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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.

Questions About the Library Answered

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 9, 2005

The starting of a New Year always brings a cleaning of my desk; gathering all of those things that I will need to do year-end reports.  

Being an old-fashioned librarian who makes notes on paper, I cleared a notepad that had some of the questions asked of me over the past year. For the past 22 years, I have been asked this question over and over. "Has this building always been a library?"

The Main Library building was a public library the day the doors opened, March 12, 1902. While its Richardsonian-Romanesque architecture might indicate a different building use, Alden & Harlow designed it as a library. They had already designed some of the Pittsburgh area libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, and borrowed the classic style from those structures.

The original design was a T-shaped building much larger than what was built; thinking perhaps that it would be similar to the enormous structures that Carnegie provided to Duquesne and Homewood in the 1890s. In reality, the Carnegie Libraries were becoming smaller and more utilitarian by 1902, and the rear wing was removed from the plans. The library site at 4th and Slack Streets was purchased for $ 11,000 in 1900 from the Heirs of Joseph Sarratt. The 1840-era Sarratt house was located close to S. 4th Street on a lot that extended the complete block to S. 5th Street.

Another question is when the Carnegie name was removed from the library. That took place on January 1, 1962, and was done to clear up confusion about Carnegie connection and funding of the library.   Andrew Carnegie's funding of the library was a one-time gift of construction monies in 1902.  Library operations have always been funded as a government agency. Only 5 of the 108 libraries in Ohio funded by Andrew Carnegie have his name in their title.  Actually, Carnegie did not encourage the use of his name in his libraries.

I was asked if we had a text of the speech that Carnegie delivered at the opening of the new library in 1902.  He was not present for dedication, and we have no evidence that he ever saw the Steubenville building.

The only documented visit of Andrew Carnegie to Steubenville took place in 1889 and was a stopover on the train.  At that time, he mentioned that he had worked here in 1850 as a young boy, running the telegraph during a flood.

A library user this year asked if we could request that publishers send more books to the library.  After further discussion, I discovered that they thought publishers sent books to libraries free for the advertising. Great thought, but libraries must buy books like everyone else.

And then there are overdue fines.  Our collection of overdue fines account for about 1 percent of the total budget.  I am asked how we can operate on overdue fines, and the answer is we can't.

Finally, the new question regarding how we will continue to operate with the Internet available. The answer is that our library system just completed the busiest year in our 103-year history.  The reality is that the Internet is another information tool to use, and supplements the resources that a library has to serve the information needs of the public.