Early settlers in LaGrange County tell us that the first librarian was
a woman who brought eight books in her saddlebags to loan her neighbors.
These cherished books were loaned again and again to neighbors who took
great pleasure in reading them. By 1878 Charles
G. Cornell, the deputy postmaster, had a book store and newspaper stand
connected with the post office. People could rent books for a few
cents weekly. This was known as Cornell's Circulating Library.
His collection was very popular for several years.
In October of 1893, Miss
Alice Ellison donated a building on South Detroit Street, which consisted
of two small rooms, to become the LaGrange Free Reading Room. She
also gave a large number of books. These were supplemented by gifts
from individuals and clubs. Some club members served as volunteer
librarians a few days each week, so that the library could be open for
public use. The reading room was eventually phased out, although
there is no final record of when it closed. LaGrange's desire for
a library remained strong however and another library was developed in
the early years of the following century.
In January of 1910 the Woman's
League of LaGrange, a union of literary clubs, organized for the purpose
of establishing a library. The opera H.M.S. Pinafore was performed
in February of that same year and the proceeds were used to purchase the
first books for the library. In 1912, through the
efforts of the Women's League and Miss Florence E. Herbert, a public library
was established in a small room on Spring Street, across from the courthouse.
Throughout the year, the library became so popular that a larger and more
extensive permanent building was needed. Interested townspeople agreed
to pay a small amount annually to keep the library open. Miss
Florence E. Herbert was appointed the first librarian and given a salary
of $15.00 a month. The public library's total income for the first
year was $624.74. The library's original collection consisted of
455 books. The LaGrange Free Reading Room gave 240 of these books. By the
end of the first year, the library had registered 517 people as borrowers,
with a total book circulation of 6,796.
deserves much of the credit for keeping the library going during those
early years. She successfully promoted the library and kept it growing
throughout her years as librarian. Although money was tight and she
was not only the librarian but the care-taker, she always took time to
show personal interest in each borrower who came into the library.
She made the community feel that the library was theirs to enjoy, to be
proud of, and to support. Her mother, Mrs.
Georgianna Herbert acted as her assistant librarian and became the next
librarian when her daughter was married in 1919.
of the late Solomon and Caroline Rose offered to donate a site for the
library on the corner of Spring and High streets if the Carnegie Foundation
would donate a stated sum for the building. The town, along with Bloomfield
Township, was asked to provide a certain amount each year for perpetual
support. In 1917 a gift of $12,500 was secured
from the Carnegie Foundation to finance the
construction of the building. The library
was completed in 1919. Clay Township agreed to support the
library along with Bloomfield Township and the town of LaGrange. In
1939 the library was established as a county facility, giving free access
to all citizens of the county.
As of 2006, the library serves a population of 36,000 people, 7,000 of
whom are registered borrowers. Bookmobile
service began in 1952 and remains a vital component of the library
system. Over the years, the library has maintained branches in several
LaGrange County communities. Today, the library's Topeka and Shipshewana
branches continue to flourish. The original Topeka
Branch opened in 1939. The current Shipshewana
Branch opened in 1989.
The LaGrange County Public Library itself still occupies the original Carnegie
building of 1919. The old Town Hall was purchased
from the Town of LaGrange in 1968 for $8,750.
A modern addition was added to the original building in 1976. This addition
provided much-needed space and connected the original library building
to the old LaGrange Town Hall and Fire Station building, where the bookmobile
is housed. In 1994 the second floor of the old Town Hall was remodeled
and opened for public use. In 1995 the library's
board of trustees began searching for a long-term solution to the library's
space problems. They purchased the neighboring
firehouse building in 2006.
library acquired its first computer, an Apple IIe, in 1986. Public
Internet access was added in 1996. On September
14, 2005, the library launched Library·Solution, its first automated
Construction of a new
Topeka Branch Library began in August of 2008, opening for business
in March of 2009.
In November 2009, the LaGrange County Public Library system joined the
consortium, dramatically expanding the resources available to its patrons.
We've come long way from those few books carried in an intrepid reader's
saddlebags! It is our goal that the library will continue to grow
and adapt to meet the needs of LaGrange County's citizens for many more
years to come.