Gail Borden Public Library District Rakow Branch

By on

by Karen Maki and Denise Raleigh, originally published in the February 2010 issue of the Illinois Library Association Reporter

It may have taken 135 years for Gail Borden Public Library District to add its first new service outlet, but there is not much that suggests “the past” at the Rakow Branch. Conceived and developed as a model for library services now and in the future, it embraces a variety of new technologies. Located adjacent to a wetland on Elgin’s Far West side, it features a collection of popular materials, a computer café, Zen gardens, and a “living room” with a fireplace. The Rakow Branch has earned LEED Gold certification, a benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. Green elements of the branch include:

  • A geothermal well system (fifteen wells, each 450 feet deep) that utilizes the earth’s constant temperatures to save energy in heating or cooling;
  • A high albedo roof, i.e., one coated in reflective materials to lower absorption of solar energy and reduce surface temperatures;
  • Solar orientation, with a focus on blending natural light with sensor-controlled artificial lighting;
  • Extended sunscreens on the exterior of the building, controlling natural light;
  • Drought-resistant native plants and grasses, combined with storm water management, to eliminate the need to irrigate gardens surrounding the building;
  • Materials with low VOC (volatile organic compounds) to improve indoor air quality;
  • Extensive use of bamboo throughout the building, a rapidly-renewable resource; and
  • Neighbor-friendly lighting in the parking lot which focuses light downward.

Innovation and technology created self-service elements and efficiencies that enabled the library district to construct this branch under tough economic conditions. With minimal staff that is cross-trained and customer service-oriented, the branch utilizes RFID, self-check machines, a mini-sorter with self-inducted check-in, and an external DVD dispenser that operates 24/7. Skype is available as needed for reference assistance from the main library.

Empowering the customer, the branch uses the bookstore merchandising model with the collection displayed face-out in browsing categories, featuring subjects like “Vrroom! Vrroom!”, where children will find books about planes, trains, and automobiles. For adults, “Legal…Ease” features books about law; “Dates and Mates” holds books about relationships. In a typical section, the top two rows are shelved face-out; the bottom three shelves are shelved spine-out in the traditional manner.

Not stationed at a customary service desk, staff members are out on the floor, meeting customers and providing assistance. They continually pull materials from the bottom shelves to fill in gaps on the face-out shelves. With high circulation, this task is done frequently.

The drive-up window and the DVD dispenser are very popular services for today’s busy customers. Service at the window is available during all open hours; the dispenser is available 24/7 — and checkouts indicate it is in use at all hours of the day, including the wee hours of the morning.

Multi-talented librarian Margaret Peebles, branch manager, says, “I love this atmosphere. People are excited that we are open and they love how easy it is to use. One of our staff members changes the design in the Zen gardens fairly often, creating new art for all to enjoy on a vista that includes these beautiful wetlands. However, we must admit, we’re not all about the beauty. Circulation is shooting upward and the 24-hour DVD dispenser is in constant use,” said Peebles.

Fast Facts

Building: 10,000 square feet
Project Costs: $4,656,620
Seating: 75
Collections: 20,085 books; 4,801 nonbook
Computers: 24
Hours: 46 per week
Staff: 5.8
Architect: Engberg Anderson Design Partnership
Engineers: Hennemen Engineering
Interiors: Engberg Anderson Design Partnership
Construction: Shales McNutt Construction (SMC)
Web site:

Read about more Library Showcase Libraries.

Do you have a great story about your local library that you would like featured in the Library Showcase column? If so, please refer to our Editorial Guidelines and send your story to showcase at