Memorial Library reaches 50 years

The New Prague Memorial Library celebrates 50 years this year. Listed as participating in the ribbon cutting ceremony are, from left, Timmer Koktavy, John Flicek, Elsie Morgan, Clarence Bisek, Atherton Bean, Lee Wahlberg, A.G. Sirek, Mayor Al Slavik, Dr. Charles Cervenka, John M. Fitzgerald and Robert Morgan. (Photo courtesy Lori Weldon)

The New Prague Memorial Library, 400 Main St. E, reaches a special milestone this year as the building turns 50 years old in June.

Lori Weldon is the fifth head librarian or branch manager as New Prague is part of the Scott County Library System. Weldon provided documents about the history of the building. She noted that preceding her in the position was Elsie Morgan, who was at the June 8, 1963, ribbon cutting ceremony that opened the building. Following her were Harriet Milinkovich, Helen Kajer and Marge Kulik.

While the current building opened in 1963, the library had been in existence since February 10, 1960. At the time it was located in the basement of the Red and White grocery store. The building later housed New Prague Dry Cleaners, Papa Bear’s Cafe and several other restaurants before a fire destroyed it.

Morgan was the head librarian from the 1960 opening until 1971. Milinkovich served in the position for eight years. Helen Kajer, who began as a volunteer, worked at the library for 25 years, the last 14 as head librarian. Kulik took over the duties in 1993, and retired in 2000. Weldon began as an associate librarian on September 20, 1993 and took over from Kulik in 2000.

It was that same year that the library had an addition built onto it. The building originally covered a 4,000 square foot area. It had 3,500 square feet added on to it. During the expansion project, the library was housed temporarily in a building in the Wally Miller Business Park.

"After that (expansion) we had so much more room," said Weldon. "We would have people come here and stay."

She noted before the expansion people would come, find what they were looking for and then leave. "We really had no space for people to sit and spend time," said Weldon. "It is really a community gathering space now."

As part of the expansion the library added the Komarek Community Room where everything from story time to art classes to author readings to small concerts are held.

In her nearly 20 years at the New Prague Memorial Library, Weldon said story time remains important, although they have a few more daycare providers. "Now we see lots more dads, that’s something that has also changed," she said.

The Komarek Community Room also serves as a space for the New Prague Area Historical Society. The room is named after the late Paul Komarek, who helped the society. The New Prague Area Historical Society also displays articles detailing various aspects of New Prague’s history.

In 2008, the library added the Mary J. Tikalsky Reading Room. Joe and Emma Tikalsky made a donation to the library for the construction of the room. It is named for Joe’s grandmother, a businesswoman whose family immigrated from the Czech Republic. The space is just less than 200 square feet, it provides a quiet area for reading and to house the library’s collection of Czech books.

The size of the building isn’t the only thing that has changed. The number of staff and the hours of operation have also grown.

"When I first started it was Marge and I," said Weldon, adding there were also a few people who shelved books. Now she has working with her reference librarian Vicki Hofius, library associates Jen Dotzler, Jennifer Dvorak and Julie Ammerman and shelvers Laura Eckstein and Emmalee Eide.

The New Prague Memorial Library at one time was only open for three days a week. Now it is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 1 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday from September to May.

In 1988 the library received its first computer. That has grown to where the library now offers ebooks and digital magazines besides the hard copies that are located at the library. People can also access online resources at home.

Weldon said while it’s nice that the library has that resource, "We have a lot of people who still come through the door. They prefer to get an actual book and also have a conversation."

"It’s been shown that when the economy is not good people used the library more," said Weldon, adding it’s their tax money at work.

"People will use the Internet, borrow books and use the resources. They rediscover the library all over again."