Roachdale rallies to protect historic Carnegie library
When the Governor Mitch Daniels announced the formation of a committee to examine reforming and restructuring local governments across Indiana in July, Roachdale citizens got nervous.
They weren't nervous about cuts that would affect their Town Council or Marshall, they were worried about their public library.
Charley Riggle, 52, talks about the Roachdale Public Library the way some people speak about a local church or the mill in a steel town.
"That place is the backbone of this town," he said. "The community would be lost without the library."
Riggle is a life-long Roachdale resident and owns Roachdale Hardware, that rests in the shadow of the 94-year-old stone library. Like many residents of the small town, he was eager to talk about the building and it's significance. Two generations of his family grew-up reading books from its shelves.
"It's our life's blood and we are proud of it," said Riggle. "It would break a lot of hearts if it went away."
Among a major concern for local citizens is not just sentimental attachment that many hold to their childhood library, but the distance they would have to travel if their library were consolidated with other Putnam County localities.
"If there library were to close, the closest library would be in Crawfordsville or Greencastle," said Riggle. "That's a 40 mile drive round trip. Elderly people can't go that far. Parents wont' run their kids there."
As news of the commission's mission spread, community members launched a preemptive strike to protect their library.
"When I heard the library may be done away with I was concerned that if we didn't get some grassroots opposition, it may be too late," said John Wilson, who spent 40 years teaching school in the North Putnam school district.
Wilson, who calls the library Roachdale's cultural center, quickly drafted a petition and distributed it throughout local businesses. In less than a week, local shop-owners collected 822 names. With a total population of 975, nearly 85 percent of the town's citizens were willing to put a pen to paper in support of their local library.
Students at Roachdale Elementary School matched Wilson's efforts, said Principal Helen Blubaum.
"When they heard rumors that the library may close, they were outraged," she said. "They wrote letters to the Governor and laid out their case. They asked what the Carnegie family would think."
Beyond the beloved status it enjoys in the community, the Roachdale Public Library is a part of American history that is slowly disappearing. It is a among the dwindling ranks of Carnegie Libraries.
Between 1886 and 1919, Andrew Carnegie gave more than $40 million to build 1,679 public libraries throughout the U.S. Though no organizations currently keep tabs on the fate of Carnegie Libraries, a survey conducted by George Bobinski, dean of the School of Information and Library Studies at the State university of New York at Buffalo, found that only 909 of the grant funded libraries were still in use as libraries as of 1990. That number continues to drop as buildings age or communities outgrow the facilities.
Erected in 1913, the Roachdale Public Library is one of 165 Carnegie Libraries built in Indiana, which received more Carnegie grants than any other state in the U.S., followed closely by California who built 142.
Though the Carnegie Foundation provides no support to these libraries, and at least one library board member says the distinction doesn't carry much weight these days.
However, in Roachdale, residents tout the Carnegie name with pride. Most conversations with outsiders about the library include the inevitable question from a Roachdale citizen: "Did you know that it's a Carnegie Library?"
The Commission on Local Government Reforms announced it plans to review local government systems in an effort to reduce the heavy property tax burden on Hoosier taxpayers.
According to their web site, the commission will examine four areas of possible improvement to a local government system not updated since before the Civil War. The improvement plan includes, "What local units of governments (including schools and libraries) might be successfully consolidated to reduce overhead and administrative expenses."
Libraries, along with cities and towns, townships and counties were all flagged for examination, improvement or consolidation. According to the commission's web site, tax dollars flagged for libraries in Indiana increased from roughly $58 million in 1984 to $246 million in 2005.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the Roachdale Library's annual expenditures are reported to be $43,377. That budget is entirely made up of local property taxes and private donations, says Library Director Debbie Keefer. And though the library receives no state funding at all, she was quick to point out that the state still controlled the budget through the State Board of Accounts.
A Fate In Doubt
It is the Roachdale community that seems most concerned about the fate of the historic library. According to Library Board Member Joann Miller, the Governor's Commission on local government Reform is barely a blip on the board's radar.
"It has come up once or twice," she said, expressing doubt that the library's future is in real jeopardy. "It is used a lot. The way we have been pushing literacy programs, I can't imagine anybody would want to do that."
Representatives in the Governor's office declined to comment about the fate of any public library in Indiana until the commission issues it's recommendation in late December. Those recommendations are set to hit the legislative floor in early 2008.
Though Roachdale citizens rallied to defend the library that may or may not be a target for consolidation, the library's board, it's director, and a grassroots organizer are now just playing a game of wait and see.
"I think it is going to depend on which way the wind blows in the legislature," said Wilson, who believes he has done all he can.