I met Mrs. Bonita Marley, MPL Director and Librarian, on a Saturday morning in June, 1978. I was visiting my college girlfriend, a Mooresville native (who lives there still). She wanted to show me the local library, where she had spent many pleasant childhood hours.
The Library was a fine Carnegie structure. Such libraries were quite distinctive. I was surprised that a town the size of Mooresville had such a sizable library.
We walked up the front stairs through the library entrance. My girlfriend began giving me the grand tour, when an older lady approached us. "Welcome back," she said to my girlfriend, whom she seemed to recognize. "I see you've brought a friend," she added, turning to me. "I'm Bonita Marley," she said. "Welcome to our library. May I help you find anything?"
I explained that I was from out-of-town and that my girlfriend was showing me around. I was a stranger to Mooresville, and I was pleasantly subsumed in the small town charm of the place. "I'm glad you dropped by to see us," Mrs. Marley said, with such genuine warmth and kindness that I was immediately put at ease. "I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have."
Merely reading my recounting of our conversation, 34 years after the fact, you probably won't appreciate just how pleasant, friendly, and inviting Mrs. Marley was that day. She honestly cared that a total stranger was visiting her library, perhaps only once, which was true--I was never inside the MPL Carnegie Library again--and she wanted me to know that it was her pleasure to have me there. You would have had to have heard her voice to know this, but it was no feigned "customer service" spiel. She was accustomed to greeting everybody who entered the library this way. Mrs. Marley was truly glad to see them there.
Bonita Marley, MPL Librarian & Director (1961-1984)
Mrs. Marley became MPL Director in 1961. She began her 23-year tenure at the Library's helm by overseeing an extensive renovation of the facilities. The front entrance, which had two stairways approaching from each side to the front doors, was changed to be a single staircase straight from the doors to the sidewalk (compare the photos below; click images to enlarge). This was more welcoming--an architectural invitation to enter the library--which Mrs. Marley would surely have favored. A new heating and air conditioning system was installed, and the basement kitchen was enlarged. The Library was being modernized to create a public institution attractive to the growing youth population.
MPL Carnegie Library (1916)
(Note Entance Stairs to Sides)
MPL Carnegie Library (ca. 1963)
(Note Single Stairway Entrance)
This youthful appeal was particularly evident in the converting of the basement auditorium into the Pioneer Room, which was a full-time "young people's library" area. MPL was one of the first Hoosier public libraries to designate a particular section devoted to young adults as their special library gathering place. Rachel Montgomery, the current MPL Teen Librarian, carries on this tradition in the Library's Young Adult Zone (YAZ).
Youth services programs greatly expanded under Mrs. Marley's tutelage. Year-round story times were scheduled for various children's age groups (sound familiar, Miss Jaymi? She's the MPL Early Literacy Specialist now, and her preschool groups are legendary). Many other youth and adult programs were established, which included such staples as summer reading, arts & crafts, and movies. There were substantial increases in collection acquisitions, and a steady stream of new patrons was welcomed aboard during the 1960s. By 1969, the Library's collections totalled 14,500 items.
Bonita Marley holds the India (short for Indiana) Likely Scrapbook,
one of the Library's local history treasures (undated photo)
Myrtle Keller, MPL Assistant Director, Bonita Marley, MPL Director,
and Babs Sandefur, Page, showcase summer reading options (1970)
Mrs. Marley was cognizant that adults, too, needed to be enticed to come calling upon the Library. She dramatically increased both fiction and nonfiction holdings in the adult collections. She also felt that MPL should become the bastion of local history for Mooresville and the surrounding communities. The Library had a long history of preserving local historical materials, but Mrs. Marley made this a priority. So, in 1966, she hired the best possible person for the job.
MPL Director Bonita Marley and Assistant Director Wanda Potts (Feb. 1978 photo)
Wanda Potts became MPL Indiana Room Librarian (and an MPL Assistant Director) in 1966. Both Wanda (born in 1921) and Bonita (born in 1906) were Mooresville natives and lifelong residents. (Well, Mrs. Potts now lives in west Indianapolis, but that's a minor detail to this story.) They knew as much local history as any two living persons, and they were directly responsible for the quality and breadth of the Library's Indiana Room collections that we enjoy today. Had it not been for these two librarians, you would not now be reading this blog. Their historical preservation efforts flow through my fingers as I'm typing. As is true for all of the MPL librarians over the past 100 years, our century of public service is encapsulated in Bonita and Wanda. They WERE the flesh-and-bone embodiment of the Library's goals and aspirations. Our Library would not exist as we know it today without their tireless dedication to excellence and service.
Henry Conduitt House (1911). Appearing in the picture, from left to right, are:
Florence (Shephard) Conduitt, age 33; Maude (Gray) Kenworthy, age 15;
Bonita (Conduitt) Marley, age 5; and Henry Conduitt, age 67.
Click here and also here to read more about Wanda Potts. Below are some biographical highlights about Bonita Marley. Click the image below to enlarge.
As I sit in the MPL Indiana Room, wearing Wanda's mantle as MPL's local historian, I am amazed, daunted, and mystified that I, of all people, should have been entrusted with this great responsibility. But I am thrilled by the challenges, and the prospect of serving the Library's patrons brings me to work knowing that another day of sheer fun awaits. I am blessed to have a job that is more play than work. Who would have thought, way back in the Summer of 1978, when I briefly toured the MPL Carnegie Library, that the future would one day reward me so well?
Of this much, I am certain. My girlfriend who took me to the Library said she planned to become a librarian because of her joyous adventures at MPL exploring books galore, but, also, because of Mrs. Marley. She (my girlfriend, then; my wife, now) has been an honored member of the profession for over a quarter century. I would hope that, if Mrs. Marley's spirit were to walk through the front entrance of our Library today, she would be pleased to see that "young fellow" from 1978, a little greyer in the hair and much more stout, working at "her" Library. I hope she would be pleased by the way in which I serve our patrons. I'm sure that she would, once again, welcome me back where I belong.