By Bob Skolnik
The Brookfield Public Library will seem a little different in 2020 with the retirement of longtime circulation assistant Marty Blank on Dec. 31.
Blank has been a vital presence at the library during his 22 years there. He does far more than check out books. He talks to patrons, makes book and movie recommendations based on his vast knowledge and has led film discussions at library since 2005. He has gotten to know much of Brookfield and has become a friend to many.
Youth services librarian Christal Beyer remembers Blank signing her up for a library card when she was 16 years old.
"He was very welcoming and friendly, outgoing, and he still is as the heart and soul of the library," Beyer said.
Even though Blank, 68, is retiring he still plans on leading movie discussions at the library and he plans to volunteer at the circulation desk every now and then.
"Marty is an institution here at the library and we're very glad for all of his years of service, but we're also glad that he's staying on with us to show his films," said Brookfield Public Library Director Kimberly Coughran.
After working at the circulation desk for more than two decades, Blank knows most of the regular patrons. He knows what they like to read and watch, and he is not hesitant about making recommendations.
Checking out a book with Blank is not typically a short, quiet experience. He often will engage a patron and have a chat about the books the person is checking out.
"Almost every time you check out a book, he's read it," said Marie Ryan after she and her husband, Jim, checked out a few books last week.
"He is well versed in literature," said Jim Ryan. "He's a wealth of knowledge when it comes to, say, mysteries and/or science fiction if you're asking him for a recommendation."
Blank, who worked in bookstores for more than 20 years before getting hired by the Brookfield Public Library in 1997 when he was 45 years old, loves to talk, especially about books and movies.
"Across that desk is just a great way to talk with people," Blank said. "I just enjoy talking with people, finding out their interests. If they like any of the same books and movies that I do, I'll talk their ear off."
Blank was living in Forest Park and was between jobs in the fall of 1997 when he saw a want ad in a newspaper. He was hired and the Brookfield Library hasn't been the same since.
Two years after later, Blank moved to Brookfield and lives in a condo in the village's downtown.
Blank has always loved books and movies. His father, also named Martin, was an advertising man who took Blank to many movies growing up in Evergreen Park and Lombard. His father wrote a murder mystery titled "Shadowchase: A Novel of Murder," which is available for check out at the library.
After graduating from high school, Blank studied film at Columbia College but withdrew after a couple of years and began working in bookstores including the famous, now-defunct Chicago chain of Kroch's and Brentano's.
As a young man, he was a big fan of Ernest Hemmingway and Ray Bradbury. He loves hard-boiled detective novels and especially enjoys the writing of Raymond Chandler and Michael Connelly. He loves film noir.
But his interests range widely and he has read broadly. He reads a lot of history and biography and has many books about the Civil War.
Recognizing Blank's interest in film in 2005, then head of Adult Services John Krause suggested that Blank might want to start a film discussion group at the library.
"I jumped at the idea," Blank said.
Now Blank shows movies generally twice a month. They're usually critically acclaimed but little-known independent or foreign movies that don't get much circulation outside the film festival circuit. The next movie he will show is the French-Canadian film "Genese," on Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m.
On occasional weekends, Blank will usually show a more popular movie, perhaps one from Hollywood's golden days of the 1930s-1950s or a more recent movie.
"I like the old stuff and try to get that in as much as I can." Blank said.
Circulation Director Jim Berg, who has worked with Blank since 1997 said Blank has been a fixture at the library, kind of like the character Norm from the old TV sitcom "Cheers."
He's is a big presence and a lively conversationalist; someone everyone knows and wants to talk to. Berg said that it has been fun working alongside Blank all these years.
"He's kind of like the Roger Ebert of Brookfield," Berg said. "He knows a lot about movie trivia, a lot about pop culture. It's always been fun talking to him about popular culture and current events and movies. He's well-versed in a lot of different areas."
Blank said he is retiring because he wants to spend more time getting back to his own writing and have more time to himself. He writes short stories and essays and plans to rejoin the Brookfield Writers Group, which meets at the library twice a month. He's also a big jazz fan and active in the Brookfield Jazz Society.
But Blank still plans to be at the library a lot, even though he will no longer be paid to work there. In many ways, the library has become Blank's home. It has certainly been the centerpiece of his life and has been the perfect place to share his boundless love for books and movies with likeminded people.
"I've made friends that I hang out with," Blank said, "people I socialize with, go to the movies with."
He seems to know everybody.
"If I didn't work here I wouldn't feel nearly as much a part of the community," Blank said.
Blank and library were just a perfect fit.
"It's just been the best experience of my life," Blank said. "I've really enjoyed the staff and the patrons. I really just feel like I found my niche here and I really enjoy it here."