This is the third and final entry in this year’s Under Western Skies celebration of National Library Week.
All three of the libraries I’ve featured this week are in smaller towns or cities. They’ve all been in operation for more than 100 years, and occupy buildings funded by the Carnegie Foundation early in the 20th Century.
Depending on which source you consult, there are between 40 and 50 towns and cities in the U.S. named Lebanon. I grew up in one in Ohio. There’s one next door in Indiana, northwest of Indianapolis.
The county seat of Boone County, Indiana, Lebanon has about 16,000 people. Employment has been good in recent years, spurred by distribution and manufacturing operations attracted by Lebanon’s location along Interstate 65, which connects in Indianapolis with 4 other interstates radiating in all directions, evident on the map.
Royal Center, site of the first post this week, is about 60 miles due north of Lebanon.
“Let’s Build a Library”
In 1903, the town already had nearly 5,000 people. As the county seat, it would have been an important administrative, cultural and social center. A group of citizens from Lebanon secured a grant of $15,000 from the Carnegie Foundation for a library. They arranged for the land on Washington Street, and the new library, built of (what else?) Indiana limestone opened in 1904. (If you intend to build a noteworthy structure in Indiana using some other material, seek counseling.)
That $15,000 represents approximately $400,000 in today’s currency. It paid for an impressive structure, but the library provided books and furniture, as well as staff and maintenance.
This is how the children’s section looked in 1923:
The hand-lettered sign indicates they’re featuring “Grades 5 6 7 8,” beside copies of Robinson Crusoe and Lorna Doone, among others. Below is a series, “The True Story of …” with books about U.S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Lafayette.
I dated the photo by the copy of “Boys’ Life” in the rack at the right. Here’s how it looked:
Thirty years later in 1953, the children’s section looked different:
The decorations on the wall suggest it’s Halloween. I like the boy seated to far left with his face pressed into a magazine. Here’s what he’s reading:
Cool! A “Jet-Powered Air-Sea Liner.” Beats Lorna Doone any day, as far as I’m concerned.
BUT! Look at the chairs the all-so-prim little girls are sitting in. Now look at the chair in the 1923 photo above. Same chairs in 1953, still in use.
The Library Today
When you visit the Lebanon Public Library today, things inside will look different. Outside, a portion of the library is much the same.
I say a portion, because the people of Lebanon and its surrounding area obviously still value libraries. Beginning in 1991, they expanded the library by nearly 400%, and it looks like this today, incorporating the original building.
I spoke with the library’s director, Beau Cunnyngham, about how people in a small Indiana city use their library. He listed four primary needs it meets: books; children’s reading, activities and services; DVD rentals; and, interestingly, local history research in the Heritage Center, which occupies the original Carnegie building:
Many libraries have a local history section with maps, genealogies, newspaper archives and so on. Lebanon’s holds genealogical and historical resources related to Boone County and Indiana, and it’s an excellent application for a historic building. Mr. Cunnyngham says it receives a lot of traffic from researchers near and far. He says some of the details were changed as part of the library’s renovation, but it retains its original floor and other aspects. I see at least the mantel over a fireplace and an old glass transom above the doorway in the center.
The Future Library
Like librarians everywhere, Mr. Cunnyngham and his staff are focused not on the past, but the future. His approach is one that I’m certain will resonate with librarians and lovers of libraries everywhere. The task is not to house books, DVDs or whatever new technologies for data storage evolve. Instead, he said, the library’s goal is to be a center for exchange, learning, and a place where expert staff are available to assist library users, whether they’re beginning readers, researchers delving into history or those who need access to a resource they’d never find on their own.
As the Pacific Paratrooper commented on the previous post, “Libraries are so much more to a community than just books. Too bad more don’t realize that.”
I know my readers are aware of that. Clearly, the people of Lebanon, Indiana know it, too. Look at the library they’ve built and support. The same is true of the other libraries I’ve covered this week in Beaumont, California, Royal Center, Indiana, and libraries everywhere.
One Last Look Back
I can’t resist posting one more photo the Lebanon Library staff sent. Here’s what’s keeping the kids away from the Malt Shoppe on Friday nights …
They’re at the library. Oh, man. Those SHOES.
I see a copy of Arthur C. Clarke’s Islands in the Sky just to the left of the standing young woman. It’s the original Winston edition with cover art by Alex Schomburg, 1952. It’s possible that photo was shot at the same time as the scene in the children’s section, above: late 1953.
The Lebanon Public Library website is leblib.org. My appreciation to Beau Cunnyngham, Director, for speaking with me and to his staff for providing the photos. The library is located at 104 East Washington, Lebanon, Indiana 46052.
National Library Week is nearing its end. Will your library be around in a year to observe the next one? Not without some support. Happy reading!
© Brad Nixon 2017. Contemporary exterior photos © John Nixon 2017. Archival photos courtesy of Lebanon Public Library, Lebanon, Indiana, used with generous permission, all rights reserved. Map © Google.