History of Clark County Libraries

History of Charlestown-Clark County Public Library

1986 marked a milestone in the history of library services in northern Clark County. Although libraries in some form existed quite early, countywide service has been available only since 1977. The completion of three new libraries in Borden, Henryville, and Sellersburg and an addition to the Charlestown Library finalized a building program that provided the New Washington Library in 1984. Now county residents may enjoy permanent, convenient library facilities and services.

Several private, community, and subscription libraries preceded the township libraries of Clark County. The Websterian Social Library opened in 1836. Located at the Websterian School five miles from Charlestown, it served residents of Charlestown and Monroe Townships. In the 1850’s, a Workingman’s Institute and Library was established in Charlestown. Its collection was available to members of the organization. The Louisville Cement Company maintained a library at the Speed Community Building. Its collection served company employees and their families. The town of Borden also had a community library.

In 1852 an Indiana state law provided that public libraries could be established and maintained in each county. These first libraries often shared offices and space with township trustees. The township library in Jeffersonville began in the 1890’s in the trustee’s office. In 1900, the Jeffersonville Township Public Library was established. An Andrew Carnegie grant financed the Jeffersonville Carnegie Library, which opened in 1903 at Warder Park. The present location for the Jeffersonville Township Public Library on Court Avenue was completed in 1970. Clarksville is part of Jeffersonville Township and its system. The Greentree Branch was established with an LSCA Grant and the facility on Eastern Boulevard at Triangle Drive was completed in 1993. Through a Reciprocal Borrower’s Agreement, all Clark county residents may use any library in Clark County as well as many other libraries in the state of Indiana.

About 1907, a library began operation in the Charlestown Township Trustee’s office. The library remained there for nearly sixty years. In 1966 the Charlestown Township Library was officially formed under the 1947 Indiana State Library Law. An appointed volunteer seven-member board governed the library. The library board set, as its primary goal, the construction of a permanent library building. In 1970, the Charlestown Library Improvement Fund was established for the new library. A site adjacent to the Jonathan Jennings Elementary School was donated by the Greater Clark County School Board. Construction began in February of 1973, and the new building was dedicated on February 9, 1975.

In 1977, the Charlestown Township Library received a Library Services and Construction Act Grant to purchase a bookmobile and to establish branch libraries in Borden, Henryville, New Washington, and Sellersburg. A recreational vehicle was converted into what was labeled a “mini bookmobile with maxi service.” The bookmobile was to serve all Clark County areas not within immediate range of a library. Various stores and business spaces were rented to house the small branch libraries. Borden’s library was located in an unused section of the Carpet Fixer’s store. Henryville’s services were in the former Ruth’s Yarn Shop. The New Washington Library settled into an old restaurant. Sellersburg’s library set up in a storefront on Helbig Avenue. During the next nine years, each branch relocated at least three times.

1977 marked another library innovation. The Heritage Hills Area Library Services Authority (HHALSA) was formed. The organization provided cooperative library services to Southern Indiana. In 1979, the HHALSA services in Southeastern Indiana were consolidated to become Southeastern Indiana ALSA. Services provided by SIALSA include reference referral, inter-library loan, and continuing education for library employees and trustees. Interlibrary loan functions allows the loan of materials between libraries throughout the United States.

When the Charlestown Township Library’s federal grant expired in 1980, the library board was faced with two options. It could either form a new library district which would encompass all of Clark County (except Jeffersonville Township), or it could abandon the demonstration project. With nearly 4,000 newly registered library users in three years, the board decided to form a new district. Continuation of the branch libraries and bookmobile hinged upon the Clark County Board of Commissioners’ decision to approve a new property tax levy. At their February 1979 meeting, the commissioners refused to approve the levy and the branch libraries were faced with the threat of closure.

The Clark County Contractual Library was formed in May of 1979. A four member volunteer board was appointed to oversee the formation of policies, budgets and operations. Under the contractual agreement, the Clark County Contractual Library contracted with the Charlestown Township Library for services. The branch libraries continued to be operated in such a manner and in rented space. The Clark County Contractual Library Board realized that permanent modern facilities were essential for each branch library. In 1983 the first step was taken toward new facilities. The landlord for the New Washington Library asked that the building be bought or that the library move out. A new permanent library facility was financed from the Library Improvement Reserve Fund and was completed in 1984.

In February of 1985 the Clark County Contractual Library Board decided to seek federal funds and to petition for a bond issue, which would finance the construction of permanent buildings for the Borden, Henryville, and Sellersburg branches as well as a 3,200 square foot addition to the Charlestown Library. The library received notice of a $250,000 federal grant to help finance the project, but the Gramm-Rudman budget balancing law held up the release of these funds. Construction plans were initiated with $1.2 million in bonds.

After surveying locations and negotiating with owners, three sites were chosen. Borden’s Library was built next to Town Hall and below the school. Its facade was planned to match the old bank building housing Town Hall. Henryville Library is the same building as Borden with a floor plan flips, a porch and different exterior. Called the Chicken Coup during construction, it is well suited to its Main Street location between the bank, post office, barbershop, and IGA. Sellersburg has a cement industry heritage, so its materials match that heritage. This 6,500 square foot facility is conveniently located on North Indiana Avenue close to schools and activities.

In the process of establishing new homes for the branches, the Charlestown Township and the Clark County Contractual Library Boards merged to form one administrative unit. The branch libraries have the support of one administration and professional staff for budgets, programs, reference, collection development, representation to local, state and national professional associations, planning, and consultation. Each branch library is its own community library making access to reading and the information network readily available.

To further serve daycare and shut-in populations, the library updated its bookmobile in 1991. With a full range of adult and juvenile materials, large print books, videos and audios, the bookmobile supplements the branch library system with community stops. However, its main focus is to daycare and shut-in populations. With an LSCA grant the bookmobile has special collections for these populations. These include professional reading for childcare providers, puppets, and theme boxes for daycare program development, flannel boards and story kits. These are also used with nursing homes. Utica Township subdivisions are being served by the bookmobile.

All branches are connected through a wide area network. An on-line catalog and integrated circulation system allows connection from inside and outside the network. Cardholders can place holds and manage their accounts from home or anywhere internet connection in the world. The library continues to provide a wide variety of print and non-print materials as well as electronic resources within each building. Local history digitization projects will bring unique images.