40: Commemorative Book Stack Marker

John F. McKeeThe Aurora Public Library is getting ready to move from it’s long time home in the Carnegie-sponsored library building to a new and modern structure, the Richard and Gina Santori Public Library of Aurora.  The new library  should be completed early in 2015 and marks the new era of library service in Aurora.

While it’s exciting to build something new, it’s also good to remember the old.  For the last 110 years, Aurora, Illinois has taken pride in its original Carnegie Library.   Carnegie helped build nearly 1700 libraries in the United States  between 1880 and his death in 1919, and even established trusts for his work to continue after his death.

Built in 1904, the library has served the community well.  While it has been expanded, gotten a facelift, and spawned several branches, it is still the core of the Aurora Library System.  Frank Patterson wrote a great history of the library you can find on the Aurora Public Library website.

The Aurora Public Library, as built in 1904.  The image is for the collections of the Aurora Historical Society.
The Aurora Public Library, as built in 1904. The image is from the collections of the Aurora Historical Society.
During the 1969 renovation, which cost as much as erecting the building in the first place, the library tripled in size and got a new, unified facade.
During the 1969 renovation, which cost as much as erecting the building in the first place, the library tripled in size and got a new, unified facade.  Image is from the collections of the Aurora Historical Society.

Carnegie revolutionized and modernized libraries; I thought it was fascinating that he basically ushered in the era of open stacks!  Before the widespread Carnegie libraries, books were held under lock and key, and a librarian would get you one that was specifically requested.  What would a library be without browsing?!

The is the inside of the 1904 library, open stacks visible behind the desk.  Photo from the Collection of the Aurora Historical Society
The is the inside of the 1904 library, open stacks visible behind the desk. It practically looks the same when you are on the main floor!  Photo from the Collection of the Aurora Historical Society

The ability for patrons to browse is actually what is bringing you this post today.  The library has numerous artifacts from the early days, including the book shelves behind the librarians in the above photo.  If you go there today, the shelves are marked with the same cast brass label holders they used in 1904.

Book stack plate from the 1904 library
Book stack plate from the 1904 library, photo taken 10/3/2014!

They are a gorgeous piece of Aurora Library history; heavy and very turn of the century.  They definitely tickle my love of historic design – which is why I was so excited about this project.  We were approached by the library to help them fashion the book stack markers into unique plaques for generous supporters of the new Library.  This plaque in particular was for John McKee, long time Aurora and Kiwanis member.  The Kiwanis Club of Aurora wanted to honor him for the charitable work he has done, including helping the club raise $100,000 for the Children’s Services area new library. 

On the book stacks, they simply fasten with two almost invisible screws along the bottom of the frame, and the librarians could slip a piece of paper behind them.  To create a presentation piece, we needed something a little more long lasting.  Thin acrylic, only 1.5mm deep, sat perfectly in the back of the frame, and was flush to the back.

Backside of the casting.  Lovely patina!  and it gives you some idea of the depth.
Backside of the casting. Lovely patina! Hopefully you can get some sense of depth.

We choose white capped black because of the classic literary took – nearly all books have black text on a crisp white page.  There was brief discussion about using almond topped dark brown, to give it a more aged look, but I thought it would complete too much with the lovely brass frame.

W wanted to covr the entire opening on the back.  /the little feet are on there because there were some shallow areas in the casting we had to work around.
We wanted to cover the entire opening on the back. The little feet are on there because there were some shallow decorative areas in the casting we had to work around.

One of the things I was most happy with (especially when it came to assembly) was the fact we chose to make the engraved piece big enough to fill the entire back opening, which is much larger than just the front.  Not only did this help finish the piece (the back was just a solid, flush sheet of acrylic), making sure the text was aligned was a breeze too!  We had to adhere the plate while the frame was face down due to depth.  If we had cut the inscription to just the opening in the front, the chance I would have glued the names in a bit cock-eyed would have been much, much higher.

I enjoyed helping the library to make their recognition of John McKee something unique to their history and their mission!  A bit of the old helping usher in the new.

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