Sunday, April 29, 2012

Library Growth Meets Budget Crunch (1975-1983)

During the mid-1970s, the Library began experiencing restricted space for additional materials, but MPL Staff and its Board of Trustees demonstrated shrewd stewardship in developing innovative and imaginative solutions.  For instance, several office partitions were removed, and shelving was redistributed or added in available areas.  This created more of an “open-air” workflow environment that immersed staff in “traffic areas,” thereby improving opportunities for staff to interact with and assist patrons.

Despite the struggle for sufficient space, Library services continued to reach larger populations.  In March, 1976, MPL was approached by Morgan County Public Library to discuss the possibility of MPL directly serving patrons living in the northern townships of Morgan County, Indiana.  MPL also introduced new programs.  For instance, in June 1976 the Library Board requested that the director investigate purchase of a 16-mm motion picture projector.  By September 1976, movies were being shown to the public free-of-charge in the Library’s Pioneer Room (basement).  The first movie shown, Circus Town (1949), attracted 72 attendees on Thursday, September 30, 1976.

By 1976, MPL collections had reached 19,626 volumes, but new purchases and donations were undertaken at a steady pace.  By 1978, space restrictions compelled the Library Board and Staff to consider facility expansion.  First, the Board sought public input.  In a patron survey underwritten by the Mooresville Jaycees, the Library asked residents of Mooresville and Brown Township, “Do you believe the Mooresville Public Library needs to provide additional services?  (Yes) (No)  If yes, please list what services [should be provided].”  This public feedback was critical to evaluating the Library’s future growth, as well as facility and resource management.

By November 6, 1978, the Library Board passed a resolution to fund a feasibility study to determine which building renovations, including enlarging the structure, should be undertaken by the most affordable means.  Recommendations were reviewed in June, 1979, and action plans were prepared.

Much of the momentum toward construction of a building addition ground to an abrupt halt in 1979, as funding cutbacks from state and local governmental sources crimped the Library’s operations.  Fortunately, the Library Board had begun in previous years (as early as 1975-1976) to aggressively invest Library revenues into safe, short-term, high-interest yielding certificates of deposit.  The consequential burgeoning of Library bank accounts assured that loss of tax dollars did not undermine efficient delivery of essential Library services.

Still, the tax revenue crunch of 1979-1980 delayed building improvement projects and planning beyond scheduled renovations and restorations to existing facilities.  Certain exterior projects were placed on indefinite hold, which prompted interested citizens, such as county historian Becky Hardin, to purchase trees to plant in front of the Library at her own expense.  Such was the dedication of many townspeople in support of their Library.

Morgan County Historian Becky Hardin (left)
is honored for her tree-planting campaign
around the MPL Carnegie Library
(September 17, 1981)

Surprisingly, the Library continued to find ways to improve patron services.  In the early 1980s, MPL purchased microfilm and microfiche reading machines.  These required significant expenditures, but the equipment satisfied a long-standing need to enable patrons to view newspapers and historical documents photographed onto microfilm and microfiche by the State Archives.  As a space-saving and content-archiving measure, it was a bold, but highly effective and efficient, decision.

The early 1980s saw further slashes in public funding, which severely constrained Library budgets.  The problem was allocation of tax revenues and the rising cost of Library services and resources.  Throughout the 1970s, the Brown Township Trustee paid a fixed sum to MPL so that township residents could use the Library.  This was a fixed stipend; general tax revenues came only from the Town of Mooresville.  As Library costs mounted and local tax dollars declined, it became exceedingly expensive for MPL to serve both residents of Mooresville and Brown Township.  Thus, in 1983, the Library Board requested that the Brown Township Trustee pay a higher annual fee for Library use privileges.  Unfortunately, this caused friction between town and township officials and residents.  How these difficulties were overcome will be our focus next time.

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