A Brief History
Prior to the creation of the current Westchester Public Library, library service was provided by two independent public libraries. In 1914 the Town of Porter established its own town library, funded by a local tax and serving only its town residents. In 1919 Westchester Township began contracting with the Gary Public Library to provide service to the remainder of the township.
In the early 1970’s it was decided that the library services and two store front facilities were insufficient to provide for the current and future needs of the township. In 1972 the two libraries officially merged to create a new municipal corporation serving all township residents.
In 1973 construction began on two new library facilities, Thomas Memorial Library in Chesterton and Hageman Memorial Library in Porter, both of which opened to the public in 1975. The Westchester Public Library Service Center was purchased in 1995 and repurposed to provide a home for the Chesterton Adult Learning Center, the library’s technical services department, and to provide local citizens with a 150 person capacity community meeting room with an adjoining kitchen. In 2005 the library reached an agreement with the Duneland School Corporation to lease its former administration building and historic home as the new location for Westchester Township History Museum established in 1998 as an educational service of the Library.
The Library Board
The Library is governed by a seven member Board of Trustees appointed for terms of four years by five different elected bodies. Trustees serve without pay and must be residents of the library district. Three members are appointed by the Duneland School Board, with one appointment each coming from the Porter County Council, the Porter County Commissioners, the Westchester Township Advisory Board, and the Westchester Township Trustee. The Library Board is responsible for setting policy and for appointing the Library Director who is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the library.
The Library is an independent municipal corporation and as such is an independent taxing authority. The majority of the Library’s revenue comes from the local property tax and is approximately 4% of the total depending upon the taxes levied by the overlapping taxing units in the township. The amount the Library can both tax and spend is limited by state law and a proposal to expend more than allowed by statute must be approved by the Porter County Council.
Westchester Public Library has a long tradition of fiscal responsibility. The Library currently has no outstanding debt. When Bethlehem Steel, the Library’s largest taxpayer went bankrupt in 2001 and drastically reduced library funding, the Library Board of Trustees made the difficult choice to reduce the staff by 86% in order to keep buildings open on a reduced schedule and to continue to provide basic services and to purchase a limited number of new books and other materials. The remaining ten staff members with the assistance of 124 community volunteers maintain the Library for the next three years until funding gradually recovered.