Silencing the Shhhhing Tradition Music and Coffee Bring Libraries into the 1990s

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Byline: Mike Burke Daily Herald Staff Writer

A group of madrigal singers known as the Elizabethans raised their voices in song, belting out Christmas carols to the enjoyment of those gathered around.

Their holiday concert was not held on the town square, in a school auditorium or at the local shopping mall. It took place inside the Lisle Public Library.

Libraries are no longer the hallowed halls of silence they once were.

Modern day librarians don't have to go around whispering "hush" much anymore because they're busy scheduling musical performances, coffee klatches, book signings, puppet shows and other programs for noisy kids.

"It's true. Libraries, in general, are not the quiet places they were," said Susan Greenwood, program coordinator for the Naperville Public Library.

Earlier this month, the Nichols Library in downtown Naperville hired a magician to entertain about 500 children and parents who attended three magic shows.

Libraries now are considered community centers. Administrators say this trend began to accelerate when libraries found it important to compete for people's time with large bookstores such as Barnes and Noble.

"We realized that the bookstore setting, with casual seating, concerts and coffee, was appealing to a large segment of the population," said Dianne Lueder, executive director of the Roselle Public Library.

Roselle first brought in a harpist with the intention of adding a little ambiance to the library.

"People were so interested in watching and looking at the instrument, they started pulling up chairs around her," Lueder said.

That experiment two years ago evolved into Roselle's "Musical Sundays," a concert series held once a month through the winter.

The library has played host to a variety of musical performances, ranging from classical to folk and from Gilbert and Sullivan to Cole Porter. It even had a marimba player perform.

"Overall, it's been very well received," Lueder said.

The library only recently received a couple of complaints from patrons who said the performances interfered with their studies. Lueder said librarians attempted to solve the problem by moving those visitors away from the main floor into quiet study rooms.

To pay for entertainment, libraries either spend from their budgets or rely upon Friends of the Library, which raise funds through used-book sales and other events.

Roselle now seeks corporate sponsorships to offset the costs of performances. Printing Plus of Roselle Inc. is helping to pay for the Jan. 4 performance of Cause & Effect, a four-piece ensemble.

Lueder said it would be difficult for libraries to afford larger groups without some sort of outside financial support. …