The Pawnee Public Library has a lot of history behind its walls. The library is a bustling place with a lot of uses. Whether accessed online, or in person, visitors can check out books, use the public computers, make use of the space for clubs, presentations or community or private events. The library has over 50,000 volumes of books and circulates 8,000 volumes to the just under 3,000 Pawnee residents each year.
If you desire a book that is not currently available in house, library staff will check the Interlibrary Loans System to see if it is in the IHLS system. If it is accessible, and you have a library card, staff will see if they can obtain it for you. Many books are also available on an e-reading program accessible online. The library contains videos, music CD’s and audio books. Genealogical research is also available along with coal mine maps, and other Pawnee historical documents like the local newspaper, the Pawnee Post on microfilm.
Bennett Bess, Library Director, has been serving the patrons of Pawnee for 28 years. Bennett makes it plain that the library would not exist without the funding assistance and cooperation of the Village of Pawnee. That is also true of the Library Board. “I’d like to thank the library boards. They have been wonderful. They have watched over the buildings. They are attentive to the people, and they take this very seriously. I have been very thankful to spend my working years here.”
Library history is rich. The current library is not the first location. The late Skip Minder collected the library history in his book, “Movin’ On Down The Road” A General History Of Pawnee, Illinois. While there is a lot of history in the current enhanced library, the story of the Pawnee Library began in 1922 with the Modern Martha Class of the Pawnee Methodist Church. Later the library moved to the Presbyterian Church, then in the 1930’s, the library was operated under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Eventually the library was situated at the Village Hall which was originally a jail!
In his book, Skip Minder had a picture of the original jail cage purchased from the Springfield Iron & Bridge Works in 1895. He states, “….the ‘center room’ of the old village library once housed Pawnee’s jail cage within its 13-inch-thick brick walls. The village jail and the old village hall, the ‘north room’ of the old library were built in 1903.”
For forty years, the building was used as a library, today that former building is used as the food pantry and for other community meetings. In May of 2001, the Village decided to build a new location for a library. With the Village of Pawnee offering $225,000 to match grant funds if a grant from the state was awarded, the library was off to a good start. Then the library staff won the grant award after a last-minute submittal. The former Baxter Building (at 613 Douglas) which had also been the Clark IGA Store became the new library. Next door was J.J. Willenborg’s Big Busy Store and Locker that later became Bowsher furniture (at 615 Douglas). This area is now the Donald Lee Serbur Library Annex, so named because of funds provided by the late Mr. Serbur. Initially two stories, J.J. Willenborg added a 3rd story to create a shoe store to this building that is the western portion of the library.
In the very back where the Girl Scouts, and other groups meet, Bennett pointed out where the counter originally was located and the hook where meat came into the building. Once the meat was butchered, he said, “You could rent ice boxes here, no one had freezers. The meat was cut up and put in ice boxes. Now this area is used for baby showers and community groups. We charge a small rental fee, but if they clean up, we give it back.”
In the Spring of 2003, the library was completed, and they opened their doors. The library is open every day of the week, a few evenings, and closed on Sunday and some holidays. Check online for the hours. Call 217-625-7716 for details, or with questions. The Pawnee Public Library website is www.pawneepubliclibrary.org.