The Former Decatur Public Library's Service to the Townships

A Brief History

While the library just celebrated its centennial -- 100 years of service to the people in Decatur -- the issue of service to the surrounding townships continues.

Lack of library service is not just an issue for Adams County.  In fact, 38 counties in Indiana have “unserved” areas without library service.   A solution to lack of service was recommended by the State’s Commission on Local Government Reform in December 2007: libraries should be consolidated by county in order to streamline administrative services and to provide service for the people who live in “unserved” areas. 

In the next few pages, how this library was established, how libraries are funded, and options for service to the townships -- now and in the future -- will be discussed.

The General Issue

Currently 55% of Adams County residents live outside of any library district. Of the 33,625 people in Adams County (2000 Census), 15,046, or only 45% of the population, live within one of the library districts. There are two public libraries in Adams County – the Adams Public Library System (serving Decatur & Geneva) and the Berne Public Library.

Those who live outside of the City of Decatur or Town of Geneva live outside of the Adams Public Library district. In fact, in the 100 years of the history of the library, this has been true. Although the city limits have changed over the years, the library limits remain the same as the city and town. The library district limits in Berne are also the same as the city limits.

Libraries are supported financially through property taxes within the district. Those who live or own property within the district have guaranteed access and full rights to library services.

Establishment of the Library

To understand how this library was established, it helps to understand the history of libraries in Adams County. Libraries have been in Adams County since 1843 and included the Adams County Library (1843-1853), the McClure Workingmen’s Library (mid-1850s to early 1860s), township libraries (each township had a library to serve its residents, 1860s-1880s), school libraries (starting in the late 1880s), and finally, the Decatur (1904), Berne (1935), and Geneva (1945) Public Libraries. [The consolidation of the Decatur and Geneva Public Libraries in 2008 formed the Adams Public Library System.]

In 1904, because of the limited access to school libraries (they were rarely open and have very few new materials), women from the Shakespeare and Historical Clubs pressed for the establishment of a public library in Decatur. A group was formed and the library board established. More information on the establishment of the library can be found on the library website under the Library History section.


As with services provided by local governments, library service in the State of Indiana is currently funded primarily through property taxes. Forty-nine of the fifty states use property taxes to fund all or part of public library services.  The predecessors to the Decatur Public Library did not remain in operation for one major reason: lack of sustainable funding. Unlike these libraries, the libraries established in the 1900s have been supported by local property tax dollars – a rather stable source of income – and are, thus, able to operate and serve their communities’ needs. The library tax, only levied within the library district, comprises a very small percentage of any total tax bill.

Funding for Indiana libraries generally includes property taxes (65-75%), other taxes (15-20%), fine & fees (5-10%), miscellaneous revenues (1-2%). In 2008, Adams Public Library’s funding included: 69.8% property taxes, 14.8% county option income tax, 6.0% fines and fees, 5.0% license excise and commercial vehicle excise tax, 1.6% from interest, less than one percent financial institutions tax, less than one half percent each from reimbursements and property rental.

Service to Townships

Library service has extended to the townships in a variety of ways throughout the history of the Decatur library. At present, service is granted to any non-resident who purchases a non-resident card. Many of the surrounding townships subsidize this cost. [See Township Support table.]

From the very beginning of the library’s history, library boards have granted use to township residents. In 1913, Washington Township residents were granted library privileges as Washington Township added a tax to support library services. The tax rate was set at 1/5 the rate of the library tax levy. Over time, the township rate did not keep up with the library rate and was considerably lower than 1/5 the library rate.

In 1914, the library made boxes of books available to surrounding schools in Washington Township. This practice ceased because, over time, books were lost and not returned.

A number of years later, residents in Root Township were also granted privileges. Anyone outside of Decatur or Root & Washington Townships could have purchased a non-resident card at $5.00 / year.

The first movement to establish a county-wide library system happened nationally in the 1920s.  Locally, the Allen County Public Library was established in this period.  In Adams County, the library board, along with support from the Federation of Clubs and the local schools, approached the county commissioners for the first time in 1930 to establish a county library.  The commissioners did not vote on the issue at the time.  The Berne Public Library, however, was established in 1935 as a direct result of this movement because of the continued desire for library services in Adams County.

In the 1960s, a federally funded program was provided to subsidize library service to unserved areas.  This program allowed libraries to serve areas outside their districts and in the case of the Decatur Public Library, allowed those in outlying townships to use the library.  It was during this time that libraries in Indiana began offering contracts for library service to townships.  Many county libraries were established out of this national movement to provide library services for all Americans including the Wells County Public Library.

Since the 1960s and up through 1999, the Decatur Public Library served Kirkland, Preble, Root, St. Mary’s, Union, and Washington Townships through service contracts. The Berne Public Library served Blue Creek, French and Monroe, while the Geneva Library served Hartford, Jefferson, and Wabash.

These federally subsidized contracts allowed libraries to offer services to those outside of their districts. Soon, however, the federal program ceased. While libraries continued to offer service to the townships (at a reduced rate and without the subsidy), the number of non-residents served remained the same.

Over the years, the funding from the townships dwindled in comparison to total income. In 1999, the last year the Decatur Public Library offered contracts to the townships, the contract income comprised only 4% of the total income – and yet, over half the population served by this library lived outside of the actual library district! In short, the taxpayers in the City of Decatur were subsidizing the township residents’ use of the library.

Non-Resident Fees

Non-resident fees have always been a part of Indiana libraries. Currently the State regulates the formula to figure the cost. The cost is figured each year in January according to State Law after budget reports are made available by taking the previous year’s operating expenditures and dividing by the number of residents in our district (9,528).

Options for Service

 For More Information
        Contact Director Kelly Ehinger or by phone at 724-2605.