PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
It was Saturday, March 17, 1983, and I was in town for my first interview for the position of Director of the library system.
One of the library staff was assigned to provide me a tour of a couple of branch libraries, as well as an in-depth tour of the Main Library.
The staffer was quite gracious, explaining all of the areas of the building and introducing each staff member. They seemed equally interested in me as their potential boss.
As the tour ended, I asked whether the library system had a Local History Collection. I knew the area is rich in early Ohio history, so I assumed that there was a collection that supported that historical background.
Instead, the staff person winced, and sheepishly said, “Yeah, follow me.”
Up the balcony steps we went, to a nonpublic area where two book shelves were filled with an array of old books, file folders, and miscellaneous odds and ends.
“This is the Ohio Collection,” she moaned. “We really need to do something with it.” I told her that I had some experience with archives maintenance and development, and then looked at the collection critically.
Glass doors covered the collection, the worst thing that can be done for paper materials. Ultraviolet light and accumulated heat develops behind the glass, slowly ruining paper. A steam radiator hissed in the space, further damaging the collection of old materials.
I wanted to be polite, and said that the collection appeared to be the root of what could be a much larger collection, and conservation measures could repair a lot of the worn volumes.
I was hired as Director at the end of April, with my first day on-the-job being June 3, 1983 and that same staff member came to me my first day and said “I’m ready to begin on the Ohio Collection!”
Her name was Judy Dobzynski, and she eventually became the Local History and Genealogy Librarian for our library system. Despite Judy’s enthusiasm, I told her we needed to do some planning before starting anything.
We began by defining the purpose of the Local History Collection, then reviewing what was contained within the collection. We began conserving the items in the poorest condition, and removed the glass doors from the shelves.
The late Dr. A. Eileen Cozart, Ph.D. was helpful in the process, identifying materials of critical importance and things that could be sent better homes in state archives or academic libraries. She used the collection and newspaper microfilm in preparing her articles.
Both brought to my attention a small box tucked in a corner that contained the only copy of “Twelve Against the Underworld,” a 1947 publication of the 12 ministers who tried to rid Steubenville of Vice. The pages were brown with age, and literally crumbling upon touch.
It turned out to be the only original copy I have ever seen, so we had the volume reproduced and sent copies to various depositories as well as the Library of Congress; and today multiple digitized copies are available for research and checkout.
In 1987, the collection moved to the new Schiappa Branch Library location where a better environment was available, and the collection grew from 400 items to over 6,500 items in 30 years.
Following Judy’s death, I hired Sandy Day as our Local History and Genealogy Librarian and she proceeded to continue the development that Judy had started. Sandy has become known for her “indexing” of anything that would be more useful with an index, as well as her Veteran’s series to document local military personnel.
With Sandy’s contribution to that department coming to an end with her retirement, she wanted to be sure that “her love” would continue and so I promoted Erika Grubbs to the position so the two of them could work together for some time for a smooth transition.
With online subscriptions, a good collection, and a major upgrade of the Digital Shoebox online, the collection that used to be behind glass with a radiator next to it has a bright future in capable hands.
Like I have always said, a library is a cumulative collection developed with the hands of many people over the years.
A former employee of the library, visiting a few years ago, commented that in 1952 they began using “tag codes” on the books to identify branch locations. When we automated in the 1980s, we brought those codes forward into the system and today the impact of that work of 60 years ago remains as part of the library system.
Today, the library system stands on the shoulders of the 700 people who have worked here since the 1902 establishment.