Greenwood Public Library: 100 Years

Greenwood Public Library celebrates 100 years of reading, programming and service, made possible by community support

A collection of the first 33 books the community donated to the Greenwood Public Library.

The Greenwood Public Library was set to open in February 1917. It planned on having a traveling exhibit of 100 books, on loan from the state library. The day before, GPL staff learned that they weren’t going to receive those materials. They put a call out to the community, which came through with a donation of 33 books in time for the grand opening.

Since its beginning, the community has stepped in to ensure that Greenwood has a central location to provide access to resources for everyone. Any resident of Johnson County can visit GPL. Through the changes of time, that community support remains steadfast.

“For us, becoming 100 was really a struggle,” says Cheryl Dobbs, director. “It took this community fighting for this library to have it exist. It is a victory for the people of Greenwood to have maintained this library for over 100 years.”

Library staff/volunteers celebrate reading.

GPL, at 310 S. Meridian St., will celebrate its centennial with a community event on Feb. 6, 6:30 p.m. The 100-year anniversary is not just a milestone for GPL, but a turning point in which the community can reflect on all they’ve overcome in the past century and look to a bright future.

Jane Weisenbach, director of development, has worked at GPL for 17 years. She came in as the library was in the middle of its last large renovation project. The building was a mess for six months as construction took place.

Dobbs joined the library three years later.

“As soon as I arrived as a part-time librarian they had budget cuts,” she says. “They built back up. They had rolling cutbacks every couple of years until 2011 where they had major changes. My experience of this place was rolling problems. We had layoffs 2004, 2008, 2011 and sometimes in between. We’d get to October and they couldn’t buy books anymore, or even June.”

The library almost shut down in 2012 and even had a closing date for that April. That’s when the community stepped in, donating, helping fundraise and volunteer their time.

“The silver lining is that everyone realizes and thinks through, what would this community look like without a library?” Dobbs says, “That motivates us.The difference to us is remarkable. The budget in 2017 is still $5,000 less than it was proposed to be in 2011. Considering that we have not gotten more money, we’ve been recovering for five years, to end up financially stable and not dependent on bond bank loans without an increase in income is astounding.”

Not only is the library financially stable, but it can spend more on books and resources than they did before that financial crisis. This is due to the Friends of Greenwood Public Library, which has helped pay for the library’s programming since 2009. It spends approximately $20,000 on programs, such as summer reading, per year. The Friends gave nearly $70,000 in 2016. They helped the library obtain a set of ukuleles for a children’s program this past year.

“In a couple of months you’ll see new stair railing in the lobby,” Dobbs says. “Ours is too short, dangerous, climbable, has big gaps where kids can stick their heads through and they do. They will give us the funds to make that possible. Lots of things they do for us help us leverage our tax dollars and have more excellence in everything we do. It’s an amazing group.”

Combining people who sponsor events, donate and volunteer, nearly 2,000 hours of volunteer time was spent at GPL in 2016.

Teen room.

“That is how the library started,” Weisenbach says. “There was a group of committed people that said we want a library in Greenwood and we will make it happen whatever it takes. They started small and built up. It was a group of individuals that said we want this to be in our community and we are going to make it happen. For 100 years we have had people, individuals, step up and say literacy is important to our community and we are going to make it happen.”

The last couple of years, GPL has spent time getting the building up to par. The building had a lot of deferred maintenance and expenses looming overhead. They have replaced the parking lot, sidewalks, heating and air, lighting, carpet, painted, reupholstered chairs and more. These improvements have saved the library $55,000 per year in energy costs.

“We still have projects we want to do,” Dobbs says. “But we’re backing away from those big physical projects. We can focus on more and more on our reading and getting people interested in reading.”

The teen room is a newer addition to the library, a space for teenagers to interact, learn

A STEAM kit.

and find entertainment. A grant from the Johnson County Community Foundation allowed GPL to obtain the interactive walls for youth to play and learn. Children can now conveniently check out STEAM kits, hands-on learning kits, thanks to a grant from Endress+Hauser and Duke Energy which allowed the library to display the kits and grow the collection. Dobbs says they’re also doing well with ages 20-30, and recently introduced a new book club at Vino Villa called Well Red, aimed at that generation.

“When you see the types of programs the library provides, the story times, teen programs, adults learning new computer skills, it’s hard to walk by those rooms and have that feeling that this could end,” Dobbs says. “It was a hard and stressful time for everyone that worked here. We could all be losing our jobs. It could be all over. To lose the library after 90-some years would be a tragedy. We were almost 100. We’ve been shooting at this goal for five years. To get here and be in better shape than we imagined was possible is astounding.”

100 years later and GPL attendance is booming. On average, there are 75 people in the building every hour that it is open. It’s a busy place, with constant movement and change.

“People who say libraries are dead haven’t walked in our building,” Weisenbach says. “They haven’t seen that we’re packed. People love books. That’s the bottom line.”

Take a look back at the Greenwood Public Library

1874: First attempt to establish library in Greenwood. Six subsequent attempts ended without success.

1914: Carnegie Foundation offer to donate a library building was withdrawn when local leaders could not agree on a site.

1916: Board of Trustees for Library was created, and petition signatures gathered.

Feb. 6, 1917: Library officially opened in Cook’s Hall, above a store on the Southside of Main Street (just east of the large building at the corner of Madison Avenue.) Originally planned to open with a traveling collection of 100 books from the State Library. When that collection was not available, the Trustees hosted a book shower which yielded an opening day collection of 33 books. There were 80 registered card holders on opening day.

Feb. 5, 1920:  The Community House was dedicated in memory of James T. Polk and Laura Burdick Polk. Greenwood Public Library occupied 1,162 square feet in the Northeast corner of the building. By 1962 they had a collection of 15,000 books in that tiny space.

1962: The Friends of the Library organization was founded.

Dec. 26, 1963: The new library opened at 310 S. Meridian St. to serve a population of 8,000. There were 15,620 books and 7,250 square feet. This building was constructed on park land at a cost of $103,000.

1975:  Building was remodeled, and now included 14,000 square feet.

1990: Greenwood’s population was now 25,000. The library began a building project. While the project was underway, the library moved across the street to Walker Plaza.

Oct. 6, 1991: The library was rededicated as a 31,000 square foot building.

2001:  A remodeling project expanded both floors and resulted in beautiful 51,500 square foot building

2015-2016: Remodeling and capital improvements improved aging systems and replaced faded carpeting and flooring throughout the building.

Feb. 6, 2017: Greenwood celebrates GPL’s 100th birthday.

A history of librarians/directors through the years:

1917: Frances Dean

1918: Grace Green

1920: Cordia Clark (two months’ service)

1920: Mayme Hanson

1928: Hazel Wishard

1956: Mildred Stahl

1973: Katherine Odle Spurgeon

1979: Lee Hanson Buckner

1988: Margaret Hamilton

2011: Cheryl Dobbs

Center Grove resident Ben Roberts serves on the board for Friends of Greenwood Public Library

Ben Roberts installs the interactive wall in the teen room of the Greenwood Public Library.

From installing the interactive activity walls in the teen room to changing a lightbulb, Ben Roberts continues to volunteer his time to help the Greenwood Public Library. A three-year board member for Friends of Greenwood Public Library, Roberts not only gives back but enjoys utilizing the resources the library provides for his family.

“It is really our one connection to civic life,” Roberts says. “We don’t go to board meetings or general assemblies, but we do go to the library and that is our connection to civic part of life. It’s where we serve and connect to people in the community.”

Roberts grew up in Indianapolis where he utilized the Southport Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library. Currently, he works at the Indianapolis Fire Department and has a small home repair business, Roberts Home Repair.

A resident of White River Township, Roberts has been actively involved with the Greenwood Public Library since approximately 2004, when his wife, Anna, got a job at the library. Before that, the family would participate in the children’s programming.

“The children’s area at GPL is second to none,” he says. “The programming is fantastic. It’s great for stay at home parents who need a break. It gives them a chance for their kids to read, play and learn. It’s almost like a free preschool the parents go to. It’s a safe environment. It’s real nice. That’s what brought us to GPL.”

Roberts became involved at the library during a pivotal time, through financial cutbacks and near closure.

“I was an impartial observer,” he says. “Because my wife worked there, I saw the library go through some extreme financial distresses. It was a transition that was very difficult. It was great to see the community rally together to keep the library alive and open. The staff was so committed to the library with such zeal that they formed together and directed the initial change of leadership. They were willing to give up the jobs they loved to make leadership change in the library. It’s not just a job. The passion shows. The treasure of that library is the staff and the passion they have for the community.”

Not only does the staff make the library special to Roberts, but the facility as well. He says GPL meets the needs of all age groups. His daughter recently began spending time in the teen room, and is excited venture into the library.

“They have dedicated a large portion of their library just to teens,” he says. “That is so different. Emily Ellis, the assistant director now, she has done miraculous things. The teens there become not only involved in their schools, but in their community. They get to see the civic side of life. I can’t talk highly enough about it.”

If there is a need for manual labor work at GPL, Roberts will get involved. Through the Friends board, he says he looks forward to assisting with the financial side of the library, with fundraisers such as the Cow Drop or events such as Halloween night when the kids come trick-or-treating.

“I have gained a whole new appreciation of what libraries mean to the community,” he says. “A library is so much more than books. It’s about people finding the vessel they need, through books, computers and all of these sources. It’s the best example of liberty in this country. no matter who you are, you are welcome there and given service. It’s good for elderly, those in between jobs and are struggling.A lot of it is getting people acclimated to the modern world and internet.”

Keeping TABs

Teens lead Greenwood library programs through the Teen Advisory Board

Greenwood Public Library’s Teen Advisory Board (TAB) offers teenagers the opportunity to volunteer, get involved in their community and earn service hours. By leading teen programming, these members meet monthly and volunteer during these events. Many of the TAB members are homeschooled, so participation in the club is another way to make friends and socialize, all for a good cause. Here, learn about three TAB members:

Evan Wright

Evan Wright

Having grown up at the Greenwood Public Library and actively involved in its programs, Evan Wright decided he wanted to give back by joining TAB six years ago.

Now president of the advisory board, Wright said he enjoys helping the TAB members to lead programs such as the library’s Try It Tuesday, lock-in events or holiday celebrations.

“This was my first opportunity to be a leader in the community,” Wright said. “I have really enjoyed the programs they’ve had there through the years. I thought it would be worth joining to help out how I can.”

TAB members are currently working on goal-oriented projects to increase community outreach. Teens are split into three groups, workin on STEM projects, promotional videos for the library and a children’s reading program.

“It’s a big step for our advisory board,” Wright said. “It’s very new to us. I’m very excited to see what we can do in the community with this.”

He is volunteering with the children’s program.

“I like things that involve the younger kids,” Wright said. “We’re working with kids with some minor issues with their reading ability, giving them time to interact with older people who can read to them and vise versa.”

Liz Foster

Liz Foster

When Liz Foster moved to Greenwood from Ohio, her family was looking for a library community. They found it at Greenwood.

“I have been going to libraries since I was little,” Foster said. “We found this one. It was really cool that they had a teen room and a teen program.”

Foster, 17, joined TAB four years ago.

“I really liked the community at first and getting to know the kids here,” she said. “The library actually pours into us and talks to us weekly. They care about what is going on.”

In addition to volunteering, Foster got a job working in the children’s section. She said she enjoys helping with the Try It Tuesdays with the TAB. She’s helped with three lock-ins – although she’s attended most of the lock-in events since she’s been a member of the Greenwood library.

With TAB’s goal-oriented projects, Fosters is volunteering with the video promotions group. They plan to have a completed video project by March.

“I thought this would give me an avenue that I have’t traveled down yet,” Foster said. “It sounded really cool. (TAB) had shown me some leadership skills, learning to do things involved in the community in a way. I’m looking forward to seeing how this video will turn out.”

Lindsey Green

Lindsey Green

Lindsey Green and her family regularly make the 45-minute drive from their New Palestine home to the Greenwood Public Library.

“I’ve been coming here since I was three,” Green, now 13, said. “We love it. We’ve met people and we’ve made friends with people. I’ve been volunteering in the children’s area for awhile.”

Green has been a member of TAB for three years.

“When I first started coming into the teen room, I didn’t think I would have any friends because I am homeschooled,” she said. “I didn’t realize there were so many homeschooled people in here, and I’ve made a lot of friends.”

Green is volunteering with the Reading Buddies group and has helped with children’s story time at the library in the past. She said she also enjoys Try It Tuesday, and really liked the laser tag party the library threw recently, in celebration of 5,000 volunteer hours.

“I like a lot of the programs,” she said. “I haven’t been to a library with all of the teen programs like this one. The library we used to go to, the children’s area was mixed with the adults. You had to be quiet all of the time. I just love this library. You can be different.”

Opportunities for all

The Greenwood Public Library was a haven for Pat Van Valer through his childhood

Pat Van Valer

Going to the Greenwood Public Library as a child was more than a pastime for Pat Van Valer. Climbing up into the big chairs to sit and read like an adult was quite the experience. Librarian Hazel Wishard was always willing to get up from her desk, sit on the floor and show him different books.

“It was one of the first places I could be by myself without an adult,” Van Valer said. “It wouldn’t happen today. But I could go to the library when Ms. Wishard was a librarian and be perfectly safe. It’s always been a haven. It was a place where I knew how to respect my elders. That was part of what I learned. I learned it not by being reprimanded but by being exposed. There is so just being exposed to other people, understanding the need to respect your elders and your contemporaries. For me, the library was part of that respect.”

Into adulthood, the library became the place Van Valer could find anything he needed. He graduated from Greenwood Community High School in 1961. He’d go to the library to study for his Bar Exam in college. A retired attorney who now works at Masters Heating and Cooling by Van Valer, he is a member of the Friends of Greenwood Public Library and said the library continues to serve the needs of the community, just as it did for him back then, only on a larger scale.

Van Valer and his family moved to Greenwood in 1946, when he was three years old. They were the first new family not related to someone in Greenwood, with a new home in a new subdivision. They quickly got involved in the community. Van Valer’s father was a local newspaper editor and his mother became the chamber of commerce’s executive director.

At that time, the Greenwood Public Library was located in the Polk Community Center, or the Polk Memorial building as it is called today.

“The week we came to Greenwood, the high school burned down,” he said. “Everything with the school from athletics, what they needed the gym for, they did it at the community house, including the library.”

Hazel Wishard was the librarian from 1928 to 1956, during a primitive time of Van Valer’s childhood. She was the only employee at that time.

“If you went in, she did it all,” he said. “That was when we had the dewey decimal system and the cards to look through. The children’s books were as we do today, lower. It was wonderful. It’s wonderful today. A lot of what she did is what w’re doing today on a larger scale because we have a lot more people to serve.”

As Van Valer got older, he would use the library in his school more often, still visiting Greenwood Public Library for books more geared to his interests.

Through the years, Van Valer continued to be involved in his Greenwood community and at the library. From changing of the librarians, to the construction of the currently library building at 310 S. Meridian Street in 1963.

As a member of the Friends of Greenwood Public Library, Van Valer said he enjoys seeing how far the library has come and its potential to even better serve its patrons.

“The services they provide are incredible,” he said. “The library has recognized some community needs that in many communities were never recognized. During the recession, people needed to file their unemployment claims on Sunday night. The library provides computers for people to do this and help teach them how to use them.”

As he plans to attend the 100-year celebration on Feb. 6, Van Valer said it’s a good feeling to be part of something so special.

“I believe in Greenwood,” he said. “My parents believed in it. My brother believed in it. He practiced law here over 30 years. I believe in making a positive difference in whatever you do. When that happens, it’s positive for everyone. The library provides an opportunity  for gathering. It’s a real opportunity for kids, moms, dads, to understand what is happening in the community. The Greenwood Library has really come to the people and blossomed.”