Since 1952, the Lake County Public Library System has served the community by educating people, expanding their horizons, and igniting children’s imaginations. Only Indianapolis and Fort Wayne have larger public library systems in the state than the one that serves almost half of Lake County’s residents with books, audiobooks, DVDs, computers, meeting rooms, copying, 3D printing, movie screenings, educational programming, and a host of other services.
This year, it is celebrating its 70th birthday. Marti Ross, president of the Lake County Public Library Board, said, “It’s an honor to be a part of a library system with such a rich history.” I’m thrilled to see what else we can construct in the future and I’m so proud of everything we’ve accomplished over the past 70 years. According to Lake County Public Library Director Ingrid Norris, the library was founded in 1952, but its history goes back even longer. In 1913, it began providing library services in the majority of the locations it now serves.
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She remarked, “We had a relationship with the Gary Public Library, which was founded in 1908. “In five years, it began providing services to towns like Hobart and Lake Station that are not in Gary. We didn’t actually formally establish the library with all the cities it serves until 1952. Before the contract with Gary terminated in 1959 and we struck out on our own by winging it, the two library boards convened as one library board for seven years. We began conducting all of our business independently and controlling ourselves.”
It was most practical for the Gary Public Library, which had plenty of resources at the time, to serve the neighboring communities. Gary offered free library services to the outlying rural villages at first, but eventually, those communities had to agree to pay taxes in order to use the libraries. The majority of the modifications were brought about by the state’s library regulations, including the choice to eventually establish a separate library system to serve Lake County municipalities outside of Gary.
Initially, the Lake County Public Library System contained 60,000 books, a bookmobile, and eight modest facilities. In the 1960s, it reached a peak of 14 buildings. Today, it contains more than a million items, including digital resources like ebooks and digital audiobooks, available for checkout. In the end, the Lake County Library System merged a large number of its former branches. The branches in Dyer and Schererville, Lake Station and New Chicago, Merrillville, Independence Hill, and Main Library, as well as Griffith,
Black Oak, and Calumet Township, were amalgamated. The Lake County Public Library’s Griffith-Calumet Township Branch, located at 1215 East 45th Avenue in Griffith, is bigger than the three branches it replaced together. “More books and space are available. larger conference spaces are available “Added Norris. “We took advantage of a chance to enlarge them. In order to make the buildings as convenient as possible, we took great effort to place them in a central location.”
The newer branches, which began to rise in 2007, were planned by the same architect, which explains why the structures resemble one another so much. The same framework was employed, she explained, but we had to slightly modify them for the terrain. “Without having to start from scratch for each place, we were able to adapt the same design. We wanted to make the best possible use of the funding that had been provided to us.”
Due to the anticipated increase in the southern portion of Lake County, the Cedar Lake branch was built large (20,000 square feet).
According to Norris, “the original Martin buildings were erected quite fast.” “They were rectangular boxes. They may not have considered the fact that libraries were sought-after locations where people desired a place to go, sit at a table, and study. People would only visit to borrow books to read.
Libraries today serve as a third, calm place to go after home and work. Libraries are private places you can visit for peaceful study sessions and social gatherings. That was considered when creating the new branches. What we anticipated the community’s demands to be received a lot of attention.” Not every place received a new structure. To accommodate children’s programming and make sure the children’s space was suitably different from the adult space, older branches received financing for the renovation of the children’s rooms.
Libraries have made adjustments over time to meet the evolving requirements of the community, such as switching from vinyl records to cassettes and subsequently CDs. Through Hoopla or Freegal, customers can now download or stream music that has been checked out from the library. In order to adapt to the streaming era, it replaced VHS tapes with DVDs and developed binge boxes that compile movies with a similar theme for consumers to binge-watch at home.
The most recent seismic shift occurred during COVID, according to Norris. “There was a subset of readers that switched from reading physical books to ebooks. Numerous people still read physical books, but others might never pick them up again.” The library has a history of innovation, according to Norris, employing teletype machines to connect its branches before the internet at a time when a call from Lake Station to Portage, which was eight miles away, was considered to be far away.
It was one of the difficulties of having to serve an area that was 125 square miles, she said. In addition to around 675,000 digital materials, the Lake County Public Library System provides about 2 million physical items annually to Lake County’s cities, villages, and unincorporated areas. It covers 10 school districts and 14 municipalities. She remarked, “It’s extremely diverse.” “All of those villages are unique.
They vary in terms of age groups, the number of persons of color present, and the proportion of Hispanics. Every neighborhood is really distinctive.” Through its locations in Cedar Lake, Dyer-Schererville, Griffith-Calumet Township, Highland, Hobart, Lake Station-New Chicago, Merrillville, Munster, and St. John, the Lake County Public Library System provides services to nearly 250,000 inhabitants.
One of the issues, according to Norris, is making sure that the collections accurately reflect diversity. “It is the duty of each branch to engage with the local towns and communities. We also have professionals who read a variety of publications and keep up with award winners and other works that certain demographics could be interested in.”
Every month, the public submits hundreds of requests for the library to purchase books. The first chance to borrow any books the library decides to purchase is given to those who recommend them. Customers of Lake County’s other library systems in Gary, Hammond, Whiting, East Chicago, Crown Point, and Lowell will also receive library cards from the Lake County Public Library System.
There have occasionally been discussions regarding system consolidation, but it has been found that separate libraries serve the communities’ needs better and that mergers would not yield any appreciable efficiencies or cost savings, she added. We concluded that it would lead to an excessively big library, she continued. The distinctive libraries in metropolitan areas can also offer community-focused programming to their residents.
The library system continuously evaluates user feedback as it introduces new programming, such as STEM education for children and the ability for users to convert older media into more modern ones, such as turning VHS to DVD or old photographs into digital images. It provides access to academic papers that college students may need, like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and others.
It frequently offers events like meet-the-candidate nights or instructional sessions on how to purchase health insurance. During the coronavirus outbreak, when many people were cooped up in their homes, the library system likewise expanded its offerings. To download books, music, and other types of entertainment, people started going to the library.
It prompted us to consider and narrow down what are the most important occupations and services, Norris added. “For instance, we were able to complete reference work while at home by responding to reference queries. It forced us to concentrate our efforts on the core services while we still recovered and hired new people.” The popular curbside pickup service is still available from the library. It now offers video gaming consoles and game rentals as well as reading suggestions for those looking for new books to read.
Our professionals attend conferences, and they become enthusiastic about the concepts they encounter, she said. “To determine whether an idea is viable, we ask them to submit grant bids. We work hard to ensure that we are listening to our team members, who are all very enthusiastic and innovative.” The library will locate books that customers have requested by borrowing them from other library systems across the nation.
People believe they can’t check anything out if it isn’t in the catalog, she said. “But we take out books from everywhere in the nation, including Alaska and Hawaii. We have broad minds. To complete it, we may access a book from any location in the country. Most people are unaware of that.” As she prepares to retire, Norris believes that the Lake County Public Library System has a bright future. She intends to present the board with her retirement application this autumn and retire the next year “to pass on the mantle.”
She is proud of a number of successes, including launching Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which allows each kid in the library system from birth to age five to receive a book every month, and opening library databases to the 10 school districts it serves. She also established the Libratory, a portmanteau name for which the library is requesting copyright.
The library, she noted, “is pretty much the only place remaining in the community where you don’t have to buy anything.” “To use our space, nothing needs to be done. It is the final unpaid public area. Come here if you have any inquiries. Spending a lot of money on subscriptions, books, and streaming services is possible.
We can provide for people’s entertainment demands at a time when they are reducing their budgets and spending. We’ll keep collaborating with kids and providing them with programming. Although we will adapt to new formats, it doesn’t seem that printed books will ever become obsolete.”
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