Library legacy: Pages of history tell gritty story of Greenwood

Author and illustrator Devon Kondaki performs during an interactive story time on Wednesday at the Greenwood Public Library. Kondaki writes books based on his character Winzlow, an adventure-loving fuzzy gnome. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Author and illustrator Devon Kondaki performs during an interactive story time recently at the Greenwood Public Library. The library is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. FILE PHOTO

By Cheryl Dobbs

I’ve heard it said that grit is the raw endurance, perseverance, and passion that keeps you going despite the obstacles.

In 1917, Greenwood had grit.

The first quarter of the 20th century was the golden age of libraries in the United States and it was fueled by one man: Andrew Carnegie. He built more than 1,600 libraries during that time, and Indiana was fortunate to receive more than any other state, with 165 brand-new public libraries.

It took decades and the work of many individuals to establish a public library in the city of Greenwood. Local citizens including a high school senior, the local school superintendent and the civic league began work in the late 1800s.

Finally, in 1916, they compiled a petition with the required number of names, appointed a library board and the project began to pick up steam. Spirits were high when Greenwood was approved for a Carnegie library, but that project ultimately failed due to a disagreement regarding the building site.

Despite constant setbacks, the board persevered, securing a second floor room on Main Street in which to begin their library. Longtime librarian Hazel Wishard wrote, “Only those who remember the dark narrow stairway and the bleak, barnlike, baseburner-heated room that was never warm in winter and unbearably hot in the summer can appreciate the determination that kept this project going.”

On our opening day we did not have stone steps, or soaring columns, or stained glass windows –- but we had an immovable conviction that literacy changes lives, and a determination to invest in the lives or our community. We opened our doors with 80 registered borrowers and 35 donated books.

Those first two years were difficult. While the first World War raged, a smallpox epidemic closed the schools and library for four months at the end of 1917, and the next fall we were closed for five weeks by influenza.

From the time we moved into the brand new Polk Community building in 1920, to our first building here in 1963 and until the present day, the Greenwood Public Library has benefited from the foundation laid by those early Greenwood residents and we have inherited their fortitude.

In 2012, the community of Greenwood once again affirmed their desire to have a public library. When financial catastrophe hit, they made it clear that they could not imagine a Greenwood without its library.

Today, this library buzzes with activity nearly all the time. We hosted 43,000 people at our programs last year. Nearly 80 people per hour on average come through our doors. Our book and e-book circulation are both increasing. Anyone who believes that libraries are relics from the past generally reconsiders when they come through our doors.

I hope that you will be able to join us on Feb. 6 for a celebration of our first 100 years and to kick off our next century of service.

It’s not just a birthday party for a library but a chance to applaud our city’s perseverance and determination.

Because it turns out Greenwood still has plenty of grit. We’ll have random celebrations throughout the day and our official party at 6:30 p.m. We hope to see you here!

Cheryl Dobbs is the director of the Greenwood Public Library. Send comments to [email protected]