Library History

map from 1800s


The beginning of the Arlington Heights Memorial Library is traced to a meeting in the home of Mrs. Amos Walker, wife of a school principal. Inspired by the Chautauqua movement she and some of her friends were determined to bring a touch of culture to the community then named Dunton. They organized a "ladies' reading circle" and began collecting books. The reading circle eventually became the Arlington Heights Woman's Club, and a small collection of books would grow into a public library.



The Arlington Heights Woman's Club determined that a public library should be established and opened one in the home of Miss Effie and Miss Lucy Shepard at 310 N. Dunton Avenue. This is only a few hundred feet from the present site of the library. The collection initially contained only 150 books. Miss Effie and Miss Lucy welcomed the public to their home two days a week for 15 years.

Schoolhouse inside


The library was moved from the home of Miss Effie and Miss Lucy Shepard to a small room in the school building on St. James Street, where it remained for 18 years.

Municipal Building 1950


An election finally made the library a true public library, and the Arlington Heights Woman's Club turned over a collection of 1,600 volumes and $1,800 in cash to furnish library quarters in the Municipal Building.

1952 Belmont Building


An 8,000-square-foot building was built solely for library purposes at 112 N. Belmont Avenue. The library was dedicated to the memory of the service men and women of Arlington Heights and has been known as the "Memorial Library" ever since. Rapid growth of the village made this building obsolete far sooner than anyone anticipated. Ultimately, more than 4,500 of the library's 58,357 volumes had to be stored elsewhere because there was no room for them in the library itself.

southeast corenr of 1968 building


In June, a new library was built at 500 N. Dunton Avenue with a federal grant and funds from a bond issue. The building was 40,000 square feet and was designed to hold 123,000 books. In subsequent years, citizens twice approved bonds to purchase books to meet the needs of the rapidly growing community.

First Bookmobile w kids


The first bookmobile went into service on July 10. Executive Director Frank Dempsey brought the idea from Berkley, California, where he had established a bookmobile in the 1960s. It was a used 1966 bookmobile purchased from a library in Florida and was replaced with a new bookmobile in 1975.

Library skylight fountain


The library was expanded to 76,000 square feet. Library services and collections continued to expand throughout the 1980s ultimately leading to a need for more space to meet the rising demand.

park Place Senior Center


The new Park Place Senior Center opened, and the library partnered with the Village and the Arlington Heights Park District to offer services for seniors. In 1998, the library’s partnership expanded with the new Arlington Heights Senior Center which included a computer lab in addition to a reading room and programs for seniors

picture of northewest corner addition


Voters gave their approval for $8.9 million to build another 56,000 square-foot addition and to renovate the original facility. The two-story addition was completed in 1994, bringing the total space of the library to 132,000 square feet.

2005 dunton entrance


The Dunton Avenue entrance got a much-needed renovation bringing it into ADA compliance and adding a new façade and vending café.

graphic of 5 stars


Library Journal gives the library its highest rating – five stars – in a ranking of over 7,100 libraries across the country. Only 1 percent of the nation's libraries received the five-star rating, which was based on the annual number of library visits, circulation, program attendance and public internet computer use.

boy playing with wall-mounted toys


Kids’ World was renovated and refurbished. The project included carpet replacement, relocating the Kids’ World Desk, expanding and moving the preschool area, creating an I Can Read area, and rearranging the collection. It was accomplished without a tax levy increase using grant monies and general library funds.

Library staff accepting award


The library was voted the Business of the Year by the members of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce in recognition of the library’s service to businesses.

library tech center and study area


In October 2012, the library began a renovation and reorganization project designed to meet the changing needs of the community. Spaces were redesigned to include an expanded popular materials area, more small conference rooms, an expanded teen area and an improved training center with more computer and technology classes. The $2.8 million renovation was funded by money saved over a period of years so again, no tax levy increase was needed.



The library introduced One Book, One Village (OBOV), its first-ever community-wide read in 2014. The goal of this new initiative was to have all of Arlington Heights read the same book at the same time and to share in the experience through book discussions and programs. Ordinary Grace by New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger circulated some 2,600 times and more than 1,500 people attended related programs and discussions throughout the fall of 2014. OBOV culminated that year with Krueger visiting a local high school followed by an at-capacity event in the library’s Hendrickson Room. The Friends of the Library generously supported OBOV and the success of this inaugural run set the standards and framework for future community reads. One Book, One Village continues annually.  

Author Dave Eggers at the library


The Arlington Heights Memorial Library was the recipient of the John Cotton Dana Award, one of the most coveted national awards recognizing marketing and public relations excellence. The award is managed by Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA), a division of the American Library Association. AHML was just one of eight libraries to receive the award in 2018 for its communication campaign, #beinthecircle, inspired by themes in the 2017 One Book, One Village (OBOV) community read selection, The Circle by Dave Eggers, which combined traditional marketing with an innovative and heightened use of social media and community partners. 



The library’s commitment to providing accessible and inclusive services was recognized by the American Library Association when it awarded the national I Love My Librarian Award to Kids’ World Assistant Manager Maria Papanastassiou in 2019. The award recognized the Arlington Heights Memorial Library’s exceptional work in fostering community partnerships and providing developmental programs and resources tailored to support the special needs of children who receive therapy services, their families and caregivers. Papanastassiou was one of only 10 librarians in the country to receive this prestigious honor that year and was selected from more than 1,900 nominees.

The library then introduced its Accessibility Support Collection in the fall of 2021 with the generous support of community partner, C.I.T.Y. of Support. The collection features more than 350 items to borrow including books for children and adults, toys designed to support motor, social, cognitive, visual and auditory skill development; and therapeutic and adaptive technology tools. The Accessibility Support Collection remains one of the largest of its kind in Illinois.  



Throughout much of 2020, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library faced the ongoing challenges of a worldwide pandemic. The building was closed by public mandate from March 14-June 18 and again in late December. Despite these building closures, library services continued as staff re-imagined and developed new and innovative ways of delivering service. A curbside pickup area in the underground parking lot and a walk-up station at the Dunton Avenue entrance kept the collection circulating. Grab-and-go book bundles and DIY activity kits in front of the building also proved popular. Demand for eMaterials surged as residents connected with the library 24/7 from home and downloaded eBooks, eAudiobooks, movies, TV shows and music. Parents, educators, and students also turned to the library for support with remote learning and utilized online resources and virtual tutoring.   

Library programming also shifted with storytimes, book discussions, author visits, tech training, ESL tutoring, and job and career-related workshops offered virtually. To support remote workers and learners, laptops were available for checkout, and copying, printing, scanning and faxing equipment were moved from inside the library to a self-service station in the parking garage. 

Makerplace Main Room


On September 19, the library opened the Makerplace, its 8,000-square-foot makerspace and center for hands-on experiential learning, at 112 N. Belmont Ave, providing tools, equipment and designated workspaces for fabrication, 3D printing, creative arts, sewing and embroidery and culinary instruction in a state-of-the- art, commercial-quality kitchen.      

The Makerplace’s opening culminated a multi-year project that began in July 2018, when the library proposed reinventing a vacant Village-owned teen center near Recreation Park as a makerspace. A partnership between the library and the Village of Arlington Heights resulted in a transfer of the two-story property to the library in June 2019 bringing a piece of the library’s story full circle, as the Makerplace building had been the first public library in Arlington Heights from 1952-1967.    

Following a $1.4 million renovation and equipment purchase, the Makerplace opened its doors. The project was funded by money allocated over a period of years, a $50,000 Illinois state and with funds raised and donated by the Arlington Heights Memorial Library Foundation and the Friends of the Library. No tax levy increase was needed.

11 with stars


For the eleventh time, the Arlington Heights Memorial Library received a five-star rating in Library Journal's national rating of public libraries. Five stars is the highest rating that a library can receive. Library Journal comprised its scores using statistics from eight service criteria: circulation of physical items, circulation of e-materials, library visits, program attendance, public computer users, Wi-Fi sessions, electronic retrievals such as database usage and website visits. In the expenditure range of $10M-$29.9M, only ten public libraries nationwide earned a five-star rating in 2022 including AHML, which was just one of three Illinois libraries to receive this top rating in our budget category.



In September 2023, the library started renovating Kids' World. Last updated in 2010, the Kids' World refresh provides the library's youngest customers with new ways to play and learn through flexible, interactive and experiential learning zones designed for specific age groups. The Tween Space, an all-new area dedicated entirely for grades 4 to 6 to explore making and other DIY activities, was added along with an Interactive Family Area featuring an Everbright wall and floor projection system. A new entrance to Kids' World was constructed along with a café area for kids and families, and walls were painted. The Lindsey Room got new flooring, paint colors and a sink for washing big and little hands. The Tinker Cart was added to engage grades K-3 during programs for making and creating. An all-gender bathroom was built, in addition to a Wellness Room, a quiet space for nursing mothers and anyone who may need a calming space. The new Imagination Station and Baby Garden provide the library's youngest visitors with a dedicated place to explore soft play toys and to learn and grow. 

The $745,000 renovation was completed late December 2023/early January 2024. No tax levy increase was needed. The project was funded through the library's budget with additional monies provided by the Friends of the Library, which donated $6,600 for the floor projection system and family workstation, and the Arlington Heights Memorial Library Foundation which donated $59,000 towards the Everbright wall, Baby Garden and Imagination Station, Tween Maker Table and Tinker Cart for kids.