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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Library History in Ohio

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 29, 2007


Ohio Library Legislative Day is always a great time to inform Ohio's legislators about Ohio's public libraries.


At the same time, it affords the opportunity to learn about legislative proposals and discuss what will benefit the citizens of Ohio through the use of our 251 public library districts.


Our delegation from Eastern Ohio had a wonderful meeting with State Senator Jason Wilson and we shared library experiences with him.


One thing I noticed this year was the number of times someone would ask be an historical question about Ohio library funding.


I also noted that I could answer every one.


Does this mean that I have become a historian for Ohio libraries?


Well, I did just pass 36 years of working in Ohio's libraries, so the accumulated knowledge of that time period can be a basis for the history.


In addition, I have had several positive mentors in the library community throughout my career.


One was A. Chapman Parsons, the Executive Director of the Ohio Library Association when I served on funding committees in Columbus in the early 1980s.


"Chap" as he was known, was an expert on libraries in Ohio and I listened carefully to the stories.


I attended Library School at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and the Cleveland Public Library was a major supporter and often sent lecturers to our classes.


I gleaned more background from that experience as well.


Although Ohio's libraries date back to 1796, substantial development took place in the later 19th century with the establishment of branch libraries, the dictionary card catalog, and programming for children.


In 1896, the State Library of Ohio began library development efforts across the state, resulting in more than 280 library districts by the 1930s.


Our library system records many visits from State Library staff in the 1930s as we moved to a countywide system with branches.


Ohio remains the exception in the funding of public libraries.  In 1933, the Legislature established a new tax for libraries statewide.


Interpretations, modifications, and changes are part of that funding, bringing us to a Library Fund in 1986 tied to the State Income Tax.


The proposal by Governor Strickland for the next state budget is to tie the library fund to all state revenues to make it more stable, and rename it the Local Library Fund.


Again, library funding in Ohio will evolve to a new format.


Maybe that is why they were looking for someone who knew the past.


If you don't know where you have been, you won't know where you are going down the road.


And despite the budget reductions and freezes of recent years, Ohio's libraries remain the "Best in the Nation," as the 2003 book title states.


And they are the best because of the efficiency, communications, and sharing that has been the backbone of Ohio's libraries.


There is more to come as libraries do more cooperative efforts, as we link together the huge electronic systems that exist in Ohio; as we offer statewide databases to the public.


Still, public libraries remain as they have always been.


Archibald MacLeish in 1939 said "libraries are the only institution in American Life capable of opening to the citizens of the Republic knowledge of wealth and richness of culture."