Fate of library in Roberts rests on community's support

ROBERTS — The Roberts Public Library’s future remains up in the air today as a group of residents tries to raise enough funds to make some needed repairs to the facility that has served the community for the past decade.

Closed since October, following the discovery of rotted floor joists underneath a stage on the library’s north end, the facility at 108 E. Green St. in downtown Roberts needs about $5,000 in repairs to re-open.

If not enough funds are raised by this summer, there is growing concern that the town of 362 people in central Ford County may lose its library.

Roberts resident Sarah Hornback, however, hopes the community realizes the value of its library — and can show that by supporting the ongoing fundraising efforts.

“I will fight tooth and nail to raise the money,” said Hornback, who chairs the six-member committee of residents that is organizing the fundraising.

Since being formed in November, the fundraising committee has held three events to raise money toward the floor work. Prior to last Saturday’s bake sale fundraiser at the library, about $600 of the $5,000 needed had been raised, Hornback said.

With at least two more fundraisers yet to be held — a spaghetti dinner on March 13 and a raffle on April 2 — Hornback remains confident the $5,000 goal can still be reached.

If the group comes up short, the village board will have a decision to make — to either keep the library closed or instead use taxpayers’ dollars to help cover the difference so it can re-open.

The village board, which oversees the operation of the village-owned library, does not want to see the library remain closed, Village Board President Rick Flessner said.

However, if the community does not seem to want to support it, then the board may have no choice but to shut its doors permanently.

“We’re trying to gauge how much interest there is in keeping the library open,” Flessner said. “The money (needed to be raised) is part of (what will go into making a decision), but mostly it’s whether there’s a need and there’s interest in the library right now.”

Gauging interest
The village board has given Hornback’s so-called Roberts Area Library Committee a six-month deadline to raise the $5,000. That means the committee has until May to show the board that support does indeed exist for the library.

“I don’t see the board telling us, you know, ‘Hey, no, you’re not going to be able to keep it open,’” Hornback said. “I think their main thing is they want to see that we have community support before we sink a bunch of money into something.

“Obviously, as you can see, we have people willing to support us,” Hornback added as residents purchased baked goods at Saturday’s bake sale. “But the issue  is, how much can we get raised so the town is not going to say, ‘Oh, we have to fork out that much more money to have this fixed for, what, 10 people to use it?’”

More programs on tap
Hornback is promising residents that the library will have more to offer if the stage can be fixed and it re-opens. For example, she said the library will start offering a book club, craft nights and story times, among other new activities. Also, the stage area will be used to display local memorabilia.

“When we open back up we’re going to offer programs and stuff like that so that people can come in and use it more than just what we were,” Hornback said. “We’re going to have a reading room (in an area currently used for storage) so that people can come in and just sit and read, and we’re going to have story time in there and all that stuff.

“Normally, we didn’t have any (programs) before. We were open during times that were good for our volunteers ... and, you know, there wasn’t a whole lot of interest shown (by the community) up until now.”

In the meantime, the library will remain closed until the repairs to the floor are made.

“The floor is unsafe to be back there (by the stage),” Hornback said. “The rest of (the floor) seems to be pretty solid; it’s just that area. If it wasn’t for our bathroom being back there (by the stage), I would have just closed the whole (stage area) off (and kept the library open).”

Hornback does not like the situation one bit. She hopes it changes — soon.

“We’re going to lose a piece of history in our town, and that deeply depresses me, just because this has been here for 10 years,” Hornback said. “I thank the Roberts Women’s Club for starting the library, because it turned me on to reading.”

Getting things started
Prior to being relocated to its existing location, the library was housed in a room located off of the stage in the Roberts Gym. The Roberts Women’s Club opened the library in the gym several years before it relocated downtown, using donations of books to get it started.

“There was somebody by the name of Bev Thomas (a member of the women’s club) who was bound and determined we were going to have a library,” recalled Betty

Corbin, a member of the Roberts Area Library Committee and a former member of the women’s club, which disbanded shortly after the library moved to its downtown location.

Corbin said the library has benefitted her greatly.

“I didn’t read before we had this,” the retired Corbin said.

The library’s collection of books has grown in recent years, now totaling an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 titles, according to Hornback.

Its patrons range from youngsters to the elderly.

“The one who reads the most is over 90 (years old),” Corbin said, referring to Lois Cole, a member of the Roberts Area Library Committee. “She reads more books than anybody else (in Roberts).”

Hornback is among those who use the library regularly. She said she even depends on it.

“To me, it is a big deal (to have a library in Roberts),” Hornback said. “Because, like, during the winter, when you have a snow storm, what are you going to sit at home and do? I mean, like Betty said, you can only watch so much TV, and being a single mom, you can only chase kids for so long. When they’re napping, I need something to do.”

Fundraisers going well
With the exception of the village paying for the facility’s utilities each month, the library runs “strictly off donations,” Hornback said. That is why there is little money to work with to fix the repairs that are needed.

“We do not have a tax levy. We’re run by volunteers. So we don’t have money pouring in steadily,” Hornback said.

Hornback’s committee started raising funds for the floor repairs in December, holding its first fundraiser at the same time the Illinois Central/Canadian National Railroad’s Santa Train stopped by Roberts.

“We were able to get pretty decent donations coming in at that time,” Hornback said. “We sold coffee, hot cocoa and little baked goods for those who were going to the Santa Train.”

The group followed that up with another fundraiser in January, called the “Sip-and-Take” soup fundraiser.

“All the committee members made different kinds of soup,” Hornback said, “and people came in and they were able to taste the soups and take some home. It was nice that some of the elderly people who live in town didn’t have to get out and cook a bunch of food that day.”

The third fundraiser was Saturday’s bake sale.

The fourth — the spaghetti dinner on March 13 — will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Lutheran church in Roberts. Reservations are requested by March 4. The cost of the meal — which will include spaghetti, garlic bread, salad and dessert — is $8 for adults and $5 for children 5 and older. Children under age 5 eat for free.

The fifth fundraiser will be the raffle, which will coincide with the fireman’s pancake and sausage breakfast at the Roberts Gym. Donations of items to be raffled off are currently being sought from area businesses. Raffle tickets will be available for purchase in advance by contacting any member of the Roberts Area Library Committee, which, besides Hornback, Corbin and Cole, also is comprised of Angie Everette, Sharon King and Kathy Shurr.

Cash donations are also being accepted. Checks can be made out to “Roberts Village/Library” and mailed to 108 E. Green St., Roberts, IL 60962.
For more information on how to help, people can call Hornback at 217-255-2010.

If not enough funds are raised by the May deadline, Hornback said another fundraiser may be held. She said she has already gained permission from the village board to hold a barbecue cookoff, if necessary, as a fundraiser in June. The event would be held on the same day as the town’s annual street dance.

“I’m going to be reaching out to Ben Grice (who organizes the annual Paxton Swine ‘N’ Dine BBQ Contest & Festival) to see if he would help coordinate it and maybe even if The Humble Hog (Grice’s restaurant) would be willing to sponsor that,” Hornback said. “I’d want to make it a community event, so that we can really engage the community.”

Location (3):Local, Ford County, Roberts

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