The Village of Coal City has had a library of sorts for over one hundred years. It began in October 1885 when the Village Board donated $50.00 to the Young Men’s Society for purchasing daily papers. In February 1886, after a presentation by a Citizen’s Committee, the Village Board donated $200.00 to start the Public Library and Reading Room. The library was staffed on a completely voluntary basis and was located on the second floor of the village hall. Many of the books shelved on the ceiling high bookcases were gifts from personal libraries in town.
In November 1942, the doors of an enlarged and refurbished library were opened due to the efforts of a library board appointed by Mayor Thomas Jisa and chaired by Village Commissioner James Kriz. Considerable assistance was received from Miss Charlotte Ryan, head of the Extension Service of the Illinois State Library.
The original Board of Directors was succeeded in 1945 by a six-member board appointed by Mayor William Brown.
Up until 1969, the library was operated with volunteer services, cash donations and books from veteran’s organizations, women’s groups and individuals. During the administration of Mayor LeRoy Brown, the village decided to provide funds for the operation of the municipal library.
The first salaried librarian, Mrs. Gloria Pierard, was employed in November 1970. It was through her efforts that the Dewey Decimal System of cataloging was installed. The librarian post was turned over to Mrs. Kathy Smith upon Mrs. Pierard’s resignation in August of 1972.
The municipal library began operating in a new structure constructed by Narvick Bros. of Morris on May 31, 1972. The building of 2,888 sq. ft. was situated on the main street of town between the post office and the village hall. Approximately 700 card-holders were served that first year by Mrs. Smith and two helpers.
In 1967, the library became a member of the Burr Oak Library System which serves Grundy, Will, Kendall and Kankakee Counties. On July 1, 1993 the Burr Oak Library System merged with the Starved Rock Library System to become Heritage Trail Library System which serves Bureau, Grundy, Kankakee, Kendall, LaSalle, Putnam and Will Counties.
On Mrs. Kathy Smith’s retirement in December of 1984, Mrs. Sharon Smith became the Library Director. The Coal City Public Library District was established effective May 1, 1987 by virtue of a successful conversion referendum. The new district library operated out of the same building as its predecessor and served approximately 2,833 of the 8,500 people residing in the district which includes Coal City, Diamond, Carbon Hill, Goose Lake and several rural areas. The district is under the leadership of a seven-member board elected by the people.
On March 20, 1990, due to another successful referendum, the Library District was provided with funds by the taxpayers to erect a new building on Garfield and First Streets in Coal City. The new facility, which is 15,628 sq. ft., opened to the public on March 30, 1992. The staff consisted of Library Director, Sharon Smith, nine full-time employees and several part-time employees.
Mrs. Sharon Smith retired on August 30, 1999. Mrs. Jolene Franciskovich is the current Library Director.
The Heritage Trail Library System, Northern Illinois Library System and the River Bend Library System merged on July 1, 2004 to create a new system. All system members were asked to enter a contest to come up with the best name for the new system. The staff of the Coal City Library District won the contest by naming the new system Prairie Area Library System or PALS.
On July 1, 2011 due to the faltering state economy five northern and central Illinois library systems merged. Alliance Library System (ALS), DuPage Library System (DLS) , Metropolitan Library System (MLS), North Suburban Library System (NSLS), and Prairie Area Library System (PALS) merged to create the new Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS). RAILS serves more than 1,500 public, private, university, and school library members at more than 3,700 library locations across a 27,000 square mile area.
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