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Early Beginning
“In the early part of the year 1903, some little agitation was started with reference to a public library.” With these words, Miss Nora Gardner began the first official history of the Monticello Public Library. But rumblings of a public library in White County had begun long before that. A few books were purchased with a library in mind as early as 1838. By 1845, several volumes were scattered around the county in homes of various settlers. That year, the Board of Commissioners organized themselves as Trustees of the County library. J. M. Rifenberrickwas appointed librarian and was replaced by John R. Willey in 1849. This project was abandoned that year and those books became scattered and lost.

After the turn of the century, according to Miss Gardner’s history, John W. Hamilton, superintendent of the public schools, contributed occasional newspaper articles concerning the need for a public library. With the help of several local clergymen, most notably the Reverend J. G. Rice of the Presbyterian Church, Mr. Hamilton was successful in attracting support for a public library from several local businessmen. A subscription paper was circulated and 52 men each donated $8.00. The $416.00 was used to organize the present public library.

On March 4, 1903, the following were appointed to serve as a Library Board of Trustees: W.H. Hamelle and Mrs. T. F. Palmer were appointed by the Town Council; J.W. Hamilton and Mrs. M. T. Didlake were appointed by the School Board; and Dr. J.D. McCann, Mrs. E. R. Brown, and Miss Anna Magee were appointed by the Judge of the Circuit Court.

The County Commissioners, represented by Mr. Inskeep and Mr. Ball, offered the two north-west rooms of the ground floor of the Courthouse for the library, until permanent quarters could be obtained. One of the first steps taken by the Board was to have these rooms put into proper condition for a library. Miss Mary Hoagland, State Organizer of the Public Library Commission, made some suggestions in regard to the furnishings.

W. H. Hamelle offered fifty books from his personal collection to help begin the library holdings. Some of these included Pilgrim’s Progress, Arabian Nights, Ivanhoe, Twice Told Tales, and Sense and Sensibility. The Board decided to canvas the town for like donations, and a letter was sent to every citizen inviting them to participate in a “book shower” for the new library. More than 800 books were donated. Mr. Hamelle, authorized by the Board, purchased the first books for the library. These included the complete works of Thackery, Josephus, Hawthorne and Carlyle, as well as Lives by Plutarch and the novels of Scott. The Reverend and Mrs. Dodd of the Christian Church suggested hiring Miss Nora Gardner as the first librarian for the library. She served the library for 46 years.

The morning of Tuesday, September 1, 1903, the women of the Library Board cleaned the two rooms of the courthouse and added a few potted plants. According to Miss Gardner’s history, “With 1,025 fresh labeled books, the library seemed like a hopeful enterprise.” That afternoon, Charles Newton, a local newspaperman, borrowed the first book. 21 books in total were lent out that first day of business. The White County Democrat article of August 28, 1903, said, “It is hoped that the public will be generous in its patronage and patience with the librarian and board until the institution gets itself in good working order.”

At the end of 1903, there were 1,455 volumes in the library, 452 reader cards had been issued, and 6,667 books circulated. Story hours were held frequently.
The Carnegie Years
In 1905, J.W. Hamilton was elected president of the Library Board and he wrote to Andrew Carnegie to ask for funds to build a library building. On January 20, 1906, an offer of $10,000 for a building was made by Mr. Carnegie, provided the Board would ensure a building site and $1,000 yearly for its support.

The Town Council appropriated $1,000 yearly for public library purposes and after due consideration, the Board purchased the lot on East Broadway, due to it’s central and attractive location. The Board purchased the lot from Adam Bennett for $1,000. This money was donated by 48 civic-minded men.

In August 1907, the Library was moved from the Courthouse to its new home. “When everything was in order, the doors were thrown open to the public. Thus began the real life of the Monticello Public Library”, Nora Gardner reported.

The Nickel Plate Club donated the grandfather clock at their June 26th, 1909 meeting. The clock remains today and serves as the library logo, linking the past with the future.

As part of the war effort, one of the local ladies’ work groups brought in sticks of wood to heat the library so they could make bandages for the first World War. In the spring of 1918, the library received a letter from the federal government requesting that the library remove all books on explosives from the shelves due to concerns about the war.

The Monticello Library hosted the District Librarians meeting on April 30, 1925. Sixty local librarians attended and visited the work on the building of the Oakdale dam. One of the morning programs, “What Makes a Novel Immoral” brought forth much discussion, reported Miss Gardner. In 1936, her annual salary was $100.00. The library purchased it’s first piano in 1937 for $20.

During the summer of 1940, WPA workers built shelves for the library. The Victory Book campaign to collect books for soldiers, sailors, and marines brought in 1,153 books between January and March 1942. Also in support of the war effort, $1.80 was taken from Miss Gardner’s salary in February 1943 for a Victory tax. In June 1944, Miss Gardner reported to the Library Board a likely decrease in decrease in circulation due to people waiting for news of the D-Day invasion. Miss Gardner passed away in 1949, after having devoted her entire life to the library.

The estate of Miss Eva Casad, former Library Board member, gave the library $17,733.16 for a new children’s addition. In November, 1953, Miss Casad’s house was sold for $7,750. That money was added to the previous bequests for the new children’s addition. The Library Board signed a contract with Scholar & Associates to design the new addition in August 1954. The library celebrated the Open House for the new addition on September 15th and 16th, 1957.

During Fine Free Week in February 1966, a book was returned that was due in 1961! The average cost of a new book in 1968 was $7.94. The budget for the library in 1969 was $27,145.

267 patrons participated in the Summer Reading Program of 1971. In the 1973 Summer Reading Program, the end of summer party was held at the Indianapolis Zoo. 39 children and 6 adults enjoyed a fun-filled day. In April 1974, tornadoes destroyed most of Monticello. The library escaped major damage, thankfully. In July of that year, the library purchased the first copy machine for public use. It cost $345.95 and a copy was 20 cents per page.

The Friends of the Monticello Public Library held it’s first meeting in August, 1981. July 1983 saw the Library Board begin earnest discussions with architects concerning the future of the library. There were 3,829 registered borrowers and the library owned 26,601 volumes in 1987. Total circulation for that year was 51,788! In March of 1988, the Library Board of Trustees decided the best option for the future of the library was to build an entirely new library building on another site. In December of that year, the Library Board purchased the Lincoln Lot at First and Broadway as the future site of the library.
The New Library
March 3, 1991 marked the ground breaking ceremony for the new library. April 1991 saw the beginning of library construction. It was in June of 1991 that the first discussions of automating the library’s circulation system began. The new building was dedicated on May 3, 1992. The first week the new library was open an average of 441.5 people came into the library daily. 2,302 items circulated that first week in the new building.

400 children and 100 adults participated in the Summer Reading Program in 1995. That same year, the library circulation system was automated with SIRSI. In September 1996, the library offered public access to the Internet for the first time! 1996 saw circulation exceed 100,000 items for that year!

Looking Forward
As we start in on our second century of excellent service to the Monticello community the library has changed direction. In addition to the services we currently provide we are beginning to host more and more programs. We have increased our focus on the culture and art in our community and hope to continue growing in this direction.

The library has established an endowment to build toward the future. If you would like more information on our endowment or would like to know how to contribute you may contact the director, Candace Wells at (574) 583-2665 ext 3303.