TERRE HAUTE — Only the Batmobile could’ve topped the Bookmobile.
Unfortunately, the Batmobile never drove up at Prairieton School. But the Bookmobile did, every month. For a small-town kid, stepping into that library on wheels felt like a Lewis and Clark expedition. I discovered tales of my sports heroes’ lives. I remember reading a thin young people’s paperback about a rising tennis star named Arthur Ashe. I learned how he mastered the game as a kid, despite racist laws barring blacks from playing on whites-only courts in his Virginia hometown.
The world, its grandeur and its injustice, opened up to me.
Small-town libraries in Indiana should not close. Yes, they cost money — hard-earned tax money. But they’re worth those pennies spent per $100 of assessed property valuation. Inside libraries, minds open and lives change. The books, newspapers, magazines, historical archives, genealogy materials, even auto parts manuals can enlighten any visitor, rich or poor.
America needs more education to compete in the global economy, just as President Obama stated last week. A public library represents the foundation of that learning, for people of all ages.
It’s no wonder that folks in small Indiana communities feel anxious about statewide changes regarding libraries.
This month’s announcement that Vigo County Public Library would close three of its five facilities caught attention around Indiana. Property tax caps instituted last year reduced the library’s funding, and forced the closures. While all library systems are re-evaluating services and costs, Vigo County’s reduction has been the deepest.
“It surprised me, because it was so drastic,” said Nancy Mattson, director of the Montezuma Public Library.
The new limits on property taxes aren’t the only complexity for small libraries, such as the one in Montezuma, a Parke County town of 1,100 people along the Wabash River. The Legislature is considering a law that would force all 92 counties to soul-search about the library services they’re getting — or not getting — and devise a plan to give every resident access to a library. By Feb. 1, 2010, a planning committee in every county must choose one of four ways to offer library service to all its areas. Those are:
n A consolidated countywide district;
n A consolidated system of two or more counties;
n Two or more independently governed library systems within one county; or
n Any other service model the committee considers best to meet statewide requirements.
The proposed law, Senate Bill 348, is a compromise between opposing forces. The folks at MySmartGov.org want the Kernan-Shepard Local Government Reform concept of one library system per county. (Right now, Indiana has 239 library districts, and 92 counties. Also, MySmartGov.org stats show Hoosier libraries employ twice as many staffers and spend 47 percent more per resident for operations than the national average.) Library advocates want local districts to stay independent, if their residents choose. Amendments to the bill allow that choice.
Both sides share at least one goal — bringing public library service to 400,000 Hoosiers in 38 counties who don’t have it now.
The reformists insist they’re not trying to close small libraries. “That’s not the intent of the legislation,” said Marilyn Schultz, executive director of MySmartGov.org. Instead, the group’s goal is to eliminate inefficiencies, added Schultz, a former budget director for Gov. Joe Kernan and a former administrator at Indiana State University.
Still, when asked if the one-library-district-per-county format would force library closings, Schultz said, “I think every community is going to have to look at where you have branches.”
Parke County and Vermillion County each have two library districts. Officials at the libraries hope to keep their independent systems. If the law passes, and the new county planning committees opt to consolidate the systems, some librarians fear the small branches will be shuttered to save money.
“It would close down our branch libraries,” said Brigit Steinbrenner, librarian for the Vermillion County Public Library. “And the north part of the county wouldn’t be served.”
Vermillion County’s two districts cover the entire county. The Vermillion County Public Library includes its main branch in Newport, and satellite branches at Dana and Cayuga. The Clinton Public Library covers the southern towns of Clinton and Fairview Park.
Property taxes within the base township support a Clinton facility with 5,000 library cardholders. With that card, there is no charge to borrow a book. Non-residents can buy a Clinton Public Library card for $36 a year, and about 100 people do so. Under a reciprocal agreement, Clinton cardholders can borrow books at no charge at the Vermillion County Public Library sites, too. There is no fee to browse, read or use computers inside the libraries.
The Clinton library is planning its centennial celebration in 2011. It opened in 1911 as one of 1,688 public libraries built with funds from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Five full-time and eight part-time employees work there. Director Karen Walker senses some uncertainty, from the proposed state mandates, about the start of the library’s second century.
“We really don’t know yet,” she said. “We’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
The first shoe began dropping last week for the Vermillion County Public Library. Steinbrenner said some staff salaries were reduced, as were library hours. The board did, though, hire a new director, Pam Hazelwood, and a patron at Wednesday’s meeting expressed a desire to start a Friends of the Library support group.
“So there were some positives that came about,” Steinbrenner said.
Now, they’ll wait to see what the Legislature does with Senate Bill 348. It passed the Senate 36-13 Tuesday, and now moves to the Indiana House. If it becomes law, and counties like Vermillion wind up with a single library outlet, Steinbrenner thinks some residents won’t make the longer trip.
“People aren’t going to drive to Clinton to go to a library,” she said. Perrysville, in northern Vermillion County, is 31 miles from Clinton.
Careful with money
Parke is one of 38 counties without full library coverage. Property taxpayers in two townships and part of a third township fund the separate Rockville and Montezuma public libraries. Anyone living outside those townships can buy a library card at Rockville for $63 annually, and at Montezuma for $35.
Montezuma taxpayers pay just 7.29 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation toward that library. In Rockville, it’s 10.87 cents. “When the state talks about consolidating libraries to save money, I don’t quite agree with that,” said Nancy Mattson, director at Montezuma. “Libraries provide a lot of service for the money.”
They spend their funds frugally. When Rockville renovated and doubled the size of its library in 1990, the board paid for the new addition in cash. Last year, when a new roof and carpet were needed, they paid in cash.
Cindy Hein has been director at Rockville for 25 years. She and Mattson would love to see service extended to all Parke Countians. A few years ago, though, when a petition circulated to expand the Montezuma and Rockville libraries’ coverage to all areas, opponents in unserved townships “immediately got a remonstrance against it. They don’t want to pay a tax,” Hein said.
Greg Harbison, a Parke County commissioner who met with the library directors last week, likes the idea of small government and allowing people to choose whether they want library service. Harbison also has heard residents ask why they don’t have library access in their townships. So the two library’s directors have been asked to present ideas to the commissioners and county council in May.
Hein and Mattson would like the two libraries to expand their coverage areas, with each taking half of Parke County, by choice, rather than state mandate.
“It would be great to have coverage for everyone,” Hein said.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE — Only the Batmobile could’ve topped the Bookmobile.
- Mark Bennett Opinion
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
MARK BENNETT: Letter from coach’s young daughter put pro sports, Christmas in perspective
Most of us sympathize with people forced to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That list is growing, now that Black Friday has morphed into Black Thursday, causing retail employees to join doctors, nurses, hospital staffers, police, firefighters, emergency responders, military members, convenience store clerks, road crews and media to spend holidays at work. Ideally, we’ll feel gratitude when we require their services on those special days. Too often, their sacrificed time gets taken for granted.
Terry Leonard wanted the executives to remember her dad, and their family, at Christmastime.
And, amazingly, they listened.
MARK BENNETT: A degree of success
Determination to get that diploma Larry Bird’s deepest bond with fellow ISU alums, students
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The idea has been out there for awhile, floating.
Locals in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s would say, “They need to put up a statue of Larry Bird. I mean, one of the all-time greatest basketball players played right here in Terre Haute at Indiana State University.”
MARK BENNETT: Next chapter set to begin
Use the classic Tommy Tutone song to memorize the following number …
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Minutes before kickoff tonight, the Lucas Oil Stadium tech crew should play Sam Cooke’s classic, “(What a) Wonderful World” over the sound system.
MARK BENNETT: At Peace in Parke County
Northwestern Parke County — The stream merely trickles beneath Mill Creek Bridge. It’s just a few inches deep, but the water keeps moving.
MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute native Tommy John belongs in Cooperstown for pitching like a Hall of Famer
Few players in history left a greater impact on baseball than Tommy John.
And he did so through his performance on the field.
MARK BENNETT: Remotely confused
“Must See TV,” where have you gone?
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The members of Congress ardently resisting the Affordable Care Act emphasize its unpopularity.
MARK BENNETT: ‘The voice of the Democratic Party’
The ad stands as a campaign classic. Its scenario is part of history. Its narrator would be familiar to millions of Americans, yet anonymous, too.
MARK BENNETT: Transparency in public decision-making includes sincerely listening to the people
Transparency isn’t universally accepted in public entities.
MARK BENNETT: This Little Light: Remote chapel keeps a light shining on story of Flight 93
Father Al explained the meaning of the lamp. He asked me to light it.
The reverence in his voice offset the raspiness, left by his latest battle with cancer. Clearly, he saw this place as special.
MARK BENNETT: Reflections on the Wabash
The series “500 Miles of Wabash” wrapped up last Sunday after a five-week run. Readers offered some enlightening insights, memories and photographs as the series unfolded.
MARK BENNETT: Current Information: Put your Wabash knowledge to the test … or quiz
Just for fun, ponder a few questions concerning the large waterway flowing through Indiana and Terre Haute, as the Tribune-Star’s series, “500 Miles of Wabash” concludes in today’s editions. Those who’ve followed the five-part series of stories, photographs and videos about people and communities uniquely embracing the Wabash River may have a head start. If you’re just catching up, check them out in the online editions at www.tribstar.com.
- Answers to the Wabash River Quiz
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The future tends to sneak up on you. Planning for it offers no guarantees, but it helps.
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The discovery of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — weakens trust. The acceptance of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — erases trust. Indiana needs to draw a clear line between the former and the latter, and not cross it.
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Something was missing. I’d never visited this spot before, but the view looked familiar. I’ve walked the banks of the Wabash River and its tributaries countless times, catching crawdads and skipping rocks in Honey Creek as a kid. On the other side of the state, where the Wabash crosses from Ohio into Indiana, trees arched over the water as it ran under a bridge on a quiet country road. It looked like western Indiana, except for one absent element. Litter.
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I fielded an hilariously disturbing question recently. A friend asked if the word “Hautean” is meant to be a derogatory label.
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ISTEP is important, but it should not be predominant.
MARK BENNETT: Commencement Advice
Today’s high school commencement speakers should repeat their speeches in hospital delivery rooms in the months ahead.
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A story of survival, perseverance, danger, and extraordinary courage and generosity extended in the midst of war remained untold for decades, but thankfully not forever.
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At 96 feet wide and 2 stories tall, the power, impact and value of the Wabash will be evident.
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Most moms don’t base their advice on scientific research.
(Unless, of course, your mother is a scientific researcher. If so, carry a No. 2 pencil and take good notes.)
MARK BENNETT: Should I stay or should I go?
Some have their Bill Clinton-era Cavalier packed (with the trunk bungee-ed shut), apartment cleaned (except for the fridge), and iPhone GPS locked onto the fastest route out of Terre Haute. Others are staying — until they find a better job, or because they’re starting a career here, or because this town feels like home. In each case, a new stage of life begins today.
College Class of '13 gets a little extra advice
Local college grads will hear commencement speakers offer life and career advice this month. We’re offering them an extra dose here from folks who’ve found success in various vocations and regions of the nation. Many have Terre Haute roots.
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The power within the Wabash revealed itself last week.
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Though they aren’t acknowledged by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are basically two demographic groups of people … Those who would dump their old toilet on the banks of the Wabash River or a rural roadside. And those who wouldn’t.
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People who diligently work to make others shine are a rare breed.
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