Carmel Library Celebrating a Century of Excellence

By Janelle Morrison

Gone are the days of the wood crafted card catalogs, but the Dewey Decimal System lives on. The Carmel Clay Public Library has undergone several changes and expansions over the last century. It continues to evolve itself in the new millennium while maintaining its core purposes.

The original library was cofounded in 1904 by Luther Haines. Haines was a teacher at the Town’s all-grades school. He, with the support of the Wednesday Literary Club, received approval from the county judge to charter the first public library in Carmel. The Wednesday Literary Club was a group comparable to a book club today. These were local women who met regularly to read and discuss literature and homemaking skills. The first Reading Room of the Town’s library was housed in the front room of the telephone exchange, and Miss Mabel Wells was named the first librarian in 1904.

The library’s board of trustees submitted a grant request to the Carnegie Corporation for an official library building in 1911. Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born American industrialist who led the expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century, established the Carnegie Corporation. He was one of the most important philanthropists of his era. The library’s request was granted and increased by Carnegie from $9,000 to $11,000 to ensure a strong beginning to the area’s first library.

The library building, located at 40 E. Main St., was completed and opened to the public on June 6, 1914. The library served in many capacities throughout the following decades. During the Great Depression, the library was a source of recreation to many individuals who had fallen into hard times or unemployment. People would come to the library to study other skill sets and trades to improve their current situations. Many found the library as a temporary escape and would read for hours on end as an outlet from those difficult times. According to the library’s records, the number of its users increased 40 percent from 1931 to 1933.

In the postwar era, the library recognized the importance of educating the local youth. Materials and resources were made available to children and young adults. Once again, the library became a source of education and recreation now targeted towards the young people of the community.

The library’s book collection and services continued to expand, and the notion that the library would eventually run out of space came to reality in the late 1960s. A special board meeting was called in late 1969 to begin planning for the inevitable construction of a new building.

Bearing a new name and location at 515 E. Main St., the Carmel Public Library opened August 28, 1972. A little over 21,000 books were relocated to the new 15,000 square foot building by a group of local volunteers dubbed “The Book Brigade.” With the stability and popularity of the World Wide Web, the library purchased an online catalog in 1986, and the card catalog system became antiquated. The library expanded on its site to 34,000 square feet and underwent another name change. The Carmel Clay Public Library began serving Carmel and Clay Township.

The City of Carmel’s fast growing population forced the board to once again strategize the construction of a new building and location as the library had outgrown the site it was built on. The Carmel Clay Public Library opened its doors on May 2, 1999, at its current location at 55 4th Ave. SE. It boasts 116,000 square feet and has shelving space for 300,000 books, 46,000 audiovisual items and 665 periodicals.

Enduring the changes over the last 33 years, Wendy Phillips came to the library in 1980 and serves as the current Director. She spoke about the evolution of the library, the challenges that the institution faced in the onset of modern technology and the planning for future generations. “We built for the future,” Phillips explained. “We built for what was considered then to be a build out population for Carmel of 85,000. It is a legacy building. It’s there for the long haul.”

The technology of the building was designed and installed with the expectation of advancement in equipment and new processes. “We’ve added Wi-Fi and have gone from a handful of computers to hundreds,” Phillips said. “People also have their own laptops that they can bring in and use our wireless services. We decided we needed to do some repurposing of our interior space, so in 2009-2010, we created new spaces within the building. For example, a book club room was created for a more intimate setting for a book club discussion. We downsized our technical services department as processes changed, so we created flexible space that we use for several purposes.”

The board introduced a five-year strategic plan of which they are halfway through. The board members and library staff have established many services that are relevant to today’s students, individuals and businesses members of the community. Programs focused on early childhood literacy, summer reading programs and individual study rooms are just a few of the litany of resources that are available at the library.

“We’ve always embraced technology and welcomed it,” Phillips concluded. “We have access to eBooks for any type of eReader. Our eBooks circulation has skyrocketed, and downloadable audio books are accessible 24/7. We are open 70 hours a week, 7 days a week, but you have access to our online databases 24/7. It is really an extraordinary resource for the community. I think that people would be surprised at what they can access at our library. We have many reading programs, and children are one of the major focuses. We’re also taking programs on the road at the Monon Community Center and Pilgrim Lutheran Church, so the children’s staff is kept quite busy.”

Looking into 2014, the Carmel Clay Public Library, the Library Foundation and Friends of the Library are planning a centennial celebration of the Carnegie building. Special events and activities are planned throughout 2014 and will end with a grand finale celebration in June. The Foundation will introduce the Centennial Society Campaign which will act to secure the future of the Library. The Campaign has set a goal to raise $200,000 for the library. Carmel residents Jim and Joyce Winner have pledged to match contributions made up to $100,000.

A notable event that the Foundation will host is a Downton Abbey Evening Wednesday, January 29 at the Palladium. The event will feature Jessica Fellowes, #1 Bestselling Author and niece of Lord Julian Fellowes, creator of the Downton Abbey television series.

VIP guests will enjoy a reception at 5:30 pm with Jessica Fellowes. The reception will also feature complimentary hors d’oeuvres and beverages, a VIP favor, live music and VIP seating for the presentation.

Ms. Fellowes’ presentation will begin at 7:30 pm. Premium seats are available for $35 each, while general admission seating is $25. Tickets can be purchased through the Center for the Performing Arts box office by calling 317-843-3800 or online at

Proceeds from this event benefit the Carmel Clay Public Library Foundation.
For more information about the Centennial Society or the Carmel Clay Public Library Foundation, please contact Foundation Director Ruth Nisenshal at 317-814-3905 or

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Anniversary dates in 2014:

January 11 – March 9 Winter Reading Program “Celebrating a Century of Reading”

January 25 American Girl Program

January 28 YA Dine on a Dime: 1914 Edition

January 29 A Downton Abbey Evening

February 13 Silent Movie Night

February 20 David Heighway – The History of Carmel

March 25 YA Dine on a Dime: 1914 Edition
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April 8 (tentative) Family Game Night 1914 Style

April 30 Timeless Feel – A Century of Music

May 13 Volunteer Appreciation Reception – Century of Volunteering

May 22 Bill McNiece – The history of Carnegie Libraries

May 27 YA Dine on a Dime: 1914 Edition

June 9 Carnegie Library 100th anniversary celebration – Open House at the Library Restaurant

June 10 Jeffrey Smith – Carnegie Interpreter

For a complete list of programs, times and locations, please visit the Carmel Clay Public Library’s website at

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