The idea for a library in Portage, Michigan manifested in 1958 at a meeting of foresighted citizens who felt the need for this institution within their community. It was from this meeting that the organization known as the Friends of the Portage Library was born with the single goal of creating and running this public library.
Portage District Library History
Despite many setbacks, including being turned down as a tax-supported institution and a professional recommendation from the State Librarian that the Township of Portage negotiate with the City of Kalamazoo to open a branch library, the Friends of the Portage Library “stayed the course” refusing to compromise on their idea of a library unique to the community of Portage. In 1961, after just three years from their first meeting, the possibility of achieving their goal became very real. In anticipation of this volunteers began to request and seek out donations of books, furniture and other suitable materials. A possible site for the library was located at 7817 South Westnedge Avenue in a former home and bank branch. The use of the structure was donated free of charge by the owner and former occupant, First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Kalamazoo, however it was soon discovered that it would be unsuitable for use as a library due to certain fire code restrictions resulting in the Friends utilizing the structure only for storage of their donated materials. (It should be noted that this first structure was located only a few yards from where the library stands today.)
In April of 1962 another possible library building was located at 1525 West Milham Avenue. Formerly a Western Michigan University agricultural class building it was found to be the ideal structure. Leased for two years, rent free, to the Friends of the Portage Library by the new owners, Smokler Builders, volunteers immediately commenced to clean up, repair and outfit the structure allowing the first Portage Library to open its doors on May 28 th, 1962. The library would continue to utilize this structure until late 1963 when it would have to move to a new address at 7526 South Westnedge, inside the Portage Plaza Shopping Center. The move occurred for several reasons. The two year lease was set to expire, Smokler Builders planned to raze the building to make way for the Kirkshire housing development, the library had outgrown the building necessitating the need to move into larger quarters and the Portage Plaza Shopping Center was more centrally located within the community.
The library would remain at the Portage Plaza address, a time often referred to as the “store front years” until 1976 when it would need to move once again. This time, however, the library would be moving into its own brand new building located at 300 Library Lane. Since the move in 1976, the library has continued to grow and prosper. In 1996, due to continued growth in the community, the library completed a million dollar expansion and retrofit, and in 1998 the library became a district institution.