Library Celebrating Birthday

April 13, 1970

Indiana University is boasting its 150th anniversary this year and so is the Monroe County Public Library.  The library is celebrating its 150th birthday during National Library Week April 12-18.

Many of the community leader who encouraged the state politicians to establish a university in the frontier town of Bloomington also served on the first public library board.

Jonathan Nichols, William McCollough, J. M. Jenkins, Roderick Rawlins, Joshuah Howe, and brother James and John Boreland were the first trustees of the library.

Three of the librayr board members—Jonathan Nichols, surveyor and merchant; J. M. Jenkins, a physician who migrated from Maryland; and Joshuah Howe, owner of a dry goods store on the square—were also three of the first six trustees of Indiana Seminary.

John Boreland was the first treasurer of the public library, a position he later held at Indiana College, succeeding his brother James, the first treasurer of Indiana Seminary, 1828-35.

The first record of a public library in Monroe County is a leather ledger of the minutes of the meetings of the trustees of the Monroe County Library, beginning March 31, 1820. The board resolved to call it the Bloomington Library. The books were circulated from a room in the log court house on the Bloomington Square.

The library's public was limited to qualified voter of the county, although the rule was sometimes waived for prestigious visitors to the new college community. Women and children were not allowed to borrow books.

The library room was opened once a week, on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Books were borrowed for one month and fines were set at 6½ cents per day.

Addison Smith is the first librarian mentioned in the minutes fo the board meetings. By 1844 the librarians were receiving a salary of $2 a month. Three year later, the board abolished the librarian's salary in exchange for his use of the library room during the week. Addison Hill, appointed librarian in 1848, was allowed to us the library room at the court house for his dental office. The $24 annual salary was reinstated after Dr. Hill resigned in 1850.

The board of trustees levied the first book fine about one year after the library's opening. The minutes record: "On inspection of the books in the library, it was found that No. 73 was damaged while in the possession of William Lowe and... the board therefore afixed the fine upon the said William to 25 cents."

William Lowe, who lived to be 104, was 86 years old at the time he paid the library fine. A lawyer and local politician who was influential in state politics, Loew served as first Clerk of Monroe County and was one of the first six trustees of Indiana Seminary.

Ladies were invited to use the library in 1848. The ledger records show that the public was informed through the Indiana Tribune that the library was open on Wednesday mornings for "the accommodation fo ladies and on Saturdays for the public in general." The bylaws of 1853 required the librarian to open the library on Saturdays as usual but the ladies' day was not mentioned. The project was apparently abandoned or perhaps ladies were allowed on Saturdays.

The library was funded by revenue from the sale of county land. A  state law alotted 10 per cent of the money received from the sale of county seat lots for a public library. The board of trustees loaned the library's funds for interest and much of the minutes of their meetings reads like the business proceeding of a finanacial institution.

"Library Celebrating Birthday," Daily Herald-Telephone, April 13, 1970.