Institutional Member Spotlight - Bloomington Public Library

June 3, 2024

Our latest Institutional Member Spotlight is on the Bloomington Public Library! The Bloomington Public Library is located in Bloomington, IL in McLean County. The library's director, Jeanne Hamilton, served as the president of ILA in 2021. 

Continue reading to learn about the Bloomington Public Library!

Library's History

The Bloomington Public Library opened in 1857 in a single room on the third floor of a downtown Bloomington building. It was opened by the Ladies’ Library Association and was supported by book donations and membership fees. On August 7, 1880, the library closed due to lack of funds. At the time, the City of Bloomington was not interested in receiving the library as a “gift”, and the local newspaper printed the following, “Will the friends of the library, in the last part of the nineteenth century, stand idly by and see this done? Or are we to return to the dark ages?”
The library reopened on October 2, 1880, thanks to citizens who raised the needed $1,100.

In 1887, Mrs. Sarah B. Withers donated land in downtown Bloomington for the purpose of the construction of a library. In 1888, a two-story building was erected and christened Withers Public Library – the predecessor to Bloomington Public Library. In 1894, the building and its possessions were turned over to the City of Bloomington, and the library became a tax-supported institution.

In 1926, Bloomington Library’s outreach services debuted as books and magazines were delivered to patients at local hospitals. By 1930, a book wagon had added neighborhoods and area schools to its delivery route. And from 1933-1974, a branch of Withers Public Library existed at Lake Bloomington on the outskirts of town.

In 1976, organizers campaigned for voter approval of bonds which led to the construction of a new library building which opened in 1977. When this library opened, Bloomington’s mayor and City Council decided it was time to rename the library to Bloomington Public Library.

In 1997, the library’s first computer network was launched, funded by a large donation to the Bloomington Public Library Foundation.

Today, the Bloomington Public Library nears completion of a major expansion and renovation project which began in June of 2022. The project will add approximately 21,000 square feet of space to the library while renovating another 57,000 square feet of existing space.

Some of the library’s newest highlights will include a drive-up window, three large community rooms, two large children’s programming rooms, eight study rooms, a 12-person conference room, a computer lab, an innovation lab, two recording studios, a sensory friendly room, a nursing nook, wider aisles, more-accessible shelving, and an expanded two-level parking structure. This project is expected to reach completion by June 1, 2024.

Mission Statement

We provide our diverse community with a helpful and welcoming place that offers equitable access to the world of ideas and information and supports lifelong learning.

How Many Patrons Served a Year

The library averages approximately 325,000 visitors each year.


Children’s Services, Adult Services, Circulation/Outreach, Cataloging and Technical Services, Information Technology, Administration, Marketing, and Operations.

The Staff Member Who's Worked at the Library the longest

The distinction of longest-serving current library employee belongs to Kathy Jeakins, the library’s Business Office Manager. Kathy began her BPL career in June of 1990 and has been commuting 50 miles (each way) to work for the past 34 years! Coming in second for this distinction is Gayle Tucker, Human Resources Manager. Gayle began her library career in July 1990, a mere 33 days after Kathy’s tenure began.

The Newest Staff Member

The library’s newest staff member is a summer temp named Anna Elizabeth Mitchell. She has an MLS and is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Illinois. Anna Elizabeth has worked for Bloomington Library since March of 2024.

Why Did You Become an ILA Institutional Member?

The Library Board saw the value that ILA provides to Illinois libraries through professional development, advocacy, and more; leading the library to choose to support ILA both through membership dues and by proudly calling itself an ILA member.

The Best Thing About Being an ILA Institutional Member?

The Bloomington Public Library appreciates the advocacy/legislative work that ILA does and believes its institutional membership helps to support that work. The professional development discounts offered to staff and board members through the ILA institutional membership are also something that the library appreciates.

Fun Fact About the Library

The Bloomington Public Library’s art collection may be one of its best-kept secrets. The collection includes 50+ etchings, created by the likes of Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, James Whistler, Francisco Goya, and more.

In 2023, amid construction, the library opted to sell approximately 35 pieces of art from its collection. The director of the McLean County Arts Center ventured over and indicated which pieces might be of higher value and should be offered to an auction house as opposed to being sold via a simple, library-run online auction. One of those paintings, The Charge of Custer at Winchester by William B.T. Trego (1897), turned out to be a work considered long-lost which brought $14,490 at auction. Read more at

Popular Event/Programs with Patrons

The library’s storytimes have always been a patron favorite. As we recently moved into our new space (with our old space still under renovation), attendance at the library’s storytimes has seen exponential growth. Also popular are any children’s program which offers multiple activity stations, such as when Candyland took over the entire library or when the library was transformed into Hogwarts!

A new program that is drawing interest is our Let’s Dish! Cookbook Club. Each month, a different international cookbook is spotlighted. Attendees are asked to prepare a recipe of their choosing from the cookbook and bring it to share. As attendees sample the culinary creations, food and cooking are discussed.

Favorite Event 

A favorite program held at Bloomington Public Library was the 2019 How-To Festival. During this interactive community education event, experts were set up at 40+ stations throughout the library to give patrons opportunities to try their hand at a variety of new skills.

This was a three-hour program that attracted patrons of all ages who learned at least a little bit about decorating cookies, using kitchen knives, recycling and composting, direct seeding a garden, genealogy, carving wood, writing, creating greeting cards, rock climbing, making butter, getting fit, knitting, meditating, using cloth diapers, constructing an electrical grid, eating healthy, playing instruments, shooting a hockey puck, yoga, East Coast swing dancing, salsa dancing, 3D printing, befriending hummingbirds, operating basic power tools, hand massage, macramé, CPR, beekeeping, breastfeeding, making ice cream, and more.

iREAD Summer Reading Programs

Since 1981, iREAD provides high quality, low-cost resources and products that enable local library staff to motivate children, young adults, and adults to read.

Visit the iREAD website »

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