But rarely, if ever, to a library.
Yet those two adjectives apply to the Sugar Grove Public Library, an amazingly stunning piece of architecture that has, in its short history, seen enough controversy to fill volumes on the gleaming white shelves within its striking facade.
No, it's a barn... the biggest, cleanest, freshest-smelling, most light-filled barn you've ever seen...
Whichever edifice you liken it to, the Sugar Grove Public Library is absolutely gorgeous... outside and inside. Rusticated cast stone and brilliant white siding highlight the exterior. Enormous windows, light woods and a soaring cathedral ceiling braced by exposed timber trusses and punctuated by skylights ensure an airy interior with plenty of breathing space and breath-taking views.
The adult side of the library, in the southern wing, is both stunning and incredibly functional. A massive, two-sided stone fireplace welcomes browsers on one side and warms a dedicated, quiet reading room on the other, in which one can sink into a cushy wing chair and wile away an afternoon. Flanked by two study rooms, this area offers a wonderful "home away from home" reading space. The library also has a "back porch," a charming room outfitted with wicker chairs and tables, potted palms and a sunny view of blue skies and prairie grass swaying in the breeze just outside the windows.
And since the Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago was reduced to the Arley Cathey Learning Center/Reading Room, the Sugar Grove Library is now definitely on my "Top 10 Most Beautiful Libraries in Illinois" list.
Did they overbuild? Quite possibly. When the referendum to build the new facility initially passed, the days of rampant growth seemed to stretch out before them like the wide prairie horizon: green and endless. At the time, the population was anticipated to grow to over 60,000; this was the heyday of the "exurb," before the Crash and Great Recession. And so they designed a 24,000 square foot facility to replace a library of less than 7,000 square feet.
Now the population hovers at just under 16,000. Property values have fallen precipitously.
Maybe the former trustees and library director should have seen the writing on the wall... there was apparently dissention and in-fighting on the board in the years after the referendum and the building project, which led to the firing of the director who spearheaded it. Squabbling on library boards occurs more frequently than you would think... et tu, Carol Stream...
But the question in my mind while standing in the midst of this library's soaring splendor... why would a resident be unwilling to spend what amounts to about $54 a year on this incredible resource? (The tax increase would have levied about an additional $25 for every $100,000 of property market value.)
If you buy your café latte at Starbucks five days a week, you're spending over $57 dollars a month. Or a month's worth of craft beer will run you about the same (depending on your consumption). Or a couple of bottles of decent wine... And your pleasure is consumed and gone... down the drain... literally... eventually (actually, sooner than you think).
I recently purchased Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Goldfinch, in hardcover from Amazon for a little over $18 because my book club selected it for our next read. I have abandoned reading it after fewer than 200 pages. Because there's not enough time in this life to continue reading a book that's over 700 pages when you just don't find it absolutely compelling. (How it could possibly have won the Pulitzer Prize is probably the topic for another blog post.) In retrospect, my book club should have waited and gotten our copies FREE from our local libraries... because no one else liked it, either. It's gathering dust on my nightstand, while I have moved on to other, more interesting reads, which cost me $16 and $12, which all total adds up to close to $50...for three books, none which I will ever read again.
Point being, most people probably waste close $54 in a month... or two. $54 spent in taxes for a library is an investment... in the present... and the future.
What I want to know is what's up with the residents of Sugar Grove. You have a treasure in your midst... work with your library board...brainstorm ways to increase revenue. Could the facility be rented out for special occasions...concerts? Small weddings? (I kid you not, it's that beautiful.) Other events? Community theatre or poetry groups? Be creative... but be willing to pay to keep your treasure growing... because a library is the heart of a literate, vibrant community... more so than any shopping center.
How we seek out bad advice
How we jigger it and figure it
Mistaking value for the price
And play a game with time and Love
Like a pair of rolling dice
So beautiful, so beautiful
----- Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What