History of the Highland Branch

The Highland Library occupied several rental properties in Highland before the Highland Lionís Club built the Highland Memorial Library at the corner of Highway and 4th Avenue in 1946. The recorded rental locations included property on Highway Avenue directly across the alley from the current building on Jewett Avenue; a small building in back of the west portion of the Ken Ridge Drug Store at the corner of Highway and Kennedy Avenues and in the Highland News Office. During these early years of the Highland Libraryís formation, the town of Highland had a financial agreement with the township trustee that provided library services through the Gary Public Library.

Highland Memorial Library
The Highland Memorial Library at 2847 Highway Ave

Highland Branch's First Permanent Space (1945 - 1966)

In 1945, the Highland Lionís Club sponsored a drive for a new library building as a memorial to the servicemen and women of World War II. Mr. Robert Lowery, III, president of the Highland Lionís Club was instrumental in keeping the drive going and coordinating the efforts of the various groups involved in the undertaking. Mr. Lowery and the Library Memorial Committee composed of Roscoe Moorman, Julius Szur, Thomas Mathieson, Frederick Tyrell, Nick Schoon, Peter Schoon and H. A. Gettinger worked with the Lake County Library Board in negotiating the purchase of the property at the corner of 4th and Highway Avenue.

Until a building could be built, the committee placed a trailer on the property to serve as a temporary library for the community. Many Highland organizations, businesses, churches and individuals contributed funds, materials and labor for the new library.

Ruth Berg and Harol Canner in front of the Highland Memorial Library
Ruth Berg, Harold Canner (Center) at the Highland Memorial Library Dedication

When the Highland Memorial Library was dedicated on May 30, 1946, Highlandís population was 2,723 and the library owned 2,500 books with another 1,350 books borrowed from the Gary Public Library. The dedication program included the singing of the National Anthem; a dedication address by Judge Ora L. Wildermuth; a prayer of dedication by Rev. Frederick Tyrell; the presentation of the key to the library by Robert Lowery, III to Mrs. M. Phillips and Mrs. Ben Sporman, two war mothers and the grand opening of the library for the public.

The Highland Memorial Library offered a large reading room on the main floor with shelf space for 5,000 books. In the basement, provision was made for a community meeting room capable of seating 100 people that had its own entrance. While Highlandís collection was small, the residents of Highland were able to order materials from the Gary Public Library which boasted a collection of 225,000 items. Circulation at the new library doubled in the first month of its opening.

Expanding into a New Space (1966 - Present Day)

In June of 1959 after many attempts to negotiate a contract for services from the Gary Public Library, the Lake County Library Board passed a resolution to discontinue their contract with the Gary Public Library. George Droste, Lake County Library Consultant was faced with the huge task of organizing the Lake County Public Library district which was composed of 11 libraries in 6 townships into one system-wide library. Many of the existing Highland Library staff was maintained to operate the Highland Memorial Library.

In 1963, when the population of Highland grew to 21,000 people, the Highland Memorial Library housed 10,000 books and the library had a monthly circulation of 6,000+. As circulation continued to grow and shelving space decreased at the Highland Memorial Library, the Lake County Public Library Board resolved to recommend a .03 cent tax hike to build a modern library in Highland that would be three times the size of the Memorial Library.

In an effort to keep the library in the downtown Highland area, the Lake County Public Library Board originally considered property at the northeast corner of Kennedy and Jewett. Unfortunately, many residents felt this property was undesirable largely due to its proximity to the railroad track, believing that the railroad tracks would produce noise as well as draw unsavory characters too close to the library. After many petitions from the community to not purchase this property, the Lake County Public Library Board decided to purchase property at the corner of 4th and Jewett Street from The First Christian Reformed Church of Highland for the new Highland Library.

Highland Branch, 1973
Highland Branch, 1973

The library board awarded an $112,000 contract to Reuth and Sons of Hammond for construction of the new 10,000 square foot Highland Library with total costs for the new building projected to be about $167, 816. The new library, which would be four times the size of the Memorial Library, would house 37,000 items and provide reading areas for children, young adults and adults as well as a community meeting room for the public.

Highland High School Key Club members and Boy Scouts pitched in to help move the collection one block from the Memorial Library to the new library. A Dedication Ceremony and Open House for the new building was held on October 15th, 1966 with an outdoor concert by the Highland High School Band, a welcoming address by Town Board President, Paul Doherty and remarks by Bartel Zandstra, Lake County Auditor and Robert Lowery III, the man responsible for the first drive for the Highland Memorial Library. In addition many members of the Highland Town Board, the Lake County Public Library Board and the Highland Library Staff were recognized in the dedication ceremony. Following the program, refreshments were served by the Womenís Club, the Junior Womenís Club, the League of Women Voters, the Motherís Club and the Home Demonstration Club. The New Highland Branch Library was the fourth new library building to be opened by the Lake County Public Library as part of their 1.5 million dollar expansion project.

At some point in the early 70ís, the Lake County Public Library temporarily used the Highland Branch as their central location for reference and book processing. Throughout the 60ís and 70ís, the Lake County Public Library used a teletype network to place material requests from within our system for our local patrons. A truck delivered holds, new materials and interoffice mail daily to each location. This system allowed us to meet patronís needs for material within a week of their request. As the library moved circulation and book processing tasks to the Ulyssis Library Computer System in the 80ís, patrons and staff used a microfiche catalog to locate materials and requests were made by computer for materials available within our system. With our daily delivery by truck we were improving our response time for requests by several days. As we move into 2009, the Lake County Public Library has a fully automated system that allows us to register patrons, checkout and check in materials, locate materials, place holds and access the catalog and our databases via an Internet connection.

Hugely Successful Children's Program at Highland Branch
Very successful children's program at Highland Branch

Since the 1970ís, the Highland Library has made every effort to provide informational and recreational programs for the community. Over the years, we have offered craft programs; medical information; financial information; legal information; tax assistance; senior programs; adult book discussions; film programs; basic computer training classes; gardening programs; teen programs; gaming programs; summer reading programs for children, teens and adults; preschool story hour, toddler time; Mother Goose on the Loose and school age programs. We have worked hard to maintain ties with our community and have worked closely with the Highland public and private schools; the former Sand Ridge Bank, now First Financial Bank; the Highland Park Department; the Highland Chamber of Commerce; the Highland Redevelopment Committee and the Highland Police Department.

As of 2009 and the celebration of the Lake County Public Libraryís 60th Anniversary, the Highland Branch served a population of 23,000 residents as well as the residents of many neighboring communities. The Highland Branch boasted a collection of 88,000 items and a staff of 5 clerks, 2 Para-professionals and a Librarian who perform most of their work using computers. Free Internet Access has become as important a service to our community as the types of materials that we provide free with a library card.

With the branch doing so well in 2009, it was time for an upgrade. As part of our Library Board and Administration's plans for system wide renovations our building was closed in March of 2009, gutted and totally redesigned.

Highland Branch Pre-Renovation
Highland Branch Pre-Renovation

While the square footage of our building has not changed, our totally redesigned space boasts a new circulation desk, a separate childrenís program room, additional lighting, new furniture, carpeting and additional computers. The Lake County Public Library administration and Board dedicated the newly remodeled branch on September 12, 2009 during an Open House and ribbon cutting ceremony.

Since our renovations in 2009, library usage has increased and over 265,000 items were checked out to our patrons in 2012. Many of our library resources are available electronically so that our patrons can access them from wherever they are and whenever they want via their phones or computers. Lake County Public Library is now circulating downloadable e-books via Overdrive; downloadable music via Freegal and our patrons have full access to many reference sources electronically with their library card and pin number. In 2011 with the closure of the two southern branches of the neighboring Hammond Public Library, we saw an increase in usage of our branch by Hammond patrons.

2013 saw the retiring of two well liked and respected members of the Highland staff. Kathy Deal retired as Branch Manager with 35 years of service in the LCPL system with 12 of those years as manager. Karen Slager retired as the childrenís librarian with 21 years at this branch.

Highland Branch Post-Renovation
Highland Branch Post-Renovation

In 2012, Highland teen library users found an advocate in Librarian Susan Gempka, who began reworking our young adult programs and offerings. 2013 saw a huge effort on her part to increase the number of classes and events as well as getting and holding the interest of the teens. These programs have included gaming events, computer scavenger hunts, book discussions, a time capsule project, break it to make it programs with old computer parts, and improv based on books they read. They also have their monthly TAB (Teen Advisory Board) meetings to plan activities not only for themselves but also for the younger children in the community. They also conducted service projects such as the Christmas cards for service men and women. They were all really excited about getting their very own blog up and running this year, the "Highland Library Teen Book Cafe". Susan has since moved on to manage another LCPL branch, but her legacy of teen programs is still going strong at Highland.

During 2013, Highland was also 4th in the entire LCPL system with 11.24% of the total system circulation which is very good considering the size of the collection and the building. This library continues to be an important part of the community and it is well supported by its residents. This branch continues to be used a great deal by Hammond residents, especially those in the Hessville area of the city.

We continue to reach out to the community by hosting the HPD Crime Watch meetings, gardening programs, computer classes for adults, and in 2013, fact based workshops on the Affordable Care Act. Highland Branch will continue to meet the needs and wants of the flourishing Highland community well into the future!

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