Harper College

The Heart of the Campus: A History of the Harper College Library

Take a look at the history of Harper College's library, and you will see how it has evolved over the years to meet the need students, faculty, and residents of the surrounding community.

old library building

When the library first opened its doors, it was given 2,600 square feet of space, consisting of one room at the Elk Grove High School campus (which held fifty students), and an additional room in a barn located on the Harper property. Meanwhile, many of the library's collections (reference materials, magazines, and books) were held at Forest View High School and had to be sent to the Harper campus for cataloging before arriving at Elk Grove High School.

As the library's collections grew larger, the limited space available at Elk Grove and Forest View High Schools became inadequate. Once plans got underway to build a permanent campus for the college, the librarians believed it was important for them to participate in the planning of the new library facility. What came out of these meetings was a brand new building, with a total of 102,000 square feet of space, of which 68,000 was available to the library.

Starting out with a collection of approximately 7,000 books and 150 periodicals, the library began to expand its holdings over the following decade. Area residents donated books and other bound materials, while faculty members contributed their ideas about what materials should be in the collection, while the librarians were guided by "Opening Day Collection", a publication put out by the American Association of Junior Colleges.

While being interviewed for the college's 25th anniversary, Ambrose Easterling recalled a conversation he had with one of the faculty about acquisitions:

"George Makas, who was one of the original ... faculty, came in to look over the library books bought using the Opening Day list. His comment: 'This is a fine collection of music books, but not the ones I would use to teach my music classes.' Our response: 'George, you tell us what books you need ... and those are the books we will buy.' That was the library's active and continuing acquisition philosophy ..."

By the end of the 1971-1972 academic year, the library’s collections grew to over 74,000 items. To promote their resources, librarians made presentations during faculty orientations, held workshops to familiarize faculty with the library's collections, and worked closely with teachers to ensure library research was a requirement for students to complete their academic assignments. In fact, the library's outreach efforts were so effective that a survey conducted in 1972 showed that over 40 faculty members believed they couldn't teach properly without the assistance of the library.

Although the library was beginning to grow in its new home, there were still areas that needed improvement. The biggest need was making the library an inviting and accessible place for students. A questionnaire developed by the library in 1972, showed that while student were generally happy with the library’s services, 68% saw its primary purpose as a place for them to study.7 A follow up questionnaire in 1977 reinforced these findings, recommending that the library acquire 10,000 additional square feet of space for this purpose. Specifically, room should be made for disabled students, including the installation of a Kurzweil (brail) reader, which could scan books and read the text to students. Additionally, the library needed more natural lighting, space for individual students or groups to study or work on assignments, and lounge chairs for leisurely reading.

As the library entered the new decade, its staff members were proud of the advances they’d made towards building the library’s collections and establishing a positive reputation across the campus. But they also knew they could do better, and make the library an anchor, not just for Harper College, but for the northwest suburbs as well.

As the 1980's dawned, the Harper College library had 211,718 items making it the second largest library collection of any other community college in the state, except for the College of DuPage. However, this was primarily a collection focused on academic subjects and geared towards traditional students (ie. high school graduates looking to take the first step towards getting a degree). But in 1980, Harper College published a Self Study report that demonstrated a significant demographic shift in the community it served. For example, the study showed that older, part-time students were slowly, but steadily, replacing high school graduates as the majority of the student body. This group (more than two-thirds of which were women leaving their traditional roles as homemakers) were more interested in learning a vocation or trade than earning a degree. The college was also accepting students with physical or visual disabilities and others for whom English was not their first language. Since the needs of the community were changing, the library began finding ways to adapt and remain relevant.

One way the library did this was by widening its collecting focus. This was the start of what librarian Dwain Thomas called "a melting of the boundaries between academic, public, and school libraries".3 For example, the library began acquiring best sellers and popular magazines that were more commonly found in public libraries, and started participating in a book leasing program in 1982 that provided patrons with access to at least ten new best-sellers each month. In addition, a new magazine index provided patrons with a greater selection of periodicals from which they could conduct research. The quality of this collection was enhanced with assistance from Harper faculty members, who helped the librarians survey the periodicals they had, and make informed purchasing decisions. The library also began collecting items that would be relevant to students and faculty in the college’s vocational programs, including a legal reference collection that could be used by the paralegal department.

Technological innovations also made it easier for patrons to find the resources they were looking for. First, the library acquired the rights to access online databases, such as DIALOG, Vu/Text, PsychINFO, FirstSearch, and others. Collectively, these databases allowed patrons to search for materials across the collections of over 18,000 libraries and more than 400 content providers. Database searching was particularly helpful to patrons whose research involved multiple, interlocking concepts and who needed their search results to be as comprehensive as possible. Around this time, the library also began acquiring titles, periodicals, and databases on compact discs, which could provide patrons with access to full text articles instead of just the abstracts. These discs were very thin and could hold so much information that they helped the library reclaim much needed shelf space and save a significant amount of money in acquisition expenses. The library set up a system called “CLAS” (CD-ROM Library Access) to allow students access to the information on these discs, which included collection of databases such as Congressional Quarterly, Biographical Index, Newsbank, ERIC, and others. Realizing the popularity of these resources, the librarians worked with the college’s IT department to network groups of computers together so that more than one student could access these systems at a time – a significant victory over previous technological limitations.

The librarians also harnessed technology to update their catalog system. Realizing that the old card catalog was unable to handle the enormous growth and diversity of their collections, the library began an automation project in 1986. This involved talking to vendors to find the best system to meet the library's needs and creating an automated copy of every record in the catalog. Eventually, the librarians hired the CLSI company to create a new online catalog called ALIS (or "Alice"). With assistance from a national databank, the project was completed after three years of work. The library had now entered the automation age.

Automation provided many benefits for students and librarians alike. Eileen Dubin, who had become Director of Library Services in 1983, believed that the project would "give students the thrill of becoming computer literate." Students could now search for materials by author, topic, or title and perform complex searches across multiple formats. Additionally, the automated catalog gave Harper students and faculty the ability to request resources from nearly 3,000 other public and academic libraries across the country. This resulted in a dramatic 100% increase in inter-library loan (ILL) requests between 1984 and 1986. Automation also added to the responsibilities of the librarians, who would now need to help teach students how to use this new system. This led to a dramatic spike in the number of annual reference requests handled by the library, which increased over twelve-fold from 1,450 in 1975 to 18,000 by the start of the 1990's.  Lastly, automation also drastically cut the amount of time it took the library staff to make new materials available to patrons and made it easier to monitor the location of each item and when materials were due.

The library’s physical space also underwent major changes during this period. Starting in the fall of 1984, the library’s operations were extended to 75½ hours a week. This had long been a common goal of the student body, faculty, and the Student Senate; petitions circulated around campus in support of the idea for several semesters prior to the change taking effect. In addition, the library also purchased equipment that could be used by students with visual or physical disabilities, such as an enlarged print reader and a Kurzwell Reading Machine (click the link for a picture) which could scan pages of text and convert them into synthesized speech. A separate room was then built to house these machines and give students using them a place to read and study. Furthermore, the library began collecting books in braille and closed captioned films and VHS tapes. Additionally, the library created an expanded browsing section where patrons could easily identify newly published books acquired by the library.

The biggest change of all, however, took place in 1995 when library underwent a $3.5 million renovation, which required the librarians to move their operations temporarily to A Building. When it was completed, the library had an expanded area for circulation, a new room for bibliographic instruction to teach students to use the CLAS and ALIS systems, and more than triple the available shelving for its reference collection. The main stacks and best seller shelving areas were also increased by nearly 50% each, and more room was made for the library's legal reference collection. In all, the library now had approximately 84,000 square feet of room. Additionally, major areas of the library (such as reference, circulation, etc.) were now clearly marked with signage and the facility had better lighting and more comfortable furniture for those who wanted to study or read for pleasure.

While the library was being renovated to help serve a more diverse population, the library staff was simultaneously creating a new vision that would carry it into the new millennium. According to the library’s 1992 Program Review, its mission going forward was to "promote college-wide awareness of LRC goals and services" and "develop understanding and support for the [library] and its role in the college community." Or to put it another way, the librarians wanted their facility to be known and used by students, faculty, and area residents. To accomplish this goal, the library would have to place a greater emphasis on public programming, collaborate with other libraries and vendors, and continue to embrace new technologies.

Starting in the 1990’s, the library attempted to publicize its services in any way it could. Several initiatives were developed by the library staff to demonstrate how their institution was an important anchor for the community. For example, as the demographics of the northwest suburbs began to shift, the library began hosting multicultural events featuring food, music, and decorations from around the globe to celebrate diversity. Additionally, in 1993, the library began a book drive, which collected over 220 new books for children served by the Palatine Township General Assistance Department. This event was so successful that it became an annual tradition.

Since that time, the library put together a marketing committee, which came up with a variety of events and programs that have continued to the present day:

The library began hosting Banned Book Week events, in which librarians put together displays of banned books, held lectures on specific books that had been banned or challenged, and distributed printed materials on censorship and intellectual freedom.

Library poetry reading events began in 2004, and that same year, the library held a voter registration drive that added 1100 new voters in time for that year's presidential elections.

In addition, the librarians began a marketing campaign to create "READ" posters with various faculty, students, and librarians posing with books they enjoyed reading.

One of the most popular programs developed by the library was One Book, One Harper. Every year, a committee of librarians works together with faculty to select books or themes to highlight. From there, the committee plans events, such as plays, panel discussions, and contests around that book's themes.

The library has also continued helping out the community by starting a food for fines program to feed the homeless and putting together boxes for bravery displays where people can donate items to soldiers overseas.

Lastly, the library hosted events such as the Edible Book contests that let students display their creativity by making edible treats around the themes or titles of various books.

Technological advances were also providing the library a greater opportunity to connect with the public. With the emergence of the Internet, the library developed a website around 1998, and also installed a more advanced online catalog called Voyager. Unlike the old system, Voyager could be set up on any computer in the library, and had a graphic interface that made it much easier to teach patrons how to find library materials. The new system was also capable of generating reports that helped the library keep track of circulation or reference statistics. At the same time, the library acquired new online databases that had easier interfaces, and were updated by the vendor instead of the library. The library also joined several cooperatives at the start of the new millennium, including CARLI (2005), I-Share (2004), and ILCSO Online (2003) that gave patrons access to collections of print and digitized materials from other libraries, downloadable e-books, and digitized materials. To make it easier for students to access these new materials, the library website was redesigned, and now included online ordering forms for new purchases and inter-library loans (ILL). With this new wealth of information available to Harper patrons, ILL requests rose dramatically from 3300 in 2002 to 8164 in 2006. Other online acquisitions included streaming video files, new database subscriptions, and Blackboard assessment tools which could help the librarians determine how successful they were at teaching patrons to use the library.

Additionally, the library now had the opportunity to showcase its archival collections in a way they hadn't been able to before. Although donations of archival materials began in the 1970's, the collections didn't have a librarian to care for them until 1999, and not until 2001 that a formally trained archivist was hired to manage the collections. He began by developing a mission statement and a collection development policy for the archives, organizing the historical records, developing inventories to help patrons locate specific items, and acquiring new collections. However, the archives greatly enhanced its profile on campus by designing a website and uploading exhibits comprised of digitized historical materials, including an examination of the life of Dr. William Rainey Harper and a historical profile of Harper College's Fashion Department. The archives also developed an institutional repository to collect and display important administrative documents which were either born digital or digitized for online access. The repository now provides 24-hour access to over 300 electronic documents. With its larger profile on campus, the archives has seen a sharp increase in the number of reference requests as well as many new donations of historical materials.

As the library began a new remodeling phase in 2016, the librarians began to see digital and online collections as the future, and slowly began cutting back on their physical collections. Not only would this save space and money, it would also make more room for students to gather, study, and read for pleasure. The vision for the remodeled library includes a café for students and expanded access to outlets for computers, smart phones, and other hand-held devices. There will also be extra seats for students to use, more accessible furniture for people with disabilities and additional computer terminals. The remodeling project will be completed sometime in 2018. In the meantime, the library had to move to D Building and set up shop there. The library was given several classrooms for library shelving, a lunchroom for the archival materials, and a cube farm to hold library staff. It took a lot of planning, but ultimately, the librarians were able to determine which materials to take with them to the temporary facility. Collections like Young Adult literature, graphic novels, and best sellers came over almost in their entirety. Other collections that had high circulation rates came over too, and were given different colored labels based on importance. Additional room was acquired in H130 for reference materials and reserves.

Harper College's tutoring service began in 1970. At the time, the program was overseen by a student provost, whose job was to match students needing academic help with those who were capable in that specific subject. By 1972, a formal Learning Lab was opened on the first floor of F Building which offered free tutoring sessions to students in any subject taught at the college. To ensure quality service, students who now wished to become tutors had to go through a rigorous four week training program, which emphasized eye contact and the ability to identify any learning disabilities the student might have. As the program's coordinator, Ms. Afkham O'Donnell saw it, the tutoring center, and the requirements put in place for student tutors, served a two-fold purpose. "We're [serving] students who need extra assistance, and we're creating jobs for other students on campus." By 1977, the tutoring center was serving 8,000 students a year and was now offering group sessions as well as learning assistance to area residents.

Students who used the tutoring center came from a variety of backgrounds, and thus needed specialized attention. Some were young adults who had never attended college before and needed to learn test taking skills, stress management, and how to handle a large academic workload. Others were older adults going back to school and needed a confidence boost before heading into an environment that had changed radically since they had last taken classes. Still others were foreign students for whom English wasn't their first language. These students needed help with vocabulary, communication, spelling, and other matters. Although they served a diverse clientele, the tutors didn't want students to become reliant upon them. Hence, a number of ground rules were put into place. For example, while the initial tutoring session lasted 1 hour, any subsequent meetings were limited to 30 minutes. Tutors were also discouraged from actually doing the students homework for them, and instead helping them logically piece the material together or solve problems on their own. Furthermore, students could get extra assistance by sitting in on the sessions of other students, but only if they got approval by the center coordinator. This formula proved very successful. According to Ms. O'Donnell, "in over 90% of the students tutored there has been an increase in the grades they receive."

Throughout the 1980's, the tutoring center continued to expand its services. By the end of the decade, it had over 50 tutors helping out students in 90 different academic subjects. In addition, a writing lab was created for students who needed help with papers and other written assignments requiring proper grammar, spelling, syntax, and sentence structure. Tutors were available for one-on-one assistance, and the lab had over 20 computers with built in programs to help students avoid or correct errors. The lab also had a teleservice which provided writing assistance to businesses and area residents. Small wonder, then, that by the end of the decade, the tutoring center was helping over 14,000 students per year, and had developed a reputation as one of the best in the state. Indeed, administrators from other community colleges were coming to Harper to see how their tutoring center operated and to get advice on how to retool their own programs.

In the years since then, Harper College has expanded the academic support offered to its students by establishing a Student Success Services department. Although it is unknown when this department was established, statistics taken from 1996 through 2002 show that in those years, over 8,000 students received academic assistance. The vast majority of them were seeking help in taking tests and developing proper study habits. Others worked on improving their note taking skills, concentration, and developing effective memorization techniques. Together, the college's academic support services have seen a 12% increase in annual usage from 39,000 patrons in 2011 to nearly 57,000 in 2016.

Fran Dionisio: Fran was a constant presence in the library for 28 years, and played a significant role in setting up the library at Elk Grove and Forest View High Schools. She started out as head of circulation, and then became an audiovisual cataloging librarian. From 1974 to 1994, she was actively involved in acquisitions - a position she was particularly proud of. "I am proud to have been closely involved with building this collection. All faculty, as subject specialists, need to feel ownership of this collection, and use it in their teaching." It was Fran who helped the library's collections expand to become the second largest of all community colleges in the state. She was also a strong advocate for intellectual freedom, and developed many programs, displays, and handouts to commemorate Banned Books Week.

Michele Ukleja: Michele came to Harper with only 3 years of experience, but it was her work doing retrospective conversion at Western Illinois University that caught the eyes of library staff. Since the library was in the middle of converting their catalog records for the automation project, Michele's experience was exactly what they were looking for. After the project ended, Michele was responsible for cataloging audiovisual materials, and enjoyed the detail oriented work. "Even the punctuation in the title is important," she explained. "The punctuation affects the way the computer will pick it up, and this makes it searchable and therefore available to the library user." Her behind the scenes efforts ensured that the library was able to function to its fullest potential. In over 21 years as an audio-visual cataloger, she cataloged over 10,000 VHS tapes, and helped convert VHS accession numbers to Library of Congress call numbers to facilitate searching and shelf browsing.

Mary Singelmann: Mary joined the library as its Collection Development Librarian. She strove to ensure the collections were up to date and comprehensive for teaching purposes. She worked closely with the faculty to guide her purchasing decisions in particular subject areas. As she explained, "[o]ne person cannot be familiar with all of the programs and courses offered at Harper and select all of the necessary print and audiovisual resources." Mary was also involved in setting up the library's archival collections by organizing the materials and soliciting other donations. "In the future, people will want to know what we were thinking about and doing here at Harper. These archives are our history. They are important to preserve."

Tom Goetz: Tom was originally hired as a part-time librarian in 1994. By 1996, he was Coordinator of Circulation Services, and eventually become the library's present day Coordinator of Reference Services. Before his tenure at Harper, Tom worked at the Elmhurst College Library and the law library of McCullough, Campbell, and Lane in Chicago.

Jim Edstrom: Jim was hired as the library's Coordinator of Technical Services - a position he's held ever since. He oversees the library staff responsible for ordering, processing, and cataloging materials ordered by the library. Prior to his tenure at Harper, Jim was Senior Cataloger for the Illinois Newspaper Project at the Illinois State Historical Library. He also worked as that institution's Coordinator of Cataloging and Federal Documents. 

Linda Glover: Linda Glover was a librarian at Harper College beginning around 1983, first as a part-time librarian, and then as Interlibrary Loan Coordinator. She was a pioneer, who led the library's efforts to automate its card catalog and designed library instruction classes for students. In her opinion, it was important to "help students choose the best answers by evaluating the information, looking for bias or balanced viewpoints from reliable sources." In order to promote information literacy across the campus, Linda worked closely with Harper faculty to show them the materials available in the library, as well as the technologies available to access that information. She retired from Harper in 2008, and sadly passed away in 2010.

Al Dunikoski: Al began his tenure at Harper in 1970 as a graphic design coordinator. In that time, he earned a doctorate in Educational Administration, and took over as dean of the library in 1986. He oversaw the automation of the library catalog, and was heavily involved in NILRC (Northern Illinois Learning Resource Cooperative) - a cooperative of 43 community colleges and universities intended to save its members money through resource sharing. He even served as the organization's president. He retired in 1992.


Last Updated: 12/14/23