The Portage District Library is a unique institution because like the city it serves, it should never have existed. Early on township residents wanted a public library however they were thwarted at virtually every turn. In one case they were told that Portage did not need its own library and that a branch of the Kalamazoo library would be more than sufficient. Not giving up, a dedicated group of individuals pushed on, and finally received permission and a budget to establish a Township Library. That would mark the beginning of an adventure that would take us from a Township Library to a Public Library and finally to the Portage District Library that you see today. The time-line below gives a small glimpse of what those individuals went through so we could enjoy the institution that exists today. Remember that the adventure is far from over. Who knows what lies ahead for the Portage District Library in the years to come!
The Portage Township Planning Commission is organized. A sub-group is created called the Portage Library Commission. This would be the forerunner of the Friends of the Library Association.
The Friends of the Library Association forms from the Portage Library Commission. This organization is still operating on behalf of the library today, some forty-nine years later.
Mrs. Vivian Belsky and other volunteers began to gather donated materials which are then stored in an empty house located at 7817 South Westnedge Avenue and owned by First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Kalamazoo. The building is offered for use as a library but due to fire code issues, can only be utilized for storage.
Though “building-less” the library receives official status as a township library through the efforts of Township Supervisor, John Plantefaber. This allows the library to receive a small budget. A few weeks later, the “library” leases a former classroom building on the grounds of the Western Michigan University Agricultural School located at 1525 West Milham Avenue.
The new Portage Township Library opens in the former Western Michigan University Agricultural School classroom building. The library is granted a two year, short term, rent free lease, by Smokler Builders who plan to eventually develop the property into a residential sub-division.
Due to the development of the property on West Milham, the library gives up the lease on the classroom building and seeks a new and more permanent location at 7526 South Westnedge within the Portage Shopping Plaza. The next thirteen years would be known as the “store front” years.
At midnight on December 31st Portage officially changes from a Township to a City. Along with this change, the Portage Library switches from the title of Township Library to the title of Public Library.
The store-front library was quickly outgrown and a thus a movement began seeking a permanent location that would offer the space needed for continued growth. The movement would be rewarded on July 25th, 1976 (almost thirteen years after moving into the storefront) with the dedication of the new Portage Public Library at 300 Library Lane. Speakers would include Mayor Betty Ongley and City Librarian Frank Hemphill.
In the new facility the library would continue to grow. One of the largest changes was the move from card catalogs to computer catalogs. The first system was known as the DYNIX. By the early 1990’s the library realized that it was outgrowing the now fifteen year old building so it was decided to expand.
The Friends of the Portage Library incorporate and receive 501 c3 status making them an official non-profit organization.
After years of planning, voting and construction, the dedication of the newly expanded Portage Public Library, 300 Library Lane, takes place ushering in a new era of library services within the community of Portage.
After a successful campaign, the Portage Public Library officially changes its status and name to the Portage District Library.