Michigan City Public Library
View Larger Map
Monday - Thursday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The mission of the Michigan City Public Library is to provide a center for information, education, culture and recreation for all patrons throughout their life span, through its collections, programs and special services.
The building was designed by renowned architect Helmut Jahn & has won numerous architectural awards:
Completed in June, 1977, the building was erected by Larson-Danielson Construction Co. of LaPorte, IN from a unique design concept by C.F. Murphy Associates, a Chicago architectural firm. It offers 35,000 square feet on one level with parking for 70 cars. The building provides space to house a book collection of 147,000 volumes, seats for 208 readers, and a meeting room with seats for 200 persons.
As Tom Scarff was putting the final touches on his sculpture Centura, created for the Michigan City, Indiana, Public Library, he remarked, "It's one of my best works. All the pieces seemed to fall nicely into place." While the nationally-recognized sculptor was referring to bronze, stainless steel and neon, his words and his work spoke of grander elements -- of the library, of reading, of art and community involvement. Those pieces had started to fit together three generations and more than 100 years earlier.
In 1889, the will of George Ames contained a bequest of $5,000 to establish a library fund, provided that a library be built within ten years. It's likely that Walter William Vail was executor of the Ames estate because Vail was a financial expert who co-founded the first bank in Michigan City. But perhaps it was destiny. Vail brought the provision before the public, and became a charter member of the Library Association, formed to establish and maintain a public library in Michigan City. On October 9, 1897, he saw the library open. It cost $36,000, contained more than 3,000 volumes and levied a 2-cent-a-day fine, for overdue books.
The next piece of the story's mosaic was more like a chip. . . off the old block. William Walter Vail was Walter William's son. He followed in his father's steps as president of the bank, and member of the Library Association, which was the library's governing board. Although never a flamboyant figure, Will was a civic leader deeply Involved in the community, such as the time he led a rebuff of an attempted takeover of the city's waterworks by utilities mogul Samuel Insul. Will became the library patriarch. He served the Library Association as member, president or especially treasurer, for a remarkable 55 years.
John Vail, the youngest son of Will and Lenore, had developed a loyalty to the library at an early age. His preference for Batman and Big Little Books matured into a lifelong passion for reading and community service. As the library's 100th anniversary approached, John had a vision. He imagined a sculpture in the library's open-air courtyard -- a woman, holding a book high in the air, symbolizing the power of reading to pull humankind to higher realms by raising knowledge, awareness and spirit. It would be given in memory of his father by the John and Edward Vail families. Vail thought a sculpture perfect for the occasion. Art, he believes, is always on the leading edge of our growth, It has its place in public view, and what better place than the library, which is much more than just books?
In advertising the commission, the name repeatedly recommended, from within the library and in the community, was S. Thomas Scarff. Chicago-based Scarff has established himself as an important artist at the forefront of contemporary sculpture. His large-scale works grace many prominent public collections, such as General Motors, Marshall Field's, the Museum of Science and Industry, United Airlines and Dayton Hudson Properties. Scarff was another perfect fit -- a library lover, who for 25 years, has found inspiration at his beachfront home in Michigan City.
Scarff shares John Vail's perspective, saying, "I think having art in the library is very natural, because that's where we look for beauty and treasure. Some people are intimidated by a museum, but they'll go to a library, and take, their kids. When I was young, I didn't have any museums to learn about art, so the library was the only place I could go. It's a good door to open."
Their view echoes with familiarity at the Michigan City Public library. A "gallery of art" was in the original library plans advanced by Walter William Vail and the Library Association, but it wasn't until the 1930's that pieces were purchased. The man responsible, shopping responsibly for discounts at art galleries in Chicago, was Will Vail. In 1977, when a new building six blocks away replaced the 1897 structure, the library itself became art. It was designed by Helmut Jahn, won architectural awards and acclaim, and was not without its controversy. With a charming twist, the original building is now the city's Community Center for the Arts.
Centura, too, challenges complacency. Scarff translated John Vail's concept into a 15-foot abstract female figure, with a "wave of freedom" flowing from her head, holding a realistic book in her upraised arm, The pages of the book are polished stainless steel, so viewers will always see a reflection of the sky in them. But the figure wears a yoke on her shoulders, attached to the ground with a cable, creating a dynamic tension between the feeling of release and the weight of worldliness. A frieze at the base, depicting scenes of reading and Michigan City, complete the sculpture.
What does it mean when all the pieces still fit together after 100 years? That with vision, initiative and cooperation, a community and its library will continue to flourish together, energized by each other. In his comments presented during the rededication ceremony, Library Director Charles De Young said, "I have learned that regardless of size, location or budget, libraries that link their service to the needs of their community flourish." Reciprocally, the Vails' dedication of Centura "honors not one man or a single institution, but all those who have volunteered their time, energy and talents to the betterment of this richly-blessed community." In between are the rewards of the union, now honored and enriched by a spectacular sculpture. The goal is to ensure that this work of art, and by implication all it represents, will be admired for another 100 years.
Meetings are held on the fourth Wednesday of each month, except for December's meeting, which will be the third Wednesday. The meetings are held at 2:00 P.M. in the Library Meeting Room.
Don Montgomery, President
Patrick Dougherty, Vice President
Samuel Melnick, Secretary
Judy Lange, Assistant Secretary
Samuel Ferguson, Member
April Center, Member
Kenneth Rottman, Member
Meeting Minutes - Meeting minutes are published following board approval.
There are no job openings at this time.
Friends of the Library
The Friends of the Library need items for their ongoing book sale. You can drop off your paperbacks, hardbacks and magazines at the Circulation Department.
The Learning Center has been flooded with calls for reading and math help for MCAS students. The new superintendent for MCAS has prioritized both reading and math with the goal of improving achievement as well as test scores. Consider joining as a volunteer tutor so that, as a community, we can pull together and better prepare our children. Call Cyndie McKinney at 219-873-3043 for more information about becoming a volunteer tutor and be someone who helps make a difference today.
The Endowment Fund of the Michigan City Public Library is a sustaining fund designed to enhance programs and services. It is supported by gifts from generous individuals, businesses, and organizations. Interest from the fund has sponsored Writing Out Loud authors. You can help your library by making a contribution.
Michigan City in Bloom - 1st Place, Non-Profit/Government Category