Griffith's Post Office Deposit Station, 1915
Griffith's Post Office Library Deposit Station, 1915

History of the Griffith Branch (1914 - 2013)

The Post Office

In 1914 Griffith contracted with the Gary Public Library, paying $800 a year, to provide library service. Gary Public Library promised 500 new books and 20 magazines each year. In 1915, Griffith progressed from two deposit stations, one at the school and one in the Post Office, to one combined deposit station in the Post Office with Mrs. Clara Beesin as attendant. A storefront library was opened in 1917 as a branch of the Gary Public Library with Mrs. Mary Blodget, a teacher, appointed as librarian. She remained until 1944.

The Sam B. Woods Building

Sam B. Woods Library Building, 1968
Sam B. Woods Library Building, 1968

In 1933, prohibition had just been repealed. Sam B. Woods, of Griffith, fearing the Griffith State Bank (closed in the Depression) would be turned into a saloon, bought the building on Main and Broad. He then donated it for use as a library – the Sam B. Woods Library – which served as Griffith’s library for 34 years.

Much happened during those years. In 1952, the Lake County Library District was formed to administer library services to areas outside the city of Gary. The boards of both library organizations met together more or less amicably until 1959 when disagreements over how tax dollars were spent for the differing populations caused a split and the Lake County Public Library (LCPL) became an entirely separate library system. Griffith Library was a part of this new system from the beginning.

Griffith Branch at 940 N Broad Street
Griffith Branch at 940 N Broad Street

Griffith Branch of LCPL

LCPL, starting out with only five buildings, a couple of converted house trailers, and a bookmobile, immediately began planning for the expanding population in Lake County. An ambitious building program for seven new buildings, including a new library for Griffith which opened June 19, 1967 at a cost of $171,013, quickly took shape.

At the same time, the small collection of 60,000 books needed to expand dramatically to serve the 161,000 people then living in the library district. To house the growing collection at Griffith, remodeling and expansion construction began in 1994, adding 2000 square feet, including a new meeting room and added space for fiction and Reference, upgrading the restrooms to Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and enlarging the front desk. The ribbon-cutting and open house for the newly expanded Griffith Library was held on May 6, 1995.

Evolving Technology and Classes at Griffith Branch

Kids explore album choices at Griffith Branch in the 70s
Kids explore album choices at Griffith Branch in the 70s

Sam B. Woods provided Griffith with its first full-fledged library, but he was not the only Griffith resident to support library service in the town, nor the first. The original deposit stations were placed because Griffith residents asked for them, and petitioned Gary Public for its storefront library. In 1957 the Griffith Women’s Club adopted the library and, after two years of fund-raising, donated money for new tables, chairs and drapes for the Sam B. Woods Library. In 1967 they donated an additional $1,000 to help buy furnishings for the new building. In 1967 the VFW donated a flag and flagstaff. On March 2, 1968, the Friends of the Griffith Library was organized, providing funds and volunteers to support the library. Later, the Friends of the Lake County Public Library would offer membership to any Lake County Public Library user.

The public library evolved with technology. In 1968, the first photocopier was installed – it used rolls of thermal paper and gave barely legible copies that faded after a few years. To help communications between the far-flung libraries in the county, a teletype was installed in 1972, allowing ‘instantaneous’ communication which involved frantic typing and hitting the ‘bell’ button repeatedly so the other libraries knew they needed to check the paper rolling out of their machine to see if the message pertained to them (since all messages went to all the teletypes in the system). At the time, computers were expensive, room-sized hulks and the Internet was 20 years away. LCPL was the first library in the state to make use of this communication device.

A card catalog may have existed in the John B. Woods Library but, in 1962 all the catalogs for all the LCPL branches were combined and published in book format. The books were color-coded with brown for titles, orange for authors, and green for subjects. These, combined with the teletype, allowed staff to know that a book was housed in another branch and ask that the book be sent to a branch closer to the borrower. The dinging bell on the teletype notified the lending branch that a book should be dispatched elsewhere. Daily, a dispatch driver delivered materials from branch to branch.

For a brief time after the printed catalogs, LCPL used a microfiche format – dozens of little sheets of plastic that had to be placed, one at a time, on the glass of the microfiche reader to enlarge the micro-print to readable size. But neither of these innovations reflected current availability. These catalogs could only list the items located at a branch but could not indicate whether or not a particular item was currently checked in and available.

Computers at Griffith Branch, 1999
Computers at Griffith Branch, 1999

Computerized catalogs added this feature, indicating whether an item desired by a patron is on the shelf, checked out, or has a list of other patrons waiting for it. Patrons may place reserves and staff, checking the requests several times a day, ensure that available items are sent to the patron's preferred branch within a day or two. Computerization also allowed the library to purchase databases of magazine articles, car repair manuals, national phone books and more, making an extensive amount of information available to library users. Griffith Library installed its first computer for public use in 1990. Only word processing was available – the Internet hadn’t been invented yet. Today, the library provides access to eBooks and audiobooks, downloadable magazines and music. Patrons are able to access most of the online resources from home computers and mobile devices such as laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

In addition to resources, the library offers programming for all ages. Story hours for kids are a staple of public library service while other programming develops from community needs and interests. Book discussion groups for adults were added as well as Summer Reading Programs to encourage school-aged kids to read during summer break. Classes on basic computing, using the Internet, and purchasing eBook readers are of interest to many patrons. Craft classes, building with LEGOs, Scrabble nights and other informative and entertaining presentations round out the offerings. In the summer of 2010, the Griffith Branch rented a Curious George costume for a special “celebrity” appearance during Summer Reading. The following year, Olivia the Pig visited. Children were thrilled to meet two of their favorite book characters.

Merging with 41st Ave into Griffith-Calumet Township Branch

The New Griffith-Calumet Twp Branch
The New Griffith-Calumet Township Branch

Meanwhile, Lake County Public Library administration and board were assessing the current and future needs of the Calumet Township communities, along with the condition and adequacy of the buildings. After careful evaluation, the Library Board of Trustees made the decision to combine the Griffith and Forty-First Avenue facilities and build a new and larger branch at the corner of 45th Avenue and Colfax Street. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on May 10, 2012 and staff at both branches began planning to combine their collections for a new Grifith-Calumet Township Branch.

The Forty-First Avenue Branch closed on December 31, 2012 and the collection was moved to the new building in January 2013. Staff at the Griffith Branch began working on the collection and gradually sending books to the new building. The Griffith Branch at 940 N. Broad Street closed on March 23, 2013. DVDs, new books, picture books, and office supplies were packed, delivered, and shelved in just 3 days and the new Griffith-Calumet Township Branch was ready to open on Thursday, March 28, 2013.

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