Is there a human institution any more important than libraries? Perhaps. But some essence of civilization involves collecting knowledge in an organized fashion and making it available. Archives of some kind have been important since we first learned how to record things.
In this year’s observance of National Library Week, I’ll look at three libraries in the United States. They all serve relatively small communities. I think the role they play in those towns highlights the critical mission of libraries.
There’s a point to be made about the vision and foresight communities have demonstrated in establishing and maintaining them. In all three cases, they’re more than 100 years old, still providing important services to the people in those towns. Not many companies are 100 years old; the mission of companies plays out, their products become obsolete, things change. These libraries’ continued existence says something significant about what matters — what we value.
Near the Banks of the Wabash
Royal Center, Indiana is a town of 861 people, according to the 2010 U.S. Census (a 2016 figure places the number at just over 900).
In the map below, the red flag marks Royal Center in north central Indiana.
The land there is flat glacial plain of the sort that covers northern Ohio, Indiana and much of Illinois. It’s farm country, and if you drive Interstate 70 the entire 500 miles from eastern Ohio to St. Louis, you’ll encounter few hills, passing fields of corn, wheat and soybeans.
In 1846, as rail lines were reshaping the American landscape, the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (later the Pennsylvania RR) crossed northern Indiana and Royal Center came into existence, probably as a stop for loading corn and grain: There are still grain elevators standing near the now-abandoned line in Royal Center.
Building a Library
Soon after the turn of the 20th Century, the town was growing, home to 900 people (with more in outlying areas). Some group of citizens — I regret that I don’t have the details — determined to build a library. Like more than 2,000 other towns and cities worldwide, they applied to the Carnegie Foundation for the money to build one. The grant would be contingent on their finding the land, stocking it with books and paying for its operation. They did it. In 1914, they received $10,000 to build a library. The value in 2017 dollars is approximately $240,000.
Here’s the thing. Not only did those people early in the last century have a vision, their library still stands.
It’s now the Royal Center – Boone Township Library. The collection includes 24,057 items, serving a population of 1,484 residents in the area. The library offers free wi-fi, a scanner and — I like this — a home delivery service. It provides access to ebooks, other digital resources and online research.
Enlighten, Enable, Contribute
A library is more than a building full of books, and the Royal Center Library is no exception. It’s the meeting place for a number of community programs and clubs, it hosts informative and educational presentations and gatherings.
The library’s motto is “Enlighten, Enable, Contribute.” I think that’s an excellent summary of a library’s place in a community.
For more than 100 years, a small town on the plains of Indiana has seen fit to keep a library as a core part of its daily life. Andrew Carnegie had lots of money, and he did a fair bit of good with it. But some people in Royal Center had something better: a vision and the energy and zeal to realize it. For all the years since, the citizens have provided for its continuation. Yes, they have families, schools, churches, civic organizations and clubs. They have television and access to the World Wide Web. But, few as they are, they also keep a library going. That’s how they do things in Royal Center, and in places like it around the world. They know when a legacy is worth preserving.
Royal Center Library’s website is royalcenterlib.wordpress.com. Click over to see a couple of photos of the interior of the 1914 building. Give ’em a like while you’re there.
Drive U.S. Route 35 north from Indianapolis through Kokomo, across the Wabash at Logansport and drive into Royal Center. The library’s on the right. If you’re continuing on to Michigan City on the shore of Lake Michigan, you can visit the Indiana Dunes. Walkers and bicyclists, though, might want to take advantage of the 21-mile Panhandle Pathway that follows the former line of the Pennsylvania RR from the Wabash, through Royal Center to Winamac. That’s a use for abandoned rights-of-way across the U.S. that’s growing in popularity.
Alert: Note that some online maps may not show the accurate location of the library. Some copies of Google Maps show 203 North Chicago Street, Royal Center, IN 46978 a couple of blocks to the southeast of the library’s actual location along Chicago St.
Do you know a small community being ably served by its library? This is the week to recognize them. Please leave a comment.
A Followup to a Recent Call to Action
In my introduction to Library Week 2017, I included a call for U.S. citizens to contact their Congresspeople to encourage them to sign letters in support of federal support to libraries. The American Library Association (ALA) reports that citizen efforts resulted in 1/3 of all members of Congress — of both parties — signing the letters, a large increase over previous support. The next step will be in the Senate. Click here to follow the actions suggested by the ALA. I’ll provide further details at the end of Library Week. Well done!
You can find more of my library articles under Architecture, Libraries in Categories in the right-hand column.
© Brad Nixon 2017. Library photo © John Nixon 2017, used by kind permission. Map © Google.