A new chapter: After decades of planning, state-of-the-art IPL branch to open Aug. 19


The Fort Ben Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library is nearing completion following a little more than a year of construction and about two decades of planning.

The grand opening for the Fort Ben Branch at 9330 East 56th St. is set for 10 a.m. Aug. 19, with a ribbon cutting, cake, music and activities lasting through 4:30 p.m.

Branch Manager Shelby Peak said that leading up to the big day, she and library staff will be busy moving into their new home.

“We’re unpacking supplies, and the collections (are) arriving next week,” she said in a late-July interview. “So, we’ll be spending the next several weeks shelving books and getting all those fine details ironed out.”

Peak said they broke ground on the Fort Ben Branch in April of 2022.

“But plans for this branch have been in the works for over 20 years,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming. There have been some people who’ve grown up waiting for this library.”

Peak said that when Fort Benjamin Harrison closed in the mid-90s and the land given back to the community, residents in Lawrence said they wanted — among other amenities — a new library at the former fort site. There were various reasons for the delay in fulfilling that, she said — including the COVID-19 pandemic— but now, those plans are finally coming to fruition.

There has been a Lawrence-area library branch at 7898 Hague Rd., and that branch will remain open. Peak said the area is large enough to warrant two libraries.

“It opens the door for a lot of potential now that we have more staff and more resources for the community,” she said. “The current Lawrence branch will not close. They will continue to operate like they have been. We have just split the area a little bit between the two branches so that way we can provide better service.”

Peak said they hope to strengthen their current work with the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township and form new partnerships with various nonprofits serving Lawrence.

“I have spent the last 18 months being out in the community and getting to know some of the organizations in the area and just seeing where the need is, because we do have some underserved populations that really struggle to get to (the library),” she said. “Having a physical location in the area is going to be a big deal for a lot of the folks here, because it’s a lot easier to get to us by bus, through biking or even walking, in addition to driving.”

Peak said the new branch will have about 22,000 gross square feet holding about 50,000 titles in its collection. The library branch will aim for energy efficiency, with a rooftop solar electricity system, and it offers study rooms, a community meeting room with space for up to 100 people, computer access and spaces for children, teens and adults.

The Fort Ben Branch also will include a special display about Fort Benjamin Harrison’s history with images and information. Peak said that was something brought up at community meetings during the planning stages for the new branch, and the library wanted to make it happen for residents.

“There will be a few familiar elements for those that grew up in the area, and so they’ll definitely feel that nostalgia from the time when the fort was active,” she said. “But we’re hoping that everyone will be able to pick up on something new through the exhibit.”

When the new branch opens on Aug. 19, it will officially become the Indianapolis Public Library system’s 25th location.

“I’m looking forward to finally welcoming people into the (library branch) and really seeing just what other potential is there,” Peak said. “We are working really hard to make sure that we are providing an accessible and inclusive space and that everyone is welcome.”

The $14.3-million Fort Ben Branch project was funded through bonds approved by the Indianapolis City-County Council. Peak said the bonds did not lead to any increase in the city’s debt service tax rate.

For more, visit indypl.org/locations/fort-ben

A welcoming space for all

The Fort Ben Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library system is working toward becoming a certified autism center, said Branch Manager Shelby Peak.

Staff is undergoing training now to better serve patrons on the autism spectrum, or those with sensory needs. Peak said she hopes the certification will be in place by the time the branch opens Aug. 19, but if not, it will be very soon after.

“It’s going to be a useful tool to empower our staff to see what programs could we modify to be more inclusive and sensory friendly? How are we publicizing our events? Are we including general sensory information that will be helpful? And even just personal interactions when they’re checking out books or using the computers,” she said. “I think a big step in the library’s commitment to being more accessible and inclusive.”

Once the certification is in place, she said, the Fort Ben Branch will be only the second library in the United States to have completed this level of training.

The training is through the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards. For more, visit ibcces.org.