MISHAWAKA – On March 10, 2020, hundreds of people attended ‘Mario Day’ at the Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Public Library, unaware that the coronavirus pandemic would soon force the library to close.
“Maybe two or three days later it all stopped,” recalls Jennifer Ludwig, Director of Client Services.
Like many businesses, the library staff got in motion.
They started extensive training on a new remote library catalog system. They started publishing programs online and moved to a virtual environment. And curbside services have emerged.
When the library finally returned to open the doors, masks, spacing between furniture, and other now familiar mitigation procedures were put in place.
Behind the scenes, renovation and construction projects continued in the buildings of the library network.
The Bittersweet agency underwent a major facelift in 2020. The teen area has been enlarged and moved close to the youth area. The former teenage quarter then became the branch’s quiet area for reading newspapers and magazines.
In June 2021, the yard of the Bittersweet branch was unveiled after undergoing an overhaul of its seating areas, as well as new landscaping. Ludwig said concerts were held last summer and that the three-season area, now closed for the winter, will serve as an outdoor meeting and recreation space.
And several recent renovation projects at the main library at Church and Lincoln Way have also taken place.
Redesign of the common area
Renovations to the main library common area lasted six months in the spring and summer and opened to the public on September 13. The new layout allows clients to meet individually or in small groups in several rooms separated by glass.
A multimedia space with four HDTVs with furniture also allows customers to watch the news and entertainment. The furniture allows the movement of groups of all sizes, and Ludwig said the seats include power and USB charging ports to serve customers with electronic devices.
The changes reflect a changing community vision of what is desired in a library.
Heritage room ‘quiet space’
At the end of October, officials opened the doors to a newly renovated room with a new purpose and perhaps a new way of thinking about what libraries will be like in the future.
The former Library Heritage Center has been redeveloped into what now serves as a designated ‘restroom’ where newspapers, periodicals and access to up to 7,000 publications from around the world via the PressReader app, a free service for all cardholders, is now hosted.
The addition itself dates back to 1914 when it was constructed as a stand-alone building to house the Mishawaka Post Office. The original post office door jamb has been incorporated into the new heritage room.
In 1974, the space became the Mishawaka Police Department.
But it was transformed again in 1998 when the library acquired the building. The exterior retains the architecture of the early 1900s, the original exterior doors and interior woodwork.
But there is no longer the prison cell that was left inside the old room. Many school children enjoyed the temporary feel inside the black iron bars, but Ludwig said it didn’t fit the room’s future use.
Ludwig said the Heritage Hall not only serves as a quiet place for readers to enjoy seclusion, the hall has been filled with several historical exhibits to remind guests of the city’s roots. One exhibit, with help from award-winning city historian and president and curator of the Mishawaka Historical Museum, Peter DeKever, includes five companies that helped build Mishawaka: Ball-Band, Dodge, Wheelabrator, Bendix and Kamm- Schellinger Brewing.
The Heritage Center digital archives, yearbooks, microfilms and historical journals have been moved to the lower level reference area.
2022: More upgrades
Ludwig said the library board is planning further renovations for the coming year.
The Harris branch library is expected to undergo a similar upgrade to the Bittersweet branch library, moving the teen areas to the youth service area.
The branch, built in 2004, is the newest building added to the library sites.
In the city center, Ludwig also touched on renovating a learning center downstairs which was used for staff training.
Plans are being made for a maker space, a space where programs on topics such as cooking and the arts will take place.
Ludwig said the new plans will help the library meet the needs of the community.
The library is more of a community space, ”she said. “The element of literacy is there, and always will be. It’s about having a nice community center with great lighting where (clients) can pick up a book, use our wi-fi, and learn about current programs.
“Libraries adapt to the needs of their community: this is the heart of a library,” said Ludwig. “Over time, by listening to community feedback, libraries listen to how to adapt and grow so they don’t become obsolete.”
Email South Bend Tribune reporter Greg Swiercz at [email protected]