Understanding and accessing Indiana state censuses and other enumerations

Like many states, Indiana conducted state censuses in various years. However, locating and accessing these records can be difficult for researchers. Especially confusing is the varying ways in which the censuses were conducted over time, as this affected what information enumerators recorded as well as where the records came to be stored.

Indiana Territorial Census, 1807

According to John Newman, former State Archivist, many early state censuses were strict enumerations, where the number of people living in a township or county were tallied, but names and personal information was not recorded. Although some censuses in the early to mid-1800s in Indiana did ask for names, they enumerated only males over the age of 21. These records were usually filed with the county auditor in each county and were never collated at the state level.

So where else can we look for enumerated information on our Hoosier ancestors to fill in the gaps not covered by state censuses? There are several options, actually. While the availability of records varies by time period and by county, on the whole these are very useful resources for genealogists.

Enumerations of African Americans

Harrison County Register of Negroes and Mulattoes, ca. 1850

These enumerations cover the 1850s and 1860s and were created as part of an attempt to prevent free African Americans from moving to Indiana and to document those who already lived here. Although these efforts were eventually declared invalid by the Indiana Supreme Court, the records created provide a valuable resource for pre-Civil War African American research in Indiana.

School enumerations

School enumeration, Fulton County, 1896

School enumerations list all the children of school age in a school district, township or county. They were created so that school officials knew how many students they would potentially need to serve and also to help enforce truancy rules. Some school enumerations include just the head of household and the number of school-aged children, while others name each student along with their age and other information. These are particularly useful to genealogists who are researching children.

Enumerations of registered voters

Index to Registered Voters, Pike County, 1919-1920

These enumerations list the people who were registered to vote in a given township or county. The records were kept so that officials knew who was eligible to vote in elections. Since most of the publicly available voter rolls predate the 19th Amendment, they contain far more information on men than women.

Enumerations of soldiers, widows, orphans and/or pensioners

Card index to enrollments of soldiers, widows and orphans, Indiana State Library

Officials conducted these enumerations to determine how many veterans lived in Indiana in various years, as well as the widows and orphans of veterans who were receiving military pensions or benefits due to the service of their deceased husband or father. The largest enumerations took place in 1886, 1890 and 1894 and focused on Civil War veterans. The 1890 enumeration is particularly valuable since the 1890 federal census was lost in the aftermath of a fire.

Other enumerations
These are miscellaneous enumerations that were conducted for various reasons, some of which are no longer known. They often cover only a township or two and may be part of a larger enumeration where the bulk of the records were lost.

To see the Indiana State Library’s holdings for state censuses and other enumerations, please visit our Enumerations Research Guide here.

This blog post is by Jamie Dunn, Genealogy Division supervisor.

Indiana State Prison trade goods

Indiana’s first state prison opened on Jan. 9, 1821, in Jeffersonville, taking in inmates regardless of age, sex, offense or sentence. In 1847, a new prison was built in nearby Clarksville as well as one in Michigan City. Inmates were divided between the two and they became known as the Indiana State Prison South and the Indiana State Prison North.

By 1897, due to the belief that young males should not be housed with older males, they were divided by age between the southern and northern locations. The Indiana State Prison South became home to inmates between the ages 16 to 30 and was renamed the Indiana Reformatory.

On Feb. 6, 1918, during the night, a fire damaged most of the buildings at Indiana State Prison South. After this, the Governor’s Commission decided to build a new a more centrally located prison in Indiana. A site near Pendleton was selected since the Fall Creek provided a source of running water. The construction commenced in 1922 and opened in late 1923.

As part of the early 20th century prison acts, the offenders at the Indiana State Prison South were taught trades and manufactured various goods for state institutions and agencies across the state. This is the trades building at Pendleton.

In the Indiana State Library’s digital collections, you can explore examples of the printed catalogues. We have ones from 1905-10, 1915, 1925 and 1938.

The catalogs show what was manufactured by the inmates in these trade schools at the Indiana Reformatory in Jeffersonville and Pendleton. They include cooking utensils, clothing, shoes, brooms and furniture. Here are some example pages. The first from the 1905-10 catalog and the second from the 1915 catalog.

In the 1925, wicker furniture was added and probably made available to the various state park inns which were built during this time.

By 1938, old hickory-style furniture appeared, probably also used at the state park inns. Other additions included licenses and tags, soaps and cleaners, brooms of all kinds and bricks.

The Indiana State Agency Documents Digital Collection has publications from various state agencies, including departments, boards, bureaus, commissions, councils and committees that carry out various functions of the Executive Branch of Indiana state government. The Indiana State Library has state publications that span from the 19th century to present. To help preserve the older materials, digitized copies are being made available so the collection will continue to grow, not just in this collection, but also throughout our digital collections.

This post was written by Christopher Marshall, digital collections coordinator for the Indiana Division at the Indiana State Library.

Poetry from the collections of the Indiana State Library

There is no shortage of poetry in the collections of the Indiana State Library, from published works to ephemeral poems, many tucked away in letters or scrapbooks. This is a look into pieces left by the amateur poets of Indiana – every day Hoosiers creating with language based on their lives, loves and experiences.

Many of the poems within the Manuscripts Division exist as collections unto themselves. They are often a single poem with little information about their creation or author. This further lends to the idea that they existed solely as a personal exercise for their creator or perhaps a gift to someone. The themes represented in a selection of the poems in the Manuscripts Division are some of the most quintessential in poetry: love and relationships, war and loss. These are all topics that have driven humans to create songs, ballads and other forms of poetry throughout history.

The following two poems are examples of themes on love and relationships – mostly the complicated variety. They are both anonymous. “Song of a Fellow” is signed by “Eva” and tells of an unimpressive suitor who failed to woo her. “The Reconcilement” is about the ups and downs in a marriage. Both poems are also written on small scraps of paper.

“The Watchmen of Dover” is a poem about England in World War II by Wilbur Sheron of Marion, Indiana. Sheron’s biography indicates he wrote a number of poems. It’s likely that this may have been intended for other readership as he lists himself as the author as well as his contact information.

“At Early Candlelight” tells the tale of an older man reminiscing in the early evening about his lost family and how he will meet them in heaven. It is on two small scraps of paper, but is also entitled and signed by the author, Robert McIntyre. No information is available about him.

This next poem was found in the scrapbook of Caroline Furbay, saved from her friend Charles William Alber, both also from Marion, Indiana. What a pleasant way to say, “It’s the thought that counts!”

Poets have formed groups in Indiana to share their work, such as the Poetry Society of Indiana, first formed as the Indiana State Federation of Poetry Clubs in 1941. The Manuscripts Division holds collections from some of these groups and the writers involved, such as the aforementioned club and the Poets’ Study Club of Terre Haute. The INverse Poetry Archive is also part of the Manuscripts Collection and collects poems submitted by Hoosiers on an annual basis.

This blog post was written by Lauren Patton, Rare Books and Manuscripts librarian, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

Indiana’s dilapidated rural bridges

On Monday, Nov. 15, 2021, President Joe Biden officially signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law. This law will inject an unprecedented $1 trillion into various public infrastructure projects throughout the country, including here in Indiana. Of principal concern is the improvement and repair of roads and bridges. In Indiana, this will include money toward the state’s numerous rural bridges.

Image ca. 1910 of the Fredricksburg Bridge, Salem, Indiana. From “Reinforced Concrete Bridges of Luten Design” (ISLO 624 no. 5).

According to a 2014 report from Purdue University, over 3,000 county bridges in the state were built prior to 1960.[1] Since that time, agriculture equipment has become larger and much heavier rendering many older bridges incapable of serving their function as an essential component in the movement of agricultural goods from farms to markets.

Image of a modern tractor on an older truss bridge. From Purdue Extension Report PPP-91 (ISLI 668.65 P894 no. 91).

Indiana bridges undergo thorough inspections on a regular basis. The Indiana State Library houses hundreds of bridge inspection reports dating back to the 1970s. These reports provide highly-detailed analysis of all aspects of a bridge’s design and construction and use rating systems to identify problem areas. Some reports include diving teams who perform underwater investigations of bridge support structures.

Image from Bridge inspection report: Boone County, Indiana, phase II, final report, 2011 (ISLI 624.2 N724bcr 2012).

Based on the findings from these reports, a troubling picture of the state of Indiana’s bridges emerges. According to the 2021 bridge profile of Indiana from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, over 1,000 of Indiana’s bridges are deemed structurally deficient.[2] Almost 2,000 bridges have posted load limits meaning that the larger and heavier vehicles and machinery necessary for modern farming cannot cross them without risking further damage to the bridge.

Image showing Jay County bridge number 008 (left) and close-up images (right) showing heavy corrosion. From Bridge inspection report, phase II, Jay County, Indiana (ISLI 624.2 J42ba 2012).

While Indiana recently allocated millions of dollars to local bridge and road development as part of its Next Level Indiana initiative, the passage of the federal bill should add further resources thus ensuring rural communities remain able to conduct business in the 21st century.

The Indiana State Library’s extensive collection of bridge inspection reports can be searched in our online catalog.

Information on Indiana’s Bridge Inspection Office can be found here.

Access the full text of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act here.

This blog post was written by Jocelyn Lewis, Catalog Division supervisor, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3678 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

[1] Tian, Yu, Haddock, John, Hubbard, Sarah. (2014). Focus on the Infrastructure: Indiana’s Local Bridges. Purdue Extension Center for Rural Development EC-775-W.

[2] American Road and Transportation Builders Association. (2021). National bridge Inventory: Indiana: 2021 bridge profile.

 

The Coate Coppock Estate and estate fraud

If you’ve gone through a box of older relatives’ papers, you may have run across a flyer that mentioned an estate and that the heir of the estate were due millions of dollars. The paper would have mentioned ongoing litigation and that the end of suit was in sight. It would have also asked the reader to help assist with these lawsuits by sending money to the leaders of the suit. Unfortunately, the unclaimed millions mentioned didn’t exist. In some cases, neither did the estate. They were all a scam to fleece people out of their savings with the promises of easy money.

There have been numerous cases of estate fraud over the centuries in the U.S. One of the earliest and most well-known is related to the Anneke Jans Bogardus Estate in New York City. The land in question was a 62-acre farm where Trinity Church currently sits. The first suit was brought in 1749 by a descendant of Cornelius Bogardus who died before the land was sold and did not sign the deed transferring the land. Both the descendant, Cornelius Brower and his son John filed multiple claims with the ruling always going to Trinity.

Flyer from Consolidated Association of Coate and Coppock Heirs

Flyer from Consolidated Association of Coate and Coppock Heirs

Flyer from Consolidated Association of Coate and Coppock Heirs

Other estate fraud cases include the Col. Jacob Baker estate in Philadelphia 1930s and the Sir Francis Drake estate. Approximately 2 million dollars was collected to help settle the Drake estate and the leader of the scam, Oscar Hartzell, was convicted of fraud and sentenced to ten years in Leavenworth penitentiary.

One of the aspects of the scam was fraudulent documents, usually a will or deed created to attach a person to the property in question and would be mentioned at meetings of heirs and in newsletters. False pedigree charts and books were often created as well to connect unrelated persons to one another, only a more dedicated genealogist would find the discrepancies when going through the information. Even after the scam was revealed, the false pedigree information lived on in published family histories.

The Vern A. Carpenter Collection at the Indiana State Library has six folders dedicated to the Coate Coppock Estate. The Coate Coppock estate was hinged on a 99-year lease to property in central Philadelphia that belonged to Marmaduke Coate and Mary Jane Coppock. The lease covered 976 acres in Philadelphia, along with 5,000 acres in multiple counties in Pennsylvania. Fliers were sent out to people making them aware of the “unclaimed” lease and asking them to support the cause. Local newspapers ran articles about meetings of the heirs. Amanda Krell, along with Glen B. Coate, were ringleaders of the scam.

In the folders are papers from Nathan Winterrowd of Fort Dodge, Iowa. Winterrowd was mentioned in a few newspaper articles in 1922 trying to raise money for the estate and get more claimants to join. Numerous signed affidavits from other family members detailing relationships along with other vital information take up most of the first two folders. Correspondence, newsletters and pamphlets about the Coate and Coppock estate are also included.

Letter to Nathan Winterrowd from Glen B. Coate

The other folders contain correspondence to and from Vern Carpenter and different agencies of the U.S. government, FBI, U.S. district attorney for Pennsylvania, U.S. Post Office, Herbert Hoover Presidential library, the Bureau of prisons and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, along with several other libraries and state and federal agencies.

Carpenter was researching the Wenderoth – and related names – family when he came across Nathan Winterrowd in the newspaper and the Winterrowd connection to the Coate and Coppock estate. He started looking into what the family connection was to the estate. He spoke with one of the original attorneys who managed the estate, Harry S. Monell, who was engaged to Amanda Krell in May of 1920. He mentions Winterrowd and how they had him arrested on a couple of occasions but was generally evasive about what happened to the association after he resigned.

While talking with another genealogist, he was put in touch with a woman, Ruth Quintrell. During an interview, she mentions she attended a Coate and Coppock heirs meeting and after listening to Krell, Quintrell suspected Krell was a fraud. She mailed a check to the association and then sent the returned check along with correspondence to Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of Commerce at the time, thus starting the federal investigation into the Coate and Coppock Association.

Correspondence from Vern Carpenter and Ruth Quintrell discussing Amanda Krell

Carpenter spends his time contacting various state, and federal agencies, libraries and archives looking for information about the case and finding out what if anything happened to Amanda Krell and Glen B. Coate. His first big break is from the Herbert Hoover Presidential library. The library sent him 34 pages from a folder that also contained correspondence into the Baker Estate. After contacting a family member who works for the federal government Vern finds out case files from the Coate and Coppock Estate are held at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. There are also records from the U.S. Postal Department that go into the investigation of the association.

Photocopies of correspondence between Ruth Quintrell and Herbert Hoover from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Photocopies of correspondence between Ruth Quintrell and Herbert Hoover from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Photocopies of correspondence between Ruth Quintrell and Herbert Hoover from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Photocopies of correspondence between Ruth Quintrell and Herbert Hoover from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Photocopies of correspondence between Ruth Quintrell and Herbert Hoover from the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

In the end, Carpenter found that the Federal Government had decided against prosecuting Amanda Krell and Glen B. Coate. Instead, they issued a permanent injunction which was why finding records about the case proved to be difficult. In his book “Wenderoth Families of Germany,” Carpenter spends 21 pages going through the documents he found while researching the case.

Photocopied correspondence from Horace Donnelly, Fraud Office U.S. Postal Office

Scams like this still happen today. They are usually better known as the “Nigerian prince” scam.

Blog written by Sarah Pfundstein, genealogy librarian, Indiana State Library. For more information, contact the Indiana State Library at 317-232-3689 or “Ask-A-Librarian.”

Indiana Letters About Literature writing contest submissions now open

The Indiana Letters About Literature writing contest is now open! Students in grades four through 12 are invited to write a letter to an author, living or deceased, whose one work has made a difference in how the student sees themselves or the world. Indiana students can write about works of literature including fiction, nonfiction, short stories, poems, essays or speeches – including TED Talks.

Last year over 800 letters were submitted to the contest. Students wrote about lots of books including “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio, “Out of My Mind” by Sharon Draper, “Harry Potter” by J. K. Rowling, and, as students were reflecting upon current events, books about viruses including “The Girl Who Owned a City” by O. T. Nelson and “Five Feet Apart” by Rachael Lippincott. Students were not shy about tackling heavy topics in their letters including the COVID-19 pandemic, racism and immigration. Letters are not actually delivered to the authors, but for the past nine years about 100 letters have been selected for inclusion in an annual anthology. That will continue this year.

First, second and third place winners are selected from amongst the top 100 letters in three levels: grades 4-6, grades 7-8 and grades 9-12. In addition, a special award is given to the top letter written to an Indiana author.

The top letters from the 2020-21 contest are as follows:

Noelle Carey, McCutchanville, was the first-place winner from Level One. She wrote a letter to Kelly Yang, author of the bestselling novel for children, “Front Desk.” This is a selection from her letter:

“Mia Tang and her family went to America to have a better life, but when they arrived it wasn’t anything like what they expected. Her family worked for very little money and willingly did so to hopefully get the ‘American Dream.’ They worked for a boss that repeatedly made them feel meaningless and replaceable. This brings to light another imbalance in our communities. People of color are sometimes forced to take any job available, and sometimes for very little pay, to survive. Immigrant families like Mia’s look for a fresh start but sometimes don’t get what they imagined. Our world needs to be better, know better, and do better.”

Melani Martinez Blanco, Jasper, was the first-place winner from Level Two. She wrote a letter to Alan Gratz, author of the novel, “Refugee.” This is a selection from her letter:

“I was an immigrant, a foreigner to a country where I had no idea of the language or its system. I was made fun of constantly when I didn’t know certain words or phrases, but then I started to get the hang of it. I am now fourteen years old, and I cannot imagine never having come to this country that I and many immigrants call home. Isabel and her journey were the first time I didn’t feel alone in a long time. We would discuss this in class and many students would listen to my family’s journey and how I felt personally connected to Isabel and her many obstacles. Alan Gratz, I want to personally thank you for having this character whose story made me feel stronger and more connected to my roots and the way I came to be the person that I am today.”

Badreddine Bouzeraa, Wheeler, was the first-place winner from Level Three. He wrote a letter to George M. Johnson, author of the memoir, “All Boys Aren’t Blue.” This is a selection from his letter:

“In the first act of ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue,’ your unique storytelling of struggling to find a way to express yourself allowed me to realize that many LGBTQ+ members struggle with the same ordeal. Many are taught that there are only two genders and one sexuality. However, there are a plethora of unique orientations. On page 23 of ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue,’ you state, ‘However, I was old enough to know that I would find safety only in the arms of suppression – hiding my true self – because let’s face it, kids can be cruel.’ Millions in the non-heterosexual orientation continue to suppress themselves, and I beg to question, why must we?”

Jack Egan, Michigan City, won the Indiana Author Letter Prize for the top letter written to an Indiana author. He wrote a letter to Ernie Pyle, war correspondent and author of the article, “The Death of Captain Waskow.” This is a selection from his letter:

As in your day, today we are also combating difficult times due to a pandemic called COVID-19. By describing Captain Waskow’s life and sacrifice so beautifully, you also brought to life all the other men and women who died for the freedom we enjoy today. I am not so sure that the society in which I live today is as willing to sacrifice for others as your generation was so willing to do in your time. Unfortunately, today our society is not even willing to wear a mask to protect others from COVID-19, let alone be willing to be placed on the front lines of a war to protect their freedoms.”

The deadline to enter the 2021-22 contest is Jan. 10, 2022. Details, entry forms and official rules for the contest can be found on the Letters About Literature website.

Get your students excited to enter the contest by sharing this video with them:

This blog post was submitted by Indiana Young Readers Center librarian Suzanne Walker.

Indiana State Library seeking libraries for passport program

The Indiana State Library is currently exploring the idea of a statewide library passport program. The program, with a tentative launch in 2022, will operate in a similar manner to the Passport To Your National Parks® program administered by America’s National Parks™, under its parent company, Eastern National, an official nonprofit education partner of the National Park Service.

The State Library wants to hear from libraries with a special space to share. Architecture, art, special collections, museums, statues and outdoor public spaces are just some of the features that would make the library an excellent place to visit. Ideally, these features should be accessible to the public without the need of a library card, as visitors will be encouraged to travel to each highlighted library.

Indiana libraries that are interested in the program are encouraged to fill out this Microsoft Form, letting the State Library know why guests should visit their library. All types of libraries are eligible for involvement, including public, academic and special libraries. Depending on the number of submissions, libraries may be included in a later iteration of the program. The form submission deadline is Oct. 31.

The program is subject to change at any time and will adhere to any potential COVID-19 restrictions.

Please contact John Wekluk, communications director at the Indiana State Library, with any questions.

This post was written by John Wekluk, communications director at the Indiana State Library.

A map of the Wabash and Erie Canal from the Ohio state line to Terre Haute

In its collections, the Indiana State Library has a map of the Wabash and Erie Canal from the Ohio state line to Terre Haute. The library’s copy of this map is a reproduction made in the 1920s from the original map held at the Library of Congress. The map shows the route of the Wabash and Erie Canal from the Ohio state line to Terre Haute. The base map is compiled from surveys done by the Federal Government in the early 1800s.

The canal ran through the wilderness of a largely unsettled part of Indiana. The canal period was crucial to the development and colonization of Indiana, especially to remote parts of the state north of Indianapolis. Ultimately, the Wabash and Erie Canal would connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River in Evansville.

We realize the map is not beautiful, but take a moment to examine the digitized map closely. The canal period coincides with Indian removal in the state. Clearly mapped are the reserve lands set aside for the Miami during the removal of Indians from the state – Jean Baptiste de Richardville, Little Turtle, Godfroy. Most of the reserve lands shown on these maps can be found in the treaty made at St. Mary’s with the Miami, Oct. 6, 1818 and a treaty signed at the Mississinewa in 1826.

By 1840, all this granted land was recollected, and tribes moved west.

Learn more about the Wabash and Erie Canal from the Indiana Historical Bureau’s “The Indiana Historian: Canal Mania in Indiana.” Especially interesting is an account of early travel along the canal recorded in J. Richard Beste’s published travel book, “The Wabash; or, Adventures of an English gentleman’s family in the interior of America” (London, Hurst and Blackett, Publishers, 1855). They take off from Terre Haute on Aug. 12, 1851. Available in full text from the Library of Congress, beginning on page 191 of Volume 2.

Click here to view a hi-res version of the map of the Wabash and Erie Canal from the Ohio state line to Terre Haute, and visit the Indiana State Library Map Collection to examine maps, county atlases, plats maps and other land descriptions.

This post was written by Monique Howell, Indiana Collection supervisor.

New changes regarding the administration of Indiana librarian certification

Indiana law has required some form of librarian certification program for many years. The belief is that individuals who go to libraries for assistance should receive quality guidance and information. The way to assure this is to require some basic minimum requirements for Indiana librarians.

The Indiana State Library administers the librarian certification program for Indiana and has historically relied on technology and software provided by the Professional Licensing Agency to make this happen. For the past 13 years, the State Library has contracted with the Professional Licensing Agency to provide a number of services including maintaining our database of certified librarians, processing online renewals, and mailing out renewal reminders, audit notices, and certificates for us. As of July 1, 2021, the State Library moved all of those functions in-house.

Our new system is designed specifically for Indiana librarian certification. Since it no longer needs to meet the demands of many different state agencies, each with different requirements, our new certification portal is simpler, more streamlined, and we think it is more intuitive. Currently, the new portal only replaces the functions that the Professional Licensing Agency had been performing for us, but over the long term we expect to expand the number of services and payments that can be handled online.

Things that have changed with the new portal:

  • We are using a different credit card service to process online payments. The new service charges lower fees and those savings are passed on to the librarians so they spend less on their transactions than before.
  • Correspondence with certified librarians now takes place almost entirely by email. In the past most of our communications have been printed and sent by the Professional Licensing Agency using the U.S. Postal Service. Renewal reminders and random audit notices are now sent by email.
  • In the new portal, librarians are able to print out a digital permit or certificate as soon as it has been approved.
  • Because our new certification portal has been designed in house, it bears some similarity to other services administered by the State Library, such as InfoExpress or Indiana Legacy. We think this makes the portal easier to learn and more intuitive to use.
  • The State Library never asks for librarian Social Security numbers or birth dates. However, recent changes to the login screen for the Professional Licensing Agency’s system made it seem like we were asking for that information from librarians as an option for logging into their account. That will never happen in our new portal.
  • The public look up page for librarians will also take place through the new certification portal.
  • Librarians will no longer be required to create an Access Indiana account to log into their record.
  • The State Library is able to troubleshoot all technical issues in house which leads to faster resolution in the event an issue arises.

The State Library is very excited about the new librarian certification portal. It is an exciting new tool to help us provide services to librarians who are certified, those who wish to become certified and the public who may wish to look up a librarian to verify certification. For more information about the certification portal or certification for Indiana librarians, click here. You can check out the new certification portal itself by clicking here.

This blog post was written by Sylvia Watson, library law consultant and legal counsel, Indiana State Library.

Who’s in charge? Public library boards in Indiana

Public board meetings have been all over the news lately, and public libraries haven’t been exempt. Even a seemingly quiet place like a library can be subject to unpopular decisions and conflict daily, frustrating both staff and patrons. A well-functioning library board is an essential component of an effective and welcoming library, and there are a number of laws that help ensure a library has one.

So how do public library boards work in Indiana and what are their responsibilities? Nearly all of the 236 public libraries in Indiana are governed by a seven-member board of trustees. These trustees gather monthly, in person or electronically, to meet with the library’s director and assist them in leading the library, to propose and evaluate library policies, to monitor the library’s progress on its strategic plan and to approve expenditures in accordance with the library budget.

In Indiana, public library trustees are not elected, but instead appointed, by local elected officials which may include representatives from their local county and school corporation. Trustees serve four-year terms which may be renewed for up to four consecutive terms, or 16 years total. There are some exceptions where trustees may serve even longer than that (e.g., if a trustee had joined by filling in for a vacant partial term, or if a diligent search of a small community did not produce a new qualified candidate). Trustees receive no compensation for their service.

Public library trustees are community members of the library they serve. In fact, trustees are required to have resided in the service area of the library they will serve for at least two years immediately before becoming a trustee. Ideally, public library trustees should be library users themselves. They should be advocates for the library in the community. They should be lifelong learners and willing to seek professional development opportunities to hone their skills as a trustee. Most importantly, they should always make decisions with the community’s needs in mind. All public library trustees are required to take an oath of office before serving.

Per the Indiana Open Door law, public library board meetings are open to the public to attend. Whether or not public comment is on the agenda is determined locally by the policies of each library board. There are rare occasions that a board may hold an executive – or private – session, in which case they are required to post a meeting notice stating the reason for meeting in private. Boards are not allowed to vote or take final action in an executive session.

The Indiana State Library provides support for Indiana public library trustees in the form of consultations, trainings  – recorded, virtual or live – and even a trustee manual, recently updated for 2021. We are also happy to connect library patrons with their local library board if needed. We usually recommend that anyone with a board concern try to reach out to the library’s director first. If they would still like to contact the board, they can send correspondence care of the library or attend a public meeting.

If you are interested in serving as a trustee at your Indiana public library, you may contact the library board or the various appointing authorities in your service area to let them know you are interested in serving should a vacancy arise. Even then, the appointing authorities have the final decision on selection. Additionally, the appointing authorities are the only individuals with the power to remove a board member should the need ever arise.

To read the Indiana Code related to library board duties and composition, click here.

This post was written by Jen Clifton, Library Development Office.