While other branches may have frequently changed locations over the years, the Merrillville Branch has been more prone to name-changing. Originally called the Reference Library, it absorbed the smaller Merrillville and Independence Hill branches and became Central. Later, in 2013, its name changed again to the Merrillville Branch. Whatever it's been called and wherever it's location, the Merrillville Branch has always been home to library administration as well as all of the items, programs, and events of any other branch.
In June of 1952 the Lake County Public Library system was established, though it contracted services through the Gary Public Library until 1959. Ross Township, Calumet Township and St. John were served by a bookmobile that was used on a bi-weekly or tri-weekly basis. Library headquarters were set up in an additional rented building located at 75 E. 73rd Avenue in Merrillville (known as the Merrillville Branch). There were 24 employees and George Droste served as director until July, 1961.
In 1964 a $1.5 million bond issue was sold to finance library construction for branch locations of the system. The final building, which opened on January 11, 1970, was the Reference Library-Administration Center located at U.S. Route 30 in Merrillville, close to the geographic center of the library district. This 30,000 square foot building was designed to hold 50,000 volumes and was tailor made for studying. Soft music was played constantly throughout the library. In 1974 it also replaced the Independence Hill Branch, located one-half mile away.
On January 2, 1975 the Reference Library became the information, reference, inter-library loan and referral center for the seven-county area in Northwest Indiana.
In February of 1978 the Board approved a $6,650,000 budget for expansion of the Central Library. The Architects were Perking & Will of Chicago and George N. Hall of Griffith. The Groundbreaking was held on July 11, 1979 and the building was completed on March 2, 1981. The new addition added 67,000 square feet, making it a total of 97,000 square feet. The outside was made of metal sheeting, primarily white with accents of red, blue, and yellow. The library soon received a nickname of the “porcelain palace” by fans of the new structure and “white castle” by critics. Just 30 days after completion, high winds ripped more than $40,000 worth of paneling from the east side of the building. Fifty feet of the wall had to be repaired and the library was finally able to host a dedication on September 20, 1981.
In 1982, the Friends commissioned their largest single gift: a seven-foot sculpture called “The Reader” for the Central Library and was dedicated on March 25, 1984. Designed by Hermann Gurfinkel, this sculpture depicts a woman in a semi-reclined position with a book on her lap and another book close at hand. The sculpture is made of pure white cement, acrylic strengthener, steel reinforcement that was donated by Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and marble powder. The sculpture continues to be important to the library and now faces the west parking lot above the main entrance.
In 1985, the Merrillville Branch at 70 E. 68th Place closed its doors, the staff and collection moving to Central. Over two decades later, the Central Library would change its name to Merrillville Branch.
The Lake County Public Library administration and board assessed the current and future needs of the community, along with the condition of the building. After careful evaluation, the Library Board of Trustees made the decision to renovate the building. The newly remodeled building now offers many wonderful features that will help the Lake County Public Library System continue to provide excellent library services to this community.