Read All About It: The Illinois Prairie District Public Library
By: Justin Cook - Advantage Archives
Illinois Prairie District Public Library gives access to local history dating as far back as 1830. The online archive includes Metamora Herald, Washburn Leader, Roanoke Review, among other local and surrounding community papers.
The Illinois Prairie District Public Library is located in Metamora, Ilinois, serving multiple communities of nearly 22,000 total. Metamora is located in Northern-Central Illinois, in Woodford County. Advantage Archives takes great pride of our rewarding partnership with the Illinois Prairie District Public Library. We are excited to be a part of their efforts to provide their community with a way to connect with its history with their Community History Archive.
The mission of the Illinois Prairie District Public Library is to provide materials, programming, and other services in current demand which reflect contemporary trends and thinking. The district and its branches strive to serve as a center for general and local community gathering and information.
Our Community History Archive is a resource that allows the library to work towards it’s mission of providing materials, programming,and other services. It’s just one of the services offered to the community, whether it’s within the walls of the library or accessed remotely.
~Joel Shoemaker, Director at Illinois Prairie District Public Library
Joel Shoemaker, the Library Directory at the Illinois Prairie District Public Library, has been with the library for nearly two and a half years. Joel’s background includes being a member of the following: MLIS from Dominican University, Member of American Library Association – American Library Services to Children, Legislation and Advocacy Committee; Young Adult Library Services Association, Awards Oversight Committee; and Rainbow Round Table 50th Anniversary Celebration Committee.
Joel recently took the time to tell us a little bit about Metamora, the the Illinois Prairie District Public Library and Illinois Prairie District Public Library’s Community History Archive.
Joel is dedicated to ensuring the Illinois Prairie District Public Library is meeting or exceeding the mission of “providing materials, programming, and other services in current demand which reflect contemporary trends and thinking. The district and its branches strive to serve as a center for general and local community gathering and information.”
“Having this local history digitized allows us to bring this content to a much wider audience than just to those whom can make it into the library. We have found there has been a much better partnership with patrons who’ve been working on genealogy books.”
The Illinois Prairie District Public Library Archive is comprised of a collection of the local newspapers, census records, and family history ranging from 1830 to 2011. This wide date range of materials gives the community access to the rich history to Metamora and other local communities.
“The Illinois Prairie District Public Library was formed in July of 1950. It is the second oldest library district in Illinois. It encompasses eight townships: Cazenovia, Clayton, Linn, Metamora, Partridge, Spring Bay, and Worth. This is roughly the northern half of Woodford County. It covers 256 square miles. In 1980, the district served a population of 17,776. Today, the district serves 21,644 inhabitants. Bookmobile service to the schools in the district was provided for 45 years. It was discontinued when the schools developed their own libraries. The district provides service to its patrons through its branch libraries in Benson, Germantown Hills, Metamora, Roanoke, Spring Bay, and Washburn. The Metamora branch houses the district administrative staff. Over the last 15 years, the district has expanded its branches at Spring Bay, Roanoke, and Benson. The library district has recently completed an expansion of its Germantown Hills branch.”
Metamora was known as Hanover until 1845. It was in that year, the town became known as Metamora. The United States Postal Service developed regulations required unique names for towns within the same state, therefore some towns had to establish new identities.
Metamora was the county seat of Woodford County from 1843 – 1896. During this time period, Abraham Lincoln was even a lawyer in the area. This was one of the many reasons the Metamora Courthouse is a State Historic Site that still stands today.
Metamora is still known for it’s local businesses, schools, and farming. These strong community foundations allow Metmora to continue to grow. Not only is Metmora thriving today, they still have a strong connection to it’s past with hosting dances, doing re-enactments, and promoting their historic sites to tourist.
The community support of this project is evident by the donation of finished genealogy books from patrons that have used this resource and the patrons that continue to use the archive.
“The community History Archive helps us with the libraries mission. This new resource for the local and surrounding communities helps us be a central location for community gathering, a hub for information, and community events. Our Community History Archive is a valuable resource for historical research, because it preserves local information and proves it to the entire world,” Joel tells us.
He goes on to share “After Michelle Maltas, Account Manager, contacted us and we discussed with other library directors on the successes they had with using Advantage Archives, we were excited to get started with this project. Not only were we excited to be able to preserve this history in a digital format, we were excited to have a new resource to offer to our patrons.”
We chose to digitize everything we had on microfilm. We were able to us per capita grant funds from the Illinois State Library to fund this project. We knew we wanted to take on this kind of project, but having access to the grant fund is what helped make this project a reality.
The local newspapers and census records are accessed the most, at this point, according to Joel.
“Many of the patrons, many of whom are working on genealogy books, greatly appreciate the digitized Community History Archive. It has increased their efficiency and speed in finding information that they want and are looking for since the content is searchable. Before having this content online and searchable, patrons had to browse the microfilm. Browsing the microfilm on a film viewer was a slow process.”
He also recognizes the digital archive as an outreach or engagement tool.
“We have had patrons complete genealogy books and donate them to the library. Some have done so remotely now that microfilm is digitized instead of coming in to use viewers or relying on staff by mail. Patrons were able to complete their genealogy books easier because of the digitized content. The library probably wouldn’t have the number of genealogy books, as it does now, if it weren’t for the patrons being able to complete them. The digitized searchable content has helped out tremendously.”
The Advantage Archives Community History Archive platform was designed to serve as a “portal to the past” for communities by making all types of history accessible. Many institutions start with their local newspapers, and grow the archive with new and interesting content like photos, maps, atlases, history books, and much more. Joel also plans to expand what is currently available:
“We received the entire collection of Woodford County pageant materials, a contest that no longer exists. It would be great to see it digitized in some way.”
The Community History Archives are user friendly, and easy to learn. The Advantage team has focused on making it as simple as possible, so that everyone…from students to grandparents (and everyone in between) can browse, search, view, clip and share articles, headlines, pages, and stories recorded in the pages of the community newspaper. Users of the site are able to just type a search and hit “enter” or create a more complex search by using the query builder. There is also the ability to simply browse to a specific year, month, day or page in any (or all) publications contained in the archive.
“The Community History Archive is a great service and a phenomenal investment for the community. It’s definitely worth the investment!!!”
Advantage partners with communities just like Metamora, IL across the United States, to archive & provide practical digital access to local historical content in print, that would otherwise be lost to the erosion of time.
If you would like to see more local history online, please contact your local library, newspaper publisher, genealogical society, historical society, or educational institution, and encourage them to learn more about creating a Community History Archive like the one Illinois Prairie District Public Library has created for its community. Ask them to e-mail us using the form below, or have them contact us at (855) 303-2727.