Tuesday, March 13, 2012

MPL Through the Roaring Twenties & Great Depression

During 1917, Mooresville Public Library began expanding its public services by allowing its basement assembly hall to be used for community and organizational meetings and banquets.  There were rules, of course, for how the area was to be utilized.  These had been adopted the year before, when the "Carnegie" Library building first opened.

Library Rules Governing Assembly Hall Use (1916)

Although the rules had been adopted in 1916, most of that year had been spent consolidating the Library's collections, acquiring new materials, circulating items, and concentrating upon library card issuance and patron registration.  The Library registered 684 new patrons in 1916.  This patron list was too large to scan on our flatbed digital scanner, so we took digital photographs instead.  Click each image to enlarge.  If they're still too small to read, right-click each image and then select "open link in new tab" or "open link in new window."  From there, you may zoom-in to enlarge the view.

The Library's patronage increased dramatically when the government of Madison Township (Morgan County), which is immediately east of Brown Township, agreed to support Mooresville Public Library in exchange for use privileges. Madison residents joined those of Brown and Mooresville in 1920, and this cooperative arrangement continued through 1928, when Madison citizens decided to discontinue the partnership due to financial reasons.

Why did Madison Township residents join MPL during the "Roaring Twenties"? Mooresville is closer than Martinsville to most Madison Township dwellers, and during the 1920s, Martinsville had its own public library but no branches throughout Morgan County. (Today, Morgan County Public Library serves all townships in the county except Brown, which is served exclusively by MPL.)  So it was a simple matter of transportation and time.  Country roads throughout the county were mostly unpaved, rendering travel troublesome during wet weather.  This resulted in lengthy driving times of an hour or more that today could be covered on modern highways in a matter of minutes.  Madison residents wanted access to a library but didn't want to drive any further than necessary, and in the 1920s, Mooresville's Carnegie Library was the most logical option available to most Madison families.

MPL History on Display
Outside the Library's Indiana Room

For most of America, the Great Depression (1929-1941) was a period of economic difficulties, and many governmental services floundered.  Fortunately for its patrons, Mooresville Public Library expanded during the Depression.  According to the Mooresville Times, June 24, 1937, a copy of which is currently on display outside the MPL Indiana Room, the Library's collections (by 1937) had grown to 8,400 volumes, which was actually beyond its anticipated capacity.  There were 2,245 borrowers registered with the Library by 1937.  To accommodate the dramatic increase in patron use of the Library, additional staff and volunteers were recruited.  Clearly, the Library was a staple of the town and community.

Why such growth?  People couldn't afford to purchase books for themselves--many could hardly feed and clothe their families during the 1930s--and so having a public library from which they could borrow books, magazines, and other resources was essential.  Taxpayers were grateful to have a well-stocked, professionally-operated library in town at their convenience.  Those who worked at the Library were likewise grateful to serve their neighbors (and, frankly, to have jobs).  It was a perfect example of how communities support public enterprises for the common good during arduous economic times.

This mutual support extended to other Library activities.  When the Library withdrew materials, these were immediately donated to local school libraries that needed and wanted them.
Helen Stone Keller
MPL Director & Librarian (1922-1939)

Much of the Library's growth and expansion of public services during the "Roaring Twenties" and Great Depression is attributable to its director and librarian from November. 1922 to 1939, Helen Stone, who became Helen Stone Keller following her marriage to Chester Keller.  Her nearly two decades of leadership firmly established MPL as a community resource of primary importance to the citizens of Mooresville and Brown Township.

More MPL History on Display
Outside the Library's Indiana Room

We have more Library history on display outside the MPL Indiana Room.  Please stop by whenever you have an opportunity during your upcoming visits.  We would love to share our history with you, as we have shared our resources during the past century.

World War II ended the Great Depression, and along with it many social changes came to Mooresville.  The Library evolved into a more modern, sophisticated provider of multiple resources.  Before the war, much of the Library's services had been lending books and periodicals, along with public use of the basement assembly hall for various types of gatherings.  As the end of WW II approached, MPL discovered or invented new ways to help its patrons.  Many of these activities are commonplace today, but in the middle-20th century, they were innovative.  We'll explore this territory in our next installment.

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