by TRACY ZOLLINGER TURNER
Indiana’s dedication to literacy has been etched into law since the state was founded. As early leaders drew up the constitution, the General Assembly passed “An Act for the Incorporation of Public Libraries,” allowing any town, village, or county to form a library once it raised $100. The first Bloomington Public Library was initially funded with proceeds from 10% of the sale of town lots. It began in 1820 as a modest collection of books, housed in a room at the courthouse.
Celebrating its 200th birthday this year, the Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) has grown from that small space—then largely restricted to male landowners—to an all-welcoming, two-branch system that strives to provide services to as many patrons as possible.
“What we have become, over time, is a reflection of our community,” says Library Director Marilyn Wood.
The reach of the library expanded rapidly, and it continues to grow. Shortly before the 100-year mark, the Bloomington Library gained its first dedicated building—the site that is now the Monroe County History Center—through a Carnegie Corporation of New York grant. The current main library, 303 E. Kirkwood, was built in 1971, after it became a countywide system and its supporting foundation—Friends of the Library—was established.
The MCPL also pioneered the first Book Truck in the state—a Model A Ford with side flaps. It, and several of the next eight incarnations of what is now known as the Bookmobile, were driven by Lois Henze. “She was the face of the library for years and years,” Wood says.
While the Book Truck first ventured into the community only every two weeks, today’s Bookmobile (a hybrid vehicle since 2010) takes books, movies, and a mobile hotspot to different locations around the county six days a week. County residents unable to visit one of the branches or Bookmobile locations due to disability, illness, or limited mobility can still access the library’s resources though the Homebound Service, which is largely utilized by seniors, says Wood.
Recent changes in the MCPL fine system were motivated by the mission to increase access, says Wood. “We knew that fines were a barrier to people using the library,” she says, noting that collection fees were insurmountable for some. “We want to make sure that the people—particularly those who may be the least able, and in some cases, the most in need of our services—are able to make use of them.”
While new spaces have been created in existing branches this year—including a new teen space at the Ellettsville branch and a new tween area at the main library—Wood says that during a strategic planning process three years ago, the library determined Monroe County could use a third building. After researching community service and location needs, a new southwest branch is set to open in 2022. The 21,000-square-foot facility, to be located near Batchelor Middle School, will include a teaching kitchen, funded by a Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County grant.
“We’re really looking at literacy when we look at the teaching kitchen,” says Mandy Hussey, communications and marketing manager. “There’s nothing that’s really more literacy-based—it has components of reading, math, and socialization.”
“This library has always been community-driven and community- supported,” Wood says. “When we do something differently or we change, they notice, which means they’re paying attention and they care.”
To celebrate its bicentennial, the library will host trivia-based scavenger hunts throughout the year. An all-day Birthday Bash, featuring live music and costume parades, will be held July 25 at both the main library and the Ellettsville branch. Additional programming at the main library will include story time, book signings, and a workshop with children’s author Terry Border, author of Happy Birthday, Cupcake!.
For more information, visit mcpl.info.