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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.

WPA Library Services

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 21, 2014


The development of public library services to Jefferson County centered around the WPA Library Program of the 1930s.


The Works Progress Administration was one of the alphabet soup programs of FDR that was intended to employee people during the Great Depression.


In 1936, the WPA established a program to fund staffing of library service projects within existing library facilities, and was expanded to allow establishment of expanded library service into county-wide areas.


Ohio was at the right place for library development programs in 1936, as the State Library of Ohio had been expanded to contain an office for library development to encourage and establish county-wide library services in areas where only a “city library” existed.


During the 1930s, over 50 Ohio counties saw services expand to include all county residents, encouraged by a change in library funding in 1933 from local allocations to a state-mandated intangibles tax.


Effective Jan. 1, 1936, our library system was named as the “county extension center” for all of Jefferson County.


In 1937, WPA allocations were made to our library system to bring libraries in Toronto and Mingo Junction into the fold of service, and establish branches and stations around the county.


Library staff grew from a dozen staff to 30 staff within a two-year period, and the library budget expanded from $ 4,000 annually in 1935 to $ 30,000 in 1938.


Library records reflected hiring and training of new staff, and the development of branch locations using furniture produced by Ohio’s prison system.  (some of which we still own today)


Typewriters were acquired to begin producing the massive numbers of library book cards, catalog cards, and routing slips needed to move a new collection of books acquired for countywide service.


County residents, who were shooed out of the Steubenville Library prior to 1936, were welcomed and encouraged to use whichever location was convenient.  A panel truck scurried around the county delivering and picking up books as they moved from place to place.


State Library staff traveled around Ohio helping establish library services, and doing staff training.


Mildred W. Sandoe, a leader in Ohio’s library development, authored the “County Library Primer” which was used nationwide as a guide book for establishing a countywide library program.


You may recognize her name as a contributor to “And Ladies of the Club,” a popular novel in the 1980s written by her friend in the sunset of their lives.


Our records indicate that it was a busy time in our library development.  Screen doors seemed to be a problem of the time, as necessary to maintain a fly less library, but often damaged by someone carrying an armload of books while trying to open the screen door.


A few new staff didn’t work out and had to be released from the WPA program, while others were thrilled at the work.  One lady was assigned to mend old books, but it was found that after she was “done with them” you couldn’t even open the book anymore.


By 1940, a Bookmobile replaced some of the Stations around the county, and the branches were further developed.  There was still come confusion as to whether “city books” could be loaned to “county residents” but that issue went away with time.


Existing photos from that era show libraries in village halls, schools, and any little structure that might hold 500 books.  One poor building appears to be leaning to the left, but I hope the camera was being held in a crooked manner.


Some had phones, most did not.  Sometimes a phone was shared with a business or a kind neighbor who would call people when their books arrived.


These facilities served as the foundation for today’s Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County and its 9 locations, counting the Bookmobile and Online Branch; complete with 67 staff.


All the books belong to everyone, including the collections of the 90 other library systems in our online system.  eBooks float around in the cloud of information that exists in our electronic world, and even our smallest libraries are online with access to all the things on the Internet.