Elgin Public Library, it is named after Gail Borden, who was awarded a patent for condensed milk in the mid-1800s. Decades later, his stepsons – who were Elgin residents — purchased a mansion to house the city’s library on the condition that the library “be forever and always known and called the Gail Borden Public Library.” He must have been a pretty good stepfather, eh?
The Gail Borden Public Library is located at 270 N. Grove in downtown Elgin. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.