Recently the Library put out its third “Snapshot” flyer offering details and trivia about a period in the Library’s past – in this case, the years 1933 – 1942. Reading it, one is struck by how much of that era still looms large in our country’s psyche.

We feel the impact of those decades in many areas, including the arts and entertainment. The 30s and 40s provided a backdrop to some intense creativity in America, and certain mediums, like Hollywood filmmaking, were in their golden age. For less than 50 cents, a person could get away from it all at a local movie palace like the Pickwick and watch now-classics like King Kong, Gone With the Wind, or The Wizard of Oz. Popular books included The Hobbit and The Grapes of Wrath. Songs like “Stormy Weather” and “White Christmas” hit the airwaves and remain hugely popular today – even in their original recordings.

These artistic legacies as much as anything else can help keep the past alive, even for people born much later. Yet perhaps a greater legacy was forged through the intensity of shared life experience during the 30s and 40s – first with the realities of the Depression and later during the trauma of WWII. These events impacted families and communities in ways they still haven’t forgotten. My father recalls walking in his neighborhood as a boy during the war, and seeing white stars hung in the windows of homes. These stars indicated that a soldier’s family lived there. There were gold stars, too, that announced when one of the young men had died in the conflict.

In Park Ridge, life during these decades was relatively subdued. Interestingly, the Library itself experienced a surge in growth – by the mid-30s, the original building began to reach its capacity, and the basement was turned into the Children’s Room. Ongoing space issues drove the creation of a South Library Branch on 618 Devon Avenue, which opened on October 29, 1937. More than 7,744 items were checked out at that branch in the first six months.

South Branch Building

Between 1935 and 1942, total circulation figures for the Library increased 50%. (This figure has had an interesting correlation in this last decade of the 21st Century, as circulation has increased more than 50%.)

Was it hard times that fueled the growth? Under such conditions, libraries can offer much to communities, but there was a notable sense of unity and purpose among Park Ridge residents when it came to supporting their Library at mid-century. Whether help came from the members of the Civil Works Administration who remodeled and redecorated during the Depression, or from the many private citizens who donated furniture, supplies, books, or volunteer labor, it came from a shared belief that the Library represented something that everyone needed: culture, enlightenment, and possibilities for a better future.

In July we’ll be featuring a second floor display that will highlight the Library’s history during this period – we hope you’ll stop by and take a look. In the meantime, you can pick up your free copy of the “Snapshot of 1933 – 1942,” or check it out here.

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