Carmel, Westfield expand, build new libraries…

Two Hamilton County cities are in the midst of projects that will significantly expand the services and reach of their public libraries.

The Carmel Clay Public Library plans to reopen its main branch late this year following a two-year, $40 million renovation and expansion, while the Westfield Washington Public Library will break ground this summer on a $17.7 million, 45,000-square-foot facility.

Construction is happening at a time libraries play an increasingly wide-ranging role in the communities they serve, according to directors at both libraries.

“I see the modern library as a place where people can come and gather and learn information and just not have to worry about whether they fit in, because we are inclusive of all age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Sheryl Sollars, executive director of the Westfield Washington Public Library.

While print books represented 62% of circulation in Carmel and 65% in Westfield in 2021, both directors said libraries are more than places to find reading materials.

They serve as forums, meeting spaces, creative hubs and service providers, even as they continue to feel the pinch of Indiana’s property tax caps, which reduce revenue to the libraries.

“I think the role of the modern public library is to be a community center,” said Bob Swanay, director of the Carmel Clay Public Library. “And I think there are some traditional spaces that we used to have in society that we’ve lost that libraries kind of filled the gap in.”

Swanay said plans for a major renovation and expansion of Carmel’s library began in 2017 as the existing building approached its 20-year mark at 55 4th Ave. SE.

Carmel’s population increased from about 46,000 when the library opened in 1999 to more than 88,000 in 2017, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Along with the need for increased services, the city had simply outgrown its library, Swanay said.

“Ideally, you want a library to be pretty well-matched to serve the community that [it’s] in,” he said. “Certain aspects of the building were no longer matching up to that.”

The Westfield Washington Public Library’s current facility has been expanded three times to accommodate population growth since it opened in 1983. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

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