History of the Library
Compiled by Joan H. Kane
The history of the Grand Ledge Area District Library reflects the grassroots initiative and support of a group of women that had the courage and faith and especially the vision to launch such an enterprise. A number of attempts were made to found a public library in Grand Ledge but none were effective until the Ladies Library Association was incorporated as a permanent organization in 1911.
In September of that year the members of the Tabard Inn Association, which had conducted a small library, together with other ladies of the community met at the home of Mrs. Lennah Whipple. These women inaugurated a movement that was to be far reaching in its affect upon the life and welfare of the area.
At the October 2, 1911 meeting of the Ladies Library Association their first officers were elected. In December, with 60 books from the Tabard Inn Association as a nucleus and augmented by a book party, their library was opened to the public, on Saturday afternoons only, using a room on the second floor of the Alexander block. Furniture was donated by E.E. Turnbull, Alice Wood and Cassius Alexander. An initiation fee of one dollar was asked of each member and readers paid twenty-five cents a quarter for the use of the books.
The project grew in popularity, importance and usefulness and in 1912 the Grand Ledge City Council offered to furnish a room, light and heat if the library moved to the Water Works Building where the present Masonic Temple stands today. Later an adjoining room, which at the time was used as the Council Chamber, was offered for use as a reading room.
The ladies gave numerous entertainments and employed various means to provide funds for the project and in eighteen months the library consisted of 800 volumes. In seven years the books had grown to 2100 and the library was open Tuesday and Saturday afternoons and evenings. As the demand for books grew even greater it became necessary to open every day.
When a prominent banker George N. Berry donated the present site on East Jefferson Street, a great impetus was given to the building of a permanent library. In 1921 the citizens of Grand Ledge petitioned for a ballot proposal to establish a public library and provide the statutory one mill tax support to be collected, in perpetuity, and deposited in the Library Fund according to Public Act No. 164 of 1877, as amended. The voters overwhelmingly passed that ballot proposal.
In 1927 a City Library Board was elected and thereafter the two boards acted in conjunction until the erection of the new building when the Ladies Library Association surrendered its charter to the state. The members of the first Library Board were Ella Coryell, Jessie Latting, Dr. Martha Hixson, Edith Steffner, Lena Niles and Addie Lord.
Twenty years after the inception of the project, in 1931, it was found that library funds sufficient for the erection of a building were available. The library building was formally dedicated on Saturday, November 7, 1931. The classical style of architecture chosen for the structure was popular in the period between the World Wars. The wholly symmetrical design is enhanced with a soft green tile roof, interesting many-pane windows and formal entrance with an elliptical pediment. The brick used in the construction was from the Grand Ledge Face Brick Company, a local concern.
Many have contributed generously to the Grand Ledge Public Library, but a prudent maiden-lady, Emily Shipman, who served for 49 years as assistant postmistress, stands out as a major benefactress. At her death in 1958 her estate gave over $90,000 to the library to construct the modern “new” part of the library, designed by local resident and architect, William J.H. Kane. Her estate also afforded money for major alterations in the basement of the old library, now named the Shipman Room.
In 1986 the Library Board determined that an additional .6 mill was needed to support the library and in 1987 the voters passed this additional millage in perpetuity by the same overwhelming vote ratio as in 1921. The City Library Board consisted of 6 members, elected at large, with exclusive control of all monies credited to the Library Fund.
The evolution from the Grand Ledge Public Library to the Grand Ledge Area District Library began informally in 1998 when Library Board members and the Library Director attended a panel presentation on District Library law at the Michigan Library Association Annual Conference. For many years the city library had been considered fortunate to be a P.A. 164 library with its own elected board and its own voted millage. And it was. However, local and statewide financing trends, demographic changes, the costs associated with providing technology-based services, as well as the new realization that contract areas are not considered part of a library’s legal service area, prompted the participant’s interest in learning more about District Library law.
The Library Board initiated discussions with other governmental entities concerning the future of the library and their willingness to be a participant in the agreement forming a District Library. It’s difficult to imagine any other type of elected board being willing to consider eliminating itself for the long-term future of the organization.
The library board held monthly informational sessions with representatives from the Library of Michigan and other professionals working through the various issues involved in forming a District Library and came to the conclusion that the Library was at a turning point. With the help of the Grand Ledge Public School District, Oneida Township and the City of Grand Ledge, the Grand Ledge Area District Library came into existence July 1, 2000. According to the District Agreement, the District needed to have its own funding by December 31, 2002. In November 2001 a proposal for 1.2 mills for the District Library was successful. A seven member District Library Board was elected.
As a result of the successful formation of the Grand Ledge Area District Library, the Library has accomplished its initial goals of replacing the library roof, public access to Internet resources, upgraded library catalog system that supports access by home computer, a youth/children’s library assistant, enhanced youth/children’s programming, additional hours open, book and other materials collection increases, and an additional service outlet in Wacousta.
The Friends of the Grand Ledge Area District Library was organized primarily through the leadership of Nancy Page in 2001. Their successful monthly book sales have enabled the purchase of shelving for large print books, a rolling cabinet for children’s programming, furniture for the children’s area and programs, reading room furniture, study tables and chairs, a word processing computer and, most notably, a new circulation desk.
The Ladies Library Association would be proud that its “vision” continues to be carried out 97 years after the Library was founded.