Towering stained glass windows…
Marble and finely carved woods…
Beautiful, hand painted works of art…
Is it a cathedral or an art museum about which I wax poetic? No.
I opine about the Indiana State Library building. Have you been there?
The institution goes way back — before the current-day building. The first official mention of a state library for Indiana is made in the Journal of the Constitutional Convention, on June 28, 1816. The capital of Indiana Territory was then at Corydon, IN. The Assembly didn’t take formal action until the capital was moved to Indianapolis. Then, by an act approved February 11, 1825, the State Library was definitely established, an appropriation made, and the secretary of state designated as librarian. In 1841 a law was approved making the library a separate institution, and in 1867 an act provided that the law section of the library be placed under the control of the judges of the Supreme Court (an arrangement still in force). In 1933, the library was made a part of the Department of Education.
Throughout its earliest days, the Indiana State Library (ISL) was located in the State House. However, in 1929, the Indiana General Assembly authorized a special levy of two cents spread over three years in the expectation of raising about one million dollars for the cost of a site and building. Governor Harry G. Leslie appointed a building commission and acquired a site at the corner of Senate Avenue and Ohio Street in 1931. An architectural competition was held under the direction of Mr. Arthur Bohn of Indianapolis in October of that year. Pierre & Wright of Indianapolis were the architects selected and plans were ready in March, 1932.
The result, a magnificent Indiana limestone building, was dedicated December 7, 1934. The building was conceived as the first of a series of state buildings extending from the State House toward the White River — a planning concept that was only fully realized in more recent years.
A contemporary addition to the Library was made to the west. The addition was designed by Burkhartt, Shropshire, Boots, Reid & Associates and dedicated in 1976.
A walk around the outside of the older portion of the library reveals a collection of stone carvings on the façades near the roofline symbolizing the advance of civilization:
- West façade honored the Native American “Indian” with the peace pipe, the Trapper, the Priest, the Woodsman or Pioneer, and the Plainsman; Invention is represented by the motion-picture machine, Transportation by the aeroplane, Arts by the designer with his instruments.
- East façade features groups of stone figures slightly-more-than-life-size, modeled by Leon Hermant of Chicago, telling the story of growth and development from wilderness into a great commonwealth: Explorer (La Salle at the portage of the St. Joseph and Kankakee rivers); and in sequence follow, the Soldier (Capture of Vincennes), the Pioneer, the Farmer, the Legislator (signing of the state constitution), Miner, Builder, Constructor, Manufacturer, Educator, and finally a group, the Aspiring Student, which is symbolized by figures pressing toward a great light.
- South façade of the building features figures symbolizing Science, History, Invention, and Religion
- North façade honors symbols of Philosophy, Art, Charity, and Justice
Throughout the construction of the building every effort was made to use Indiana materials. The exterior is entirely of Indiana limestone. The interior features Monte Cassina sandstone from St. Meinrad Abbey, and all of the interior woodwork and much of the furniture is of Indiana walnut. (The four principal rooms in the first story boast veneers from a single tree.) The glazed blocks that cover the walls in the stacks, service halls, and stairs are also an Indiana product.
Today, the ISL houses vast collections with over two million volumes and three million manuscripts, as well as thousands of maps, federal documents, microfilm, and more. Specialized collections are available in the areas of:
- Indiana history and current events, people, and places significant in the state (The “clipping files” are my favorite haunt.)
- Manuscripts, personal papers, and photographs of Hoosiers through history
- Historic town directories and plat maps
The ISL Genealogy Collection offers published and unpublished resources relating to family history. Though all materials are bound to the library facility, Library experts will help you begin your search. Resources include:
- Family and local histories
- Population censuses
- Electronic records and databases
- Indiana statewide marriage indexes through 1850 and from 1958 through 2002
- Military and pension information
- Passenger lists
- Research guides, name origin and heraldry references
- indexes, abstracts or copies of vital records
The Indiana Collection provides reference service on all aspects of Indiana — historic and current. This division collects and maintains print and non-print materials documenting:
- Maps and atlases – historic and current
- State laws, 1816-present
- Indiana newspapers section containing over 300 publications from 1804-present
- Histories, biographies, magazines, journals
- Manuscripts, broadsides and photographs
- State agency reports and publications, 1816-present
- Online databases and exhibitions
The Indiana State Data Center offers services including:
- Demographic statistics from the Census Bureau and other federal and state agencies for all Indiana counties, townships and municipalities
- Indiana data, including crime, employment rates, poverty, income, education, birth and death rates, commuting patterns, etc.
The Government Documents Collection maintains nonfiction collections for use by legislators, officials, employees, other libraries and residents, including assistance with:
- American history and politics
- Federal government publications
- Economics and business
- Public policy and environmental management
The Talking Book and Braille Library maintains and circulates an extensive collection (over 22,000 digital books, etc.) of materials, free to Indiana residents who have difficulty reading print, including:
- Children’s services
- Reference and information services
Recognizing the ISL as a Hoosier treasure, Governor Mitch Daniels signed Senate Bill 485 into law in the spring of 2011. The bill, authorized the Indiana Library & Historical Board (ILHB) to establish a nonprofit foundation to solicit and accept tax-deductible contributions. The Indiana State Foundation raises funds to support the Indiana State Library and statewide library services and programs that benefit all Hoosiers.
While researching stories for Historic Indianapolis, I was overwhelmed by the stately beauty of the older portion of the ISL building — a resource and location that had been unknown to me before I began this project last summer. To me, the building is an ornate treasure box, housing examples of amazing craftsmanship, art, history, and literature. If you haven’t been… it’s well worth a visit!
In the comments section below:
Where is your favorite spot in the Indiana State Library?
What is your favorite Indianapolis “Hidden Gem”?
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