Berne Public Library celebrating 75 years

Authored by Jim Langham on Sep 17, 2010

Seventy-five years after its humble beginning in a small room on North Jefferson Street, the Berne Public Library has evolved into one of the most updated full-service libraries in the area.
“It’s been awesome to see the changes that have been made over the years,” commented librarian Marvel Zuercher, who is in her 27th year of serving as the local librarian. “To be able to be a part of much of this has been one of the greatest joys in my life. I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s been an honor to serve the people of this community through this means.”
The birth of the local library reflected a deep commitment on behalf of the community at the time. Indiana state law at the time required that there be matching local pledges equal to the needed tax levy before the library could be approved. A total of $588.70 was raised immediately toward the matched amount of $600, with the remaining amount being contributed by local businessmen.
Records of the library drive indicate special pride in the effort, since it came at the time of the Great Depression. At the same time, the Berne Library Association was working feverishly to obtain books for the new library.
When the library opened its doors on opening day, 13 of its 600 books were checked out. Twenty-five years later, when the library opened at 166 N. Jefferson St., its current location, 14,000 books were available and 288 books were borrowed.
These days, the collection consists of over 60,000 volumes. In addition, magazines and modern high tech items such as CD’s and DVD’s are also available for public consumption.
In its early years, the library moved several times, including locations at Main and Fulton Street, a half a block east on Main Street (where the teller window for the First Bank of Berne is located), on Main Street, in a building that no longer exists west of the Chamber of Commerce Building and on South Jefferson Street in a building now occupied by EP Graphics.
Concerning the move to South Jefferson Street, the Berne Witness of March 16, 1949 states, “Announcement was made today that the Berne Public Library will move into new quarters within a short time. The south room of the building just vacated by Liechty Motor Service, on South Jefferson Street, has been leased by the library board and will be the library’s future home. The building is own by C.H. Muselman, manager of the Economy Printing Concern.”
Two days before the celebration of its 25th anniversary, the library opened its doors at its current location in a building known at the time as the “auditorium.” The building had been built to accommodate local sports and plays of Berne High School. Over the years the building had also been used for scouts and Berne senior citizens. It also contained a bowling alley and had housed restaurants and several other businesses. Then, in 1991, the building was actually sold to the Berne Public Library by the City of Berne.
“The big year for the library was 1992 when a major renovation of the entire building was completed,” said Zuercher. “When I started here in 1983 there were no windows. You couldn’t see what was going on outside. What a huge change we did in that first renovation. We weren’t even equipped to handle modern machinery with the electrical system that we had.
“The only equipment we had was a copy machine and sometimes it would go off when we used the coffee percolator,” mused Zuercher. “The only air conditioner we had was one that was sticking out of one of the windows.”
The major renovation, which took place over a two-year period, included a complete updating of the electrical system, a modernization of the building, and preparation for introduction of high tech equipment such as computers to the library program. During the time the library was being rehabilitated, books had been moved to the basement for continued service.
“We only shut down one day when we moved from the first floor to the basement,” said Zuercher. “I think it took about a week to move the library back upstairs when the renovation was completed.”
Zuercher said that between 1992 and 2000, the modern children’s library was established in the basement and the concept of a genealogy and historical department (the Heritage Room) was established in the basement.
“At one point, the original idea that became the Heritage Room was located on a few small shelves,” said Zuercher.
It was eventually established in a small room in the back of the main floor, and then moved to its current location in the basement where it has become one of the most established services of its kind in the state.
These days, Zuercher sits in her office on the first floor of the renovated library and enjoys a sense of satisfaction of all that has been accomplished.
“The computer was the big thing,” said Zuercher. “When we were given the ability to install computers and bring in Internet, it was a huge step in expanding to the resources that we have today. That’s what got us going; it was a giant step in establishing the Heritage Room.
“I am so proud of our community and how our residents have supported the library over the years,” continued Zuercher. “Its progress reflects the importance of learning and reading to the people of our community. We are so proud to have carried on this tradition and to have expanded the dream of our founders when they worked so hard to establish a library in 1935. We are proud of the resources we have to offer the people of our community these days.”

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