By CJ Woodring
National Library Week will be observed April 3-9 with actress/comedienne Molly Shannon serving as this year's honorary chair. The theme is “Connect With Your Library," which promotes the idea that libraries offer patrons opportunities to connect through technology, media, programs and classes, extending education far beyond books.
First promoted in 1958, the week-long commemoration is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA) and observed in libraries throughout the nation by facilities that include school, public, academic and special libraries.
Observed on the Tuesday of the week, National Library Workers Day (April 5 this year), honors librarians, support staff and others whose contributions enrich patrons’ lives.
Finally, since 1985 America has acknowledged April as School Library Media Month (the name was changed to School Library Month in 2010); National School Librarian Day will be April 4.
And while this might appear an unseemly amount of annual observations for one entity, no other public facility is more deserving or more in need of your support.
A library is more than a bricks-and-mortar repository of volumes. Whether a historic Carnegie library (166 were constructed in Indiana; Fort Wayne is among less than two dozen cities to have demolished theirs) or a new facility, libraries inject prestige, culture and stability, defining a neighborhood and community. And a nation.
But as communities are forced to slash library hours and book budgets –- and in some states are once again being encouraged to ban books –– our nation increasingly is portrayed as one unwilling to commit to these sanctums of learning and empowerment.
And our society reflects this.
I was blessed to have been born with a silver library card in my hand –– thanks to my maternal grandmother. A first-generation Swedish-American, Nana was forced to quit school after fifth grade when her mother died. As the eldest, her duty was to oversee younger siblings, a number that grew to seven after her father’s remarriage. Yet that remarkable, self-educated woman never stopped reading, never stopped learning.
Nana taught me to read when I was four. Aside from an extensive collection of Little Golden Books and classics, my earliest reading material came from the library of the Lutheran elementary school I attended here.
Later, I walked or bicycled the six-block journey from home to the Shawnee Branch. Tucked into a corner next to a neighborhood meat market, the tidy brick building introduced me to the world of Little Pear and the Boxcar Children's adventures.
As a high school student, I often stopped by the library on my way home, never failing to find the assigned volume, the exact reference, I sought.
Throughout the years I developed close ties with our main facility (it boasts, among other things, the nation’s largest library-based genealogy department) and introduced my three sons to the Tecumseh Branch, where they ate green eggs and ham with Dr. Seuss, climbed trees with Christopher Robin and discovered just how the Grinch stole Christmas.
When I returned from Florida in 1993 for a brief stay, the first thing I did was apply for a library card at the Shawnee Branch. Relocated to a new, larger building 20 years earlier, it remained as a comfort zone and, for several weeks, a respite for my displaced soul.
Along with generations before me, my relationship with libraries remains a lifelong love affair, and I continue to visit the branch, which faces a probable closure, according to the Allen County Public Library's January 2022 "Facilities Master Plan."
The plan notes that county population has increased 15% since 2020, and continues to do so, although growth areas are inconsistent. Library branches haven't undertaken significant capital improvements since 2003-2008, and all will be 22 to 25 years old within 10 years, with two approaching 40 years old.
Constructed in 1973 and renovated in 2003, the Shawnee Branch currently is adequate for needs; however, the structure is considered in poor condition –– including water seepage and heating/cooling issues –– and with no site room for future growth or expansion. Along with Pontiac, Waynedale, and Hessen Cassel branches, its population is considered "static."
Rather than simply removing any one of those libraries, the goal is to "invest in a transformative project that will serve generations to come," according to ACPL statements.
During meetings with the Packard Area Planning Alliance (PAPA) and Southwest Area Partnership (SWAP), Susan Baier, executive director of the ACPL, shared information on the Master Plan.
Plans for Shawnee Branch include Option A, which entails closing Shawnee and expanding Waynedale and Hessen Cassel branches, and Option B, which consists of closing Shawnee and Hessen Cassel branches and remodeling Waynedale. The latter also calls for a "superbranch" of 30,000 square feet to be built in the city's southeast quadrant.
According to the Master Plan, and as it now stands, the final plan will be approved in April. Please visit youracpl.org to download a .pdf of the Facilities Master Plan and/or to contribute comments.
A library card offers a window to a special world, a passport to a golden odyssey. It allows, at little or no fee, access to material old and new. It imparts knowledge through magazines, newspapers, periodicals, reference materials, exhibits, informational and instructional videos and an increasing wealth of computer programs. It also affords non-English speakers essential materials, ensuring future readers.
Libraries open eyes and unlock minds. Libraries change lives. They create new worlds and broaden existing horizons. And in a world where publications continue to go by the wayside, libraries continue to offer books, the sole medium that remains a “warm fuzzy,” a personal, hands-on, do-it-yourself road map for our lives.
Most library funding is raised at local and state levels. And competition for dollars is intense. Please invest in our children’s –– our country’s –– future by investing in your local library, its activities and events. Nowhere else will you receive so much for so little. And enrich your life at the same time.
CJ Woodring has been affiliated with the 46807 district since growing up on W. Oakdale Drive. She graduated from South Side High School and reared her sons on Kinnaird Avenue, where she served as a former HSWNA newsletter editor. She has lived in –– and loved — historic places and spaces for more than 30 years. She currently resides in her sixth historic home.