Mission & History

Library Mission

We are the cornerstone of literacy in our community where everyone is respected and free to pursue a lifelong love for reading and learning.


Library History


Lake Forest Library is chartered on July 4, 1898, by Lake Forest City Council. Mayor Edward F. Gorton appoints the first library board members: John J. Halsey, David Fales, Charles S. Frost, Calvin Durand, Richard G. Watson, George Holt, David B. Jones, D.W. Hartman, and John Kemp.


Lake Forest Public Library opens in part of the council chambers of the second floor of Lake Forest City Hall as part of that building's opening on June 24.

More than 500 people attend the celebration, which includes speeches and singing performances. The mayor anticipates the library will provide lectures on "landscape gardening, nature studies, and birds and animals," and Library Board President J. J. Halsey hopes the library reading rooms will "serve a social purpose, taking the place of club room and saloon, by giving the young people a place to enjoy themselves." School superintendent Frank R. Page expects the library "to help school children find out what books to read as well as how to read them."

By November 4, 1899, there are 278 Lake Forest Library card holders.

In December 1900, the librarian made a request for an electrical light to be placed at the reference desk for better heat.


In its first year of operating, the Library has 2,850 books and more than 200 registered readers.

First catalog listing books by author and subject.

In 1902, non-residents can purchase Lake Forest Library cards for $1 per year. In 1948, the fee is raised to $2. In 2022, non-resident card fees are $625.49 per year.


Over the years, the community's use of the Library grows, the collection swells to 28,000 books, and it expands from a corner of the council chambers to occupy the entire floor of City Hall, but more space is needed.

The gift of a new building solves the problem. The Library moves to its current location at 360 East Deerpath Road. The present building, designed as a library by architect Edwin H. Clark, was given to the City of Lake Forest by Mrs. Charles H. Schweppe and Mrs. Stanley Keith in memory of Mrs. Keith's first husband, Kersey Coates Reed, and was dedicated on June 7, 1931. Tea was served to 2,000 visitors who came to admire the building, its unique domed roof, and its 37,000 books.

In 1935, the Library's name changed from Lake Forest Public Library to Lake Forest Library after Board President Alfred E. Hamill petitioned City Council for the change "as a gesture of appreciation to the donors Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Schweppe."


When the 1931 building was designed, a special Garden Room was created north of the Reference Annex to house gardening and horticulture books. The collection was funded by the Lake Forest Garden Club and Librarian Louise Kasian believes it is probably one of the most complete in the country.

As part of the 1978 renovations, the Garden Room moves to the south room of the new east wing. The original space initially becomes a music room and then staff offices.



Alfred E. Hamill, a wealthy book collector, poet, and investment banker, as well as the Library’s first board president, commissions a series of murals by artist Nicolai Remisoff, which are completed in 1932. The "Poets and Writers of Antiquity" murals primarily honor the classical Greeks, who valued a virtuous and rewarding life and thereby set the direction of Western thought and civilization.


Great Books Discussion Group begins meeting at the Library on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. The first year, they have around 40 members.

In 2022, the Great Books Foundation celebrated their 75th anniversary. Read about the Lake Forest chapter.


A Summer Reading program for children is started.


The Library begins participating in the North Suburban Library Loaning System. A small book van makes the rounds to 28 area libraries twice a week. In 1969, Lake Forest Library requested 148 books from other libraries for our patrons, and readers at other libraries borrowed 35 books from Lake Forest Library, often from the Library's renowned fine arts and garden collections.

In 2011, multiple regional library systems including the North Suburban Library System merged to form the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS).

The delivery truck pictured here is from 2010. RAILS delivers items between libraries in much the same fashion today!


Three new wings (designed by architects Brenner, Danforth, and Rockwell) and landscaping (by Franz Lipp and Marvin Wehler Associates, Ltd.) are completed, adding 10,000 square feet of space to the Library. A December 3 dedication features tours by members of the Library Board, flowers provided by six garden clubs, art work displayed by the Deer Path Art League, music by the Lake Forest String Quartet, and refreshments courtesy of the Friends of Lake Forest Library.

Funds for the $1.1 million addition are underwritten by gifts from the community and a substantial donation from the Reed family. To furnish and equip the new spaces, the Library holds a fund drive with a goal of $160,000, which was supported by all living ex-mayors of Lake Forest. Some prominent donors to the fund drive include the Friends of Lake Forest Library, the Lake Forest Garden Club, and the Lake Forest Women's Club.

The east wing includes a new Business Room and is the new home for the Garden Room (originally north of the Reference Annex), the west wing contains the Fine Arts collection as well as sculpture replicas available to borrow, and the north wing includes more room for book shelves on all three levels, staff areas, and a new elevator. The basement Children's Library is also improved by the excavation of a sunken courtyard, providing more natural light and an outdoor story telling pit for Childrens' Story Hour.

In 2005, the Fine Arts Room is remodeled to include study carrels.


The Library begins offering homebound delivery.


The Library gets its first Apple computer and begins offering technology classes.


In 1990, the three-level book stack is renovated. Skylight is added. Glass stairs are replaced.

In 1992, the Children's Library is refreshed with new carpeting and other renovations. A Thomas Melvin mural for Children's Foyer is commissioned by the Friends of Lake Forest Library in memory of Douglas Keyt, former Friends president and Library Board member.


Renovations begins to add tables for studying in the Reading Room and Reference Room and Annex.


Library Centennial


The Children's Library courtyard is enclosed to create a 4-season programming space for storytimes and family performances, designed by David Woodhouse, Architects. The new interior space is named the Louise Wells Kasian Children's Activity Center.

Since 2018 known simply as the Kasian Room, it is the largest space in the Library and hosts events for youth, teens, and adults including storytimes, author talks, hands-on activities, and much more.

Memorial donations and funding from the Friends of Lake Forest Library make possible the restoration of Audubon's "Birds of America" in the Reading Room, exceptional Havell engravings from the original double elephant folio edition.


The Children's Library reopens after approximately 2 years of extensive renovation. New bamboo fixtures include shelving throughout the department, a repositioned circulation desk, a puppet stage, and storage cabinets and room separators in the Kasian Room.

The Friends commission additional Thomas Melvin murals for above the circulation desk, in the north room, on the elevator and emergency exit doors, and in the two stairwells to the main level.


Lake Forest Library is awarded its first Star Library rating by Library Journal. Scores and ratings are based on library usage data and selected per capita output measures from two years prior. (For example, our 2012 Star Rating is based on Fiscal Year 2010 data.)

The Library has gone on to be awarded Star Library ratings several times. Star Library scores began in 2008, and each year typically only around 250 out of 830 public libraries nationwide earn a 3, 4, or 5 Star rating.

  • 2012, 2020: 3 Stars
  • 2013–2017, 2019, 2022: 4 Stars

One Book One City community reading program is launched. All Lake Foresters are invited to read Manhunt: The Twelve-day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson and attend a Meet the Author event. From that initial success, the program expanded to include a partnership with Ragdale. From 2013 to 2020, Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale features authors who had completed a residency or other experience at the artists' community. In 2021, the program is rebranded as Lake Forest Reads. It continues to encourage Lake Foresters to come together and read one book with the purpose of fostering literacy, a culture of reading, and a sense of community.


The Media Lab is designed by Dewberry and funded from private donors and the Friends of Lake Forest Library.


The Board Room adjacent to the Director's Office is repurposed as an additional event space and named the Reed Room, complementing the lower level Kasian Room. In particular, the Reed Room enables the Library to host more adult programs, including book discussions, movie viewings, and more. Pictured on the right are musical performers in the Reed Room as part of the 2017 Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale program.


A Young Adult (YA) Collection is created in the late 1980s and housed in a corner of the Mystery book section on the Main Level. Over the years, the Library begins providing additional services to teens to meet their evolving needs.

The first dedicated Teen Librarian is hired at the end of 2018. Teen programming including book groups, video game tournaments, and coding classes begins in 2019. Also in 2019, half of the Lower Level is reorganized to create the Teen Space, making room for an enlarged YA Collection (including the introduction of Manga) and tables for group work and studying. This reorganization also led to the creation of the Audio Room on the Main Level and the moving of Music CDs to the Fine Arts Room (near the music books).


From 2020 into 2022, the Library innovates to provide contactless service during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the innovations continue to this day—including virtual and hybrid events, self-checkout kiosks, self-serve holds pickup, and more—providing Lake Foresters with new ways to access and engage with the Library.


In 2023, the historic dome was beautifully restored and a gutter added to improve water flow off the dome and roof.The work received a 2024 Historic Preservation Award from the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation.

Dome photo by DroNation Video Services.


With a generous grant totaling $260,000 from the Friends of Lake Forest Library, the Nicolai Remisoff murals in the Rotunda are cleaned, conserved, and restored in early 2024.


Lake Forest Library through the years


Lake Forest Library was chartered on July 4, 1898, by Lake Forest City Council. The first library board members, appointed by Mayor Edward F. Gorton soon after granting the charter, were J.J. Halsey, D.W. Hartman, Calvin Durand, George S. Holt, Charles S. Frost, John Kemp, David B. Jones, Richard G. Watson, and David Fales.


Library opens on second floor of Lake Forest City Hall as part of that building's opening on June 24.

Marie A. Skinner begins as Library Director.


Mary Van Horne begins as Library Director in November.


First catalog listing books by author and subject.


Esther K. Johnston begins as Library Director.


Frances Kemp begins as Library Director on April 1.


Stella R. Glasgow begins as Library Director on March 1.


Architectural Landscape drawings prepared for the Foundation for Architecture and Landscape Architecture installed at the Library.


The Library moved to its current location at 360 East Deerpath Road on June 7, 1931. The present building, designed as a library by architect Edwin H. Clark, was given to the City of Lake Forest by Mrs. Charles H. Schweppe and Mrs. Stanley Keith in memory of Mrs. Keith's first husband, Kersey Coates Reed, and was dedicated on June 7, 1931.

The building and siting of the Library was overseen by the Library President, Alfred E. Hamill, a wealthy book collector, poet, investment banker and friend of David Adler, who had designed Hamill's Centaurs estate.

Designed in the Art Deco style popular in the 1920s and 1930s, the Library is located in a National Register Historic District. The building follows a classic symmetrical plan around a central domed rotunda, similar to the 1929 Shedd Aquarium. The building, its landscape, and its art are an excellent example of the Chicago Renaissance, the period from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition to the start of World War II.

The high-ceilinged, wood-paneled rooms on the building’s main level contribute to its warm and inviting atmosphere. The fireplace in the Friends Reading Room is lit from November to April.

"The Archer" Kersey Coates Reed memorial covered limestone bas-relief by Oskar J. W. Hansen (1892–1971) by Oskar J. W. Hansen installed in the Library's Rotunda. The archer's face is a likeness of Mr. Reed. The inscription reads "In memory of Kersey Coates Reed, eighteen hundred and eighty—nineteen hundred and twenty-nine—who was much loved in Lake Forest—where he lived—and who cared greatly for good books—this building has been erected."


Twelve oil on canvas murals painted by Nicolai Remisoff (1887–1975) line the walls of the Rotunda and depict "Poets and Writers of Antiquity."

U. Langenegger's wood sculpture busts of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Friends Reading Room) and John Greenleaf Whittier (Reference Room) installed.


The Library's name changed from Lake Forest Public Library to Lake Forest Library after Board President Alfred E. Hamill petitioned the City Council for the change "as a gesture of appreciation to the donors Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Schweppe."


Nell Steele begins as Library Director.


Summer Reading program for children started.


Frances M. Macke begins as Library Director on July 1.


Frances R. "Gine" Odell's "Lion and Lamb" limestone sculpture installed in West Courtyard.


Installation in Children's Department of bronze and wood sculpture "Apple Tree Children" by Sylvia Shaw Judson, daughter of Howard Van Doren Shaw.

Interlibrary Loan Service begins.

Young Adult collection established.


Louise Wells Kasian begins as Library Director in September.


Friends of Lake Forest Library formed.


Friends of Lake Forest Library first book sale.


Three new wings (architects Brenner, Danforth, and Rockwell) officially dedicated. Funds for the $1.1 million addition were underwritten by gifts from the community and a substantial donation from the Reed family.

Computerized circulation

Sydney S. Mellinger begins as Library Director on September 26.

"Seagulls" quartz sculpture by Dorothy Hobbs Boehm installed (in Fine Arts Room locked case).


"Flora and Fauna of Illinois" needlepoint tapestry designed by Lydia Lee; assisted by Kathleen McLaughlin Ballen; stitched by Lake Forest–Lake Bluff Needlepeople installed in former Garden Room (now Business Room).

"Girl Feeding Three Squirrels" bronzed sculpture by Dorothy Hobbs Boehm installed (now on east exterior of Children's Activity Room)


Open Sundays


"Someone To Look Up To" watercolor diptych by Caroline Roberts installed in Children's Library


Public Access Catalog service begins


Kaye Grabbe begins as Library Director on April 11.

Wolfgang Kubach & Anna Maria Kubach-Wilmsen's "Lake Forest Library Stone Book" marble sculpture installed in east courtyard in August.

George S. Chappell's set of four photographs, "The Seasons" installed in foyer stairway (now in Reference Room Annex).


Three-level book stack renovation


Children's Library renovation, including Thomas Melvin mural for Children's foyer commissioned in memory of Douglas Keyt by Friends of Lake Forest Library


"Market Square" (set of two watercolors) by David T. Roberts installed in reference annex.


Public Internet access and Library web site started


Adult Reference room, Reference Annex, and Reading Room renovations(Reading Room dedicated to Frank Kreuz and named "Friends Reading Room")

Michael Croydon's, "Ex Libris" sculpture commissioned and installed on the library's front lawn

Local Area Network available

In 1996, renovations and refurbishing were completed in the Adult Reference Room and the Friends Reading Room. The Deer Path Art League of Lake Forest commissioned a Michael Croydon sculpture entitled Ex Libris, which was installed on the Library front lawn. The Friends of Lake Forest Library funded the restoration of the original 1931 Nicolai Remisoff murals located in the Library rotunda.


Restoration of the Nicolai Remisoff "Poets and Writers of Antiquity" murals originally installed in 1932(restoration funded by Friends of Lake Forest Library)

Dial-in access to Local Area Network


Stained glass windows installed in Children's foyer by Alexander Glass Company, Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

"Seasons" hand-painted ceramic tiles by Yvette Levita-Scimeca installed in children's restrooms.

"Lake Forest Library" watercolor painting by Mark McMahon was commissioned by Friends of Lake Forest Library in honor of the Library's Centennial and installed in foyer.

"Troll Under Bridge" conte crayon drawing by Ruth Tietjen Councell installed in Children's Library. Created during the Centennial kick-off celebration in May.


Digitized Community Cornerstone Architectural files

Library Centennial

Friends commissioned Mark McMahon painting of the building

Book cart at Forest Park Beach


Completion of the Louise Wells Kasian Children's Activity Center in the space of the former children's courtyard, designed by David Woodhouse Architects.

Integrated Library System migration from GEAC to Sirsi

2nd Local Area Network upgrade

In the fall of 2000, the Children’s Library courtyard was covered, enclosed, and renamed the Louise Wells Kasian Children's Activity Center. Furnishings were funded by Friends of Lake Forest Library. The room, currently known as the Kasian Room, hosts many programs for both children and adults.


John James Audubon's ten aquatint engravings from "The Birds of America" restored by Kenyon Oppenheimer, Inc. (now Joel Oppenheimer, Inc.), funded by Friends of Lake Forest Library, memorial gifts, and the Library.


Business Room renovation funded by the Eugene A. and Emily L. Veto Foundation and Friends of Lake Forest Library


Mark McMahon painting of Friends Book Sale


Friends Landscape Plan


Fine Arts Room renovation funded by Friends of Lake Forest Library.


Garden Room refurbished

3rd Local Area Network upgrade

Wireless access

24/7 reference service, AskAway

75th Anniversary of the library building (June 7)

NetLibrary first eAudiobook download service


Alfred Medica memorial sculpture at front entrance (Peter Hessemer, sculptor)

1st Friends June Children's book sale in foyer


Staff Room renovated


Renovation of Children's Library including the commissioning of additional Thomas Melvin murals(stairwells, over circulation desk, over north area, and elevator and emergency exit doors by Friends of Lake Forest Library

Overdrive eBooks and eAudiobooks available

Online Mango Language service

Building-wide CCTV system installed


Social Networking: Facebook, Twitter

Freegal Music free music download resource added.

Franklin McMahon painting of Hemingway's house in Key West


Social Networking: FourSquare and QR codes

DVD2GO (Media Bank) self-serve DVD unit at west side (Milwaukee Road) train station


New web site: www.lakeforestlibrary.org

e-Pay for patrons


Slate roof restored

New signage in Children's Library

Initial year for the One Book One City program


Window restoration project with funds from private donors and the Friends of Lake Forest Library.

Zinio downloadable magazines

One Book One City program continues as Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale (a partnership with The Ragdale Foundation)


New signage installed in adult areas.

3M eBook resource added.

Media Lab designed by Dewberry and funded from private donors and the Friends of Lake Forest Library.


Exterior east stair railing replaced and redesigned.

Restoration of exterior courtyard gates.


Lake Forester newspaper from 1899-1940 digitized.

Hoopla e-content service added.

Courtyard doors and stairwell carpeting replaced.

Director Kaye Grabbe retires in April after 28 years and gives the Library a Franklin McMahon original watercolor: "Reading the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights."

Catherine A. Lemmer begins as Library Director on May 16.


Library logo redesigned.

Exhibit about Remisoff murals presented in the Foyer and Rotunda.


Library website and newsletter redesigned.

120 years of Lake Forest Library celebrated in July.

Exhibit about Library history presented in the Foyer.


First year of Read Between the Ravines (originally called Deep Freeze Read), the Two Communities / One Nonfiction Book program in partnership with Lake Bluff Public Library.


Library goes fine-free on February 1.

Library remained open online and by phone during COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders.

Live chat added to the website for patrons to contact librarians.


"Lake Forest Fourth of July Concert of the Green" painting by Mark McMahon and three prints from the "Vienna Opera Series" by Franklin McMahon donated to the Library.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten early literacy program launched

Accessibility Collections added to support Library users of all ages, abilities, and diverse learning and development needs to be successful in the Library and the community

10th year of Lake Forest Reads (previously Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale)

Joined the Illinois Libraries Present consortium to bring high-quality virtual author events to Lake Forest patrons

Internet upgraded to fiber and additional WiFi access points installed

Collections converted to RFID


Self-check machines and new security gates installed in the Rotunda and Children's Library.

Lake Forest Authors collection added


David J. Seleb begins as Interim Executive Director on January 9

Ishwar Laxminarayan begins as Executive Director on May 1.

The restoration of the historic dome is completed August 22.