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Illinois Libraries Present shows that libraries are more than just a place for books – Chicago Tribune

We all know libraries are places for books and periodicals or public access to the internet, but libraries are many more things than that. You can get help with your taxes at the library. You can rent tools at the library, as I discovered when I needed a post hole digger to implant a new mailbox.

Thanks to an initiative born out of the pandemic, your Illinois library may also be your conduit to free, exclusive high-quality virtual programming with celebrity and other high-profile authors.

Illinois Libraries Present, a consortium of 209 libraries in the state is in the midst of its second season of author events, with New York Times puzzle master Will Shortz the next participant on April 25. The event includes a custom Illinois-themed crossword puzzle that will be mailed to all registrants.

I recently had a chance to ask a few questions about Illinois Libraries Present to Jennifer Czajka, one of the founders of the initiative and a programs and exhibits manager at Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz hosts an upcoming event by Illinois Libraries Present.

She told me that while the programming was meant as a way to connect when folks were spending lots of time at home, the trend of patrons wanting more programming to come to them in their homes was already underway pre-pandemic, and has only accelerated as people have become increasingly “comfortable” with the technology.

Accessibility is core to the overall library mission, and Czajka and ILP have heard from numerous patrons, who for reasons of desire or disability, prefer to engage from the “warmth of home.”

For me, this is a reminder that libraries are not just a place, but an idea, an expression of shared public resources used for public good without cost being a barrier to entry. This spirit permeates the organizing principles of Illinois Libraries Present, as libraries of different sizes provide funding for the program on a sliding scale, based on the library budget.

These funds, along with aid from the Illinois State Library and the Illinois Heartland Library System, have helped the program thrive out of the gate.

The most attended event thus far was a joint event from Chicago celebrities Nick Offerman and Jeff Tweedy, who joined the audience from a joint hike in front of more than 8,000 virtual viewers. Marlee Matlin in conversation with Richard Costes, a deaf actor and director based in Chicago, was also highly attended.

Upcoming Season 2 events include “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness in conversation with Olympic Gold Medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, and Season 3 kicks off in September. Czajka says one of their goals is to bring more “high profile Illinois folks,” into the series “because participating in an ILP event and feeling the Midwest is Best pride energy is the most fun you can have while working.”

The other big goal is to expand the number of participating libraries, regardless of their ability to pay. That 209 number is one-third of the libraries in the state, an impressive tally for such a new program, but also one that shows there’s room for growth.

This summer ILP will be presenting its model at a national conference, hopefully leading to more programming like it across other states.

If you’d like to view the events, check in at your local library for registration, either in person or on the events page of the website. If your library isn’t participating, ask them to become a member.

Libraries are always eager to serve the public.

“Secrets of a Puzzle Master: A Conversation with Will Shortz” by Illinois Libraries Present will be 7 p.m. April 25; more information at

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from the Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “A Thousand Acres” by Jane Smiley

2. “Cloudsplitter” by Russell Banks

3. “The Book of Daniel” by E.L. Doctorow

4. “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner

5. “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles

— John H., Chicago

I think John will enjoy Willa Cather’s American classic, “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”

1. “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk” by Kathleen Rooney

2. “Wayward” by Dana Spiotta

3. “What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours” by Helen Oyeyemi

4. “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” by Karen Russell

5. “The Candy House” by Jennifer Egan

— Samantha P., Chicago

For Samantha, I’m recommending a book I consider a Midwestern classic, though not enough people remember it, Cathy Day’s novel in stories, “The Circus in Winter.”

1. “The Known World” by Edward P. Jones

2. “Raising Holy Hell” by Bruce Olds

3. “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

4. “Oreo” by Fran Ross

5. “The Perfect Storm” by Sebastian Junger

— Bob T., Wilmette

Now that this previously out-of-print work by William Melvin Kelley has been returned to wide availability, I’m going to do my best to keep it around by recommending his brilliant “A Different Drummer” whenever possible.

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