The history of the West Bloomfield Township Public Library can be traced back to 1934 when 38 members of the Keego-Cass Women’s Club on Cass Lake Road obtained books from every possible source to start a library in one of their clubhouse rooms. For three years, members of this club worked and maintained this small library. Because of greater and greater demand for more books and longer hours, a push was made by club members to obtain township funding for the library in 1937. The 1938 election ballot contained a proposal for a mill for the maintenance of a library, and the measure passed, but only by 31 votes. A temporary library board was appointed, and in 1939, the first library board was elected. Members included: Mr. Geo. Kern of Westacres, Miss Irene DeConick of West Maple Rd., Miss Eva Mitchell of Pine Lake, Mrs. Fred Laffrey of Keego Harbor, and Claude Whitner of Walnut Lake.
In 1939, since the township was funding the library, it was decided that the library should be moved from the Women’s Club to the balcony and then the basement of Town Hall, located on Orchard Lake Rd where the Regent Street facility now sits. Betty Webb, the librarian, was paid 32 cents an hour in 1939. Unfortunately, this library was only open two days a week, and by 1946, the women of Keego, feeling that the library service at Town Hall was not adequate, obtained and fixed up a room in the Keego Harbor Community Center. This location became the Main Library, open 38 hours a week, and the Town Hall location became the branch until 1947 when it closed due to lack of patronage. For a few years, West Bloomfield had three libraries, Keego, Westacres, and Town Hall.
As other activities at the Community Center ceased, it fell upon the Library to maintain the building, which severely taxed the Library’s financial resources. By 1949, the West Bloomfield Library owned 11,231 volumes. The voters increased the property tax for the Library from .25 mill to 1 mill by three votes. In 1950, the West Bloomfield School System purchased the Community Center to hold classes until the new high school could be completed. The library was allowed to stay for free. Once the new high school was completed in 1954, the school vacated the building but allowed the library to remain, again at no charge. In 1957, there was a need once again for more space. The Library rented the basement of the Keego Harbor Standard School Building on Orchard Lake Road.
nother challenge presented itself to the Library in 1955 when Keego became incorporated as a city. Keego city officials occupied the Community Center, but the Library was allowed to remain. Because the Community Center was located in Keego, not West Bloomfield, a move was necessary. Plus, by 1957, the population of the township had grown to 12,500 people compared to 4,503 in 1930. The Library owned 15,000 books and circulated 37,000 books, 2,000 periodicals, and 200 records. Clearly the population was growing and the Library wanted to keep pace with it.
Through a generous donation of 1.5 acres of land on Orchard Lake Road, (now the site of the Hadassah House) by Irwin Cohen, Paul Zucherman, and Jack Citron, the Library had a place to build a new structure. Construction on the facility was completed in 1963.
In April of 1963, the Library was one of ten libraries in the United States to receive the Library Buildings Award sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, the American Library Association, and the National Book Committee.
The Orchard Lake Road location was 5863 sq. ft., contained space for 50,000 books, a meeting room, and had parking for 35 cars.
By the early 70s, the Library had again outgrown its setting. In 1973, the West Bloomfield Township Board purchased the 99 acres where the Civic Center Complex now sits off of Walnut Lake Road. The Library decided that this would be an optimal place to build a new library. The Library lost three millage elections to raise the funds to construct a new library, but the library board was undaunted by these setbacks and began setting money aside towards a new building. An architect was hired and a building was designed that could be built in three phases as more money was raised.
At this time, the Library was enmeshed in a battle over funding with the Township. According to Public Act 164, public libraries are allowed to be their own taxing authority and are guaranteed the money for 1 mill. The Township was providing this funding to the Library on a very inconsistent basis, so in 1974, the Library took the Township to court. In a landmark case, the Oakland County Circuit Court ruled that the Library was a separate entity from the Township and had the right to levy a 1 mill property tax and receive the money.
Phase One and Two of the new Library on Walnut Lake Road were completed in 1984 at a cost of $825,000.
The original 16,000 square feet Library was expanded to 25,000 in September 1988 at a cost of $740,000. In 1988, the book collection of the Library had grown to 90,000 volumes. Besides books, the Library also added computers, compact discs, and videos to the collection to keep pace with new technologies, and by 1988, the Library owned 74,957 non-book items such as disc recordings, audiocassettes, and puppets. To help students, two study rooms were also added to the Library.
In late 1994, the West Bloomfield Library began offering Internet access both in the library and to patrons in their homes. West Bloomfield was one of the early libraries to offer these services. To help those in the community who were not familiar with the Internet, or intimidated by it, West Bloomfield staff began to offer classes to the community for free.
The Library once again found itself unable to adequately offer the services that the public demanded in the 90s. The population from 1987-1997 had increased by 20%, library card registrations increased by 88%, and circulation of materials increased by 78%. The community and technology had advanced at a pace beyond expectation when the Walnut Lake Road location was originally built. Through a community survey and focus groups, the Library Board began investigating Library usage and needs and found that the public wanted more materials, technology, and programming. A feasibility study was carried out, which determined that the current facility could not meet these demands, so the Board proposed a millage vote of $10.8 million to expand and improve both libraries. In September 1997, the West Bloomfield township voters approved the millage. Construction on the Main Library began in the fall of 1998. While construction on the Main Library was taking place, the Adult and Youth Departments were relocated to two separate areas in the Orchard Lake Mall.
The new Main Library opened in May of 2000. The size of the facility was increased from 26,000 sq ft. to 63,812 sq. ft. Other improvements made over the old library were a larger Youth area, a Young Adult area, a computer lab with 20 stations, an Information Commons with computers equipped with Microsoft Office products, faster Internet access, and DVD players among other things. Increased shelving for materials, group and quiet study rooms, drive-up window service, self-checkout stations, DVDs, a large conference room, a casual study room with vending machines, a Friend’s of the Library store, and better heating and cooling systems, plus a beautiful interior and exterior, featured the library was now able to offer. The West Bloomfield Library is a state-of-the-art facility with a staff and services that have put the library at the “cutting edge” now and for many years to come.