The histories of the Gary Public Library District (GPLD) and Lake County Public Library District (LCPLD) are inextricably linked. Sharon Adley covered this admirably in “The History and Development of Lake County Public Library,”
Between 1913 and 1958, the Gary Public Library (GPL) provided library services to seven rural townships that did not have library service – Hobart Township, Calumet Township, St. John Township, Hanover Township, North Township, and Ross Township in Lake County, and Westchester Township in Porter County. In 1958, the townships separated from the GPL.
In 1913, the GPL began to provide service to the area presently served by the Lake County Public Library District. It was in that year that the GPL placed a collection in the city of Hobart. The next year, the GPL extended service to East Gary, and, in 1915, the GPL placed a deposit collection in Griffith. In 1915 and ’16, the GPL also served Ross Township.
A few years later, in 1919, the GPL opened branches in Dyer and Schererville. In the late 1930s early ’40s, the GPL further extended service in Lake County. Orpha Maud Peters, the assistant librarian whom I mentioned in Part II the first historian of the GPL in the 1940s, stated in The Gary Public Library 1907-1944, “In response to a petition by taxpayers the Board of County Commissioners levied a tax making it possible in 1937 for the Gary library to serve the remaining parts of Lake County not already receiving library service. Branches were established at Highland and Munster, while other rural sections were served by stations and by a trailer. Ross Township, which had not received library service from the Gary library since 1916, was again being served.” In 1942, the GPL opened a branch in Cedar Lake.
During this period, the Lake County Public Library District included Ross Township and Hanover Township, along with the towns of Highland and Munster in North Township. The LCPLD served this area under the governance of the Lake County Library Board of Trustees, which consisted of the seven GPL board members and four persons chosen from outside Gary to represent the rest of the county library district.
The areas in Calumet Township, Hobart Township, and St. John Township contracted for library services through their township trustees. In 1952, these three townships combined with Ross Township, Hanover Township, and the aforementioned part of North Township into a single county library district outside Gary, under authority of the Public Library Law of 1947 that I mentioned in Part III.
As a result, a separate board of seven members was established to oversee a separate budget for the provision of library services to the township areas outside Gary. The board members had to be residents of the Lake County library district outside the city.
The chief judge of the Lake County circuit court appointed three members of the board, the Lake County Board of County Commissioners appointed two members, and the Lake County School Board appointed two members. The judge, the county board of commissioners, and the county school board were each required to appoint at least one woman.
However, in 1953, a bill in the Indiana state legislature that would require the Lake County Library Board to revert to its previous composition (seven members from Gary and four members from the county district) was introduced. Members of both the GPL and Lake County boards of trustees preferred the status quo with two seven-member boards that acted jointly. Consequently, they requested that the legislation be re-written to permit an exemption Lake County, and when the bill into law in 1953 it did grant this exception.
For the next four years, the LCPLD Board of Trustees continued to meet jointly with the GPL Board of Trustees and the GPL continued to provide services to the Lake County district by oral agreement rather than written contract. The amount the LCPLDannually paid to the GPL was determined by “pro-rating the time of personnel and the amount of materials and equipment used in service to the Lake County district,” as Ms. Adley put it.
Every time the GPL expended LCPLD funds, it required the approval of the LCPLD board. The GPL found this arrangement cumbersome. In 1957, the GPL requested a simplified method of accounting for services to the townships.
Harriet I. Carter, Head of the Indiana State Library’s Extension Division, recommended that a lump sum be provided in the Lake County budget to be paid to GPL for service. In April of 1957, the GPL Board of Trustees proposed that the Lake County Board of Trustees pay 32% of the GPL budget items for 1958 except capital expenditures, trustee travel expenses, and equipment.
This percentage was not pulled out of thin air. It was based on the size of the population served and circulation records. The LCPLDBoard of Trustees gave its consent, however, board members, in particular Ruth Berg and James C. Watt, became uneasy about it. To raise the funds to meet the expense of paying for 32% of the GPL’s operating budget, the tax levy for the Lake County Public Library District for 1958 would be .194, a 58% increase over the 1957 tax rate of .123.
Board members began to question whether this expense was really justified by the library services the GPL delivered. Mrs. Berg also stated in The Hammond Times (now The Times) on December 8, 1957 that the Lake County Public Library Board of Trustees had come to interpret request for a lump sum payment as a means of usurping their statutory authority for expending district funds.
In August of 1957, the budget for the Lake County Public Library District was advertised as required by law in two local papers, The Hammond Times and the Gary Post-Tribune. The tax levy of .194 was omitted from the advertisement in The Hammond Times, an error attributed to the GPL staff. This error was noted at a joint meeting of the two public library boards on August 27, 1957.
At that same joint board meeting, the LCPLDBoard of Trustees approved the budget as advertised, by a vote of four to two. Members Ruth Berg and J.C. Watt dissented. However, by a vote of three to three, the LCPLDBoard of Trustees deadlocked and did not approve a previously agreed-upon contract with the GPL.
The Lake County Tax Adjustment Board refused to approve the new tax rate of .194 for 1958, because it had not been properly advertised in one of the two newspapers, and fixed the rate at .123, the same tax rate as in 1957. At the September 24, 1957 joint meeting of the two boards, the LCPLDBoard of Trustees voted to retain a lawyer for legal advice.
The LCPLDBoard of Trustees decided to meet with this legal counsel separately from the GPL Board of Trustees in order to discuss a petition to the State Board of Tax Commissioners for restoring the tax levy. Predictably, the joint board meeting turned acrimonious as the boards discussed future relations between the GPL and the LCPLD.
At the LCPLDboard meeting on October 3, 1957, attorney Byron Bamber advised the board to petition the Indiana State Board of Tax Commissioners and to draw up a written contract with the GPL Board of Trustees for the provision of library services. The two boards did negotiate a contract but could not reach an agreement.
The LCPLDBoard of Trustees petitioned for a restoration of the tax levy rate to .175, but the petition was unsuccessful. Instead, the Indiana State Board of Tax Commissioners restored two cents to the Gary tax rate so that the GPL could continue to provide service to the Lake County Public Library District. [Does that seem fair?] The State Board of Tax Commissioners indicated they were more interested in providing funds to provide library services for the area of the Lake County Public Library District than concerned with the source of those funds.
Naturally, the GPL Board of Trustees was displeased with the solution of the State Board of Tax Commissioners. The GPL board members felt that service to the Lake County Public Library District should not be subsidized by the Gary taxpayers.
Therefore, the GPL Board of Trustees voted at the November 26, 1957 meeting to discontinue service to Lake County, effective January 1, 1958. Separation of the two library entities did not, however, take place in 1958.
The two governmental units reconciled at the urging of groups of Lake County taxpayers. Shortly before the year’s end, the State Board of Tax Commissioners reconsidered the previous ruling and increased the Lake County tax levy to .164, and reduced the Gary tax levy back to .162, as The Hammond Times reported on December 13, 1957. Attorney Byron Bamber and Gary Librarian Ralph E. Van Handel negotiated a contract agreeable to both boards.
In 1958, a subsequent agreement could not be reached. At the board meeting on May 27, 1958, the LCPLD Board of Trustees passed a resolution to employ George Droste to (a) study and survey the Lake County Public Library District and (b) to serve as the Lake County Librarian effective January 1, 1959.
Subsequently, at the board meeting held on June, 3, 1958, the board passed a resolution to end the contracted services with the GPL, also in 1959. Due to the concern over the quality of independent service, in July of 1958, taxpayers prevailed upon the LCPLD Board of Trustees to request a new contract with the GPL, but the GPL Board of Trustees refused. As a result, in 1959, the Lake County Public Library became an independent government entity. I will return to cover its history at a later date.