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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.

The Local History Collection - 30 years

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 25, 2011

The end of the year is near, and that means that the computer system at the library is beginning to assemble statistics for the year that is passing.

 

Not so long ago, that meant that it was time to gather the monthly reports that were kept neatly in various binders on lined paper for the previous year, and get the adding machine to begin tabulations.

 

Today, the computer system begins the process of organizing some statistics before the year has actually ended, things that do not relate to “usage.”

 

One report that I noticed passing my desk was about our Local History and Genealogy Collection, which now contains more than 6,500 cataloged items.

 

That caught my eye because during my first week on-the-job back in 1983, the same collection contained exactly 196 cataloged items.

 

I was somewhat surprised when I was told that number, as our area was an early part of the settlement of Ohio and I assumed that we had a collection reflecting that early Ohio history, and the migratory trails into the area.

 

A couple copies of Doyle’s 1910 county history was the center of the collection, as well as the earlier Caldwell’s history of Belmont and Jefferson Counties which looked like it would crumble into a pile of paper scraps if touched.

 

Some books had Dewey numbers on the spine, some did not.  Half the collection was in a bookcase with a glass front, which is probably the worst thing you can do for the storage of old books.

 

A cast iron radiator hissed next to the shelves, spitting steam and hot water spray towards the collection of historic books.

 

The staff was proud of the small collection, and it was my goal to enhance the collection to reflect the rich history of our area; and work on the physical condition of the collection.

 

Many people have assisted towards that goal, a goal that any public library will tell you really never end since history is revisited and new sources are written.

 

The late Judy Dobzynski worked on the collection for several years as it moved to the Schiappa Branch Library in 1987 and was given its own room and collection.

 

Sandy Day has continued the effort which has brought the collection to its size today.

 

Many items have been rebound, many new items have been donated or purchased, and the whole collection is supplemented by the Digital Shoebox, a database of online pages of local and state history.

 

From city and county directories to yearbooks and local community histories, if the local public library doesn’t retain an area’s history, it is unlikely that it will be available in future years.

 

The newest additions to the collection includes a book written this year, titled “The Bully Boys: In camp and combat with the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment 1861-1864,” edited by Richard A. Baumgartner.  It contains a lot of information about Steubenville and Jefferson County residents and their involvement in the Civil War.

 

Other “new” items include books sent for rebinding and digitizing including a 1902-03 Steubenville City Directory and a 1919 Ordinance book.

 

A couple of old school yearbooks were restored, and pulled from their stained and moldy condition to new books that can be used by the public.

 

A couple of Toronto directories are added to the new information, with Sandy’s latest veteran book about those serving in the Persian Gulf War rounds out the new items.

 

Yes, we did obtain a better copy of Caldwell’s history, and many of the library staff work on various indexing projects to make it all more useful to the public.

 

Combined with resources that can be found on the Internet, the wealth of information available today can hardly be compared to what could be found in 1983.