PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
The history of our library system can be divided into five different chapters of development.
In arranging our library scrapbooks and photographs, these chapters of library history become apparent, and I would like to share information about our third chapter of library history due to its relevance to our current time.
On April 8, 1935, the U.S. Congress funded the “Emergency Relief Appropriation Act” which started the largest component of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Call the Works Progress Administration, the WPA Library Program was a component of the program.
The State Library of Ohio organized our state’s efforts with a supervisor and six librarians who handled the program through six districts within Ohio.
Ohio, South Carolina, and Kentucky were the largest WPA Library Programs in the U.S.
In Ohio, the basis of the program was to extend existing library services to the larger population in conjunction with the newly enacted intangibles tax for public libraries.
In 1933, the Ohio Legislature enacted the situs intangibles tax for the specific support of public libraries in the state.
Jefferson County started the WPA Library Program on January 1, 1936 with the conversion of the Carnegie Library of Steubenville into a countywide library system.
The former Toronto Public Library became the first branch of the system.
Mildred Sandoe, the district coordinator for the State Library of Ohio, studied the county and set forth the structure for branch libraries and bookmobile service.
Between 1937 and 1941, branch libraries, library stations, and a bookmobile program were developed for Jefferson County.
The Carnegie Library building cleaned out the basement and began a “County Department” to develop these collections to serve the county.
The coal-fired boiler was changed to natural gas, and the departure of the coal bin made new space for book stacks and desks.
At the same time, the library ceased being a department of City government, and converted to a library district funded by the new intangibles tax.
The records are full of names of librarians who packed up their boxes of books, loaded them into the trunks of their cars, and drove around the county making deliveries.
In 1940, a book truck was purchased to do the transportation.
The card catalog was changed into a “union catalog” of all of the county books.
The program ended with the advent of World War II, but the structure had been established and the library system moved forward as a countywide system.
In 1948, the first public bookmobile vehicle was acquired and a garage and office area was added to the Main Library to handle the county locations.
Today, many of Ohio’s branch libraries can be traced to the WPA Library Program.