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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.

Library History from the Minute Book

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 4, 2018

As I approach the end of my library career, the Public Relations staffer Jennifer keeps pulling names and dates from my mind which have cluttered by brain cells over the past 36 years.


She is concerned that my mass of library knowledge will be lost after my retirement.


I share that concern because of the situation that I inherited when I started as library director in 1983.


My predecessor was deceased, and her predecessor didn’t seem to have amassed library history, and his predecessor had retired to Florida and could offer only minor library knowledge.


So, I did what I did with my previous library system --- I read and indexed the Board minutes for library history.  I wasn’t the most exciting reading, but bits and pieces of library history were found clear back to the first meeting in 1899.


Other historical files filled in the gaps, but that work has proved helpful over the years.


I also read the history of libraries that existed in Steubenville from 1815-1880 prior to Andrew Carnegie’s donation that established today’s library system.


Yes, Jennifer, I will leave all of this to you and Mike as a transition and will be happy to clear my memory banks of all the accumulated library history.


All of this information provided background for our current ADA construction project as the new building is joined to the Carnegie building.


Finding a “spot” for the Carnegie building in 1899 was far more difficult than anticipated with a dozen sites reviewed.  Downtown Steubenville in that era was jammed with residential homes as well as industrial sites and few were large enough to accommodate the planned library.


The Sarratt home at 4th and Slack Streets was available and it had a rare large lot extending to 5th Street as well as a streetcar line running right in front of the proposed building.  It was further from the downtown business district than desired, but few other options were available.


Some $ 15,000 was expended for the house and lot, as well as part of the Stewart property next door and construction began with the demolition of the house and salvaging of its bricks for the interior library structure.


A 1935 study reported the library had been “poorly placed” too far from downtown and not large enough for the need, which was increasing to the entire county, and not just the city’s residents.


Various plans were put forth to enlarge the Carnegie building to handle to work of servicing the new branches, but it was 1948 before a garage was built with a workroom for the “county services.”


The 1950s found repair work underway on the roof, and removal of the tower to eliminate leaks ruining books and some of the historic paintings in the reading rooms.


Funds were found in 1963 to construct a small addition, but the long term plan was to relocate the whole library elsewhere.


Carnegie buildings had fallen from public favor in the 1960s due to their inflexibility and lack of accessibility which usually involved a long flight of steps just to enter the building.


Akron was the first Ohio city to move its library to a different location, and all 8 of the Ohio college Carnegie libraries were relocated.


Today, of the 105 Ohio Carnegie libraries, several have been demolished, others abandoned for alternate usage, but about half remain operating as libraries.


Our need to address branch library issues pushed our Main Library problems down-the-road to the point that our Carnegie building was the last public library in Ohio to remain inaccessible, but that is now being resolved.


Making a Carnegie building accessible is certainly no minor task, and ours was one of the worst accessibility issues that needed to be addressed.


SE Ohio still has several Carnegie buildings in use, including East Liverpool, Cambridge, Chillicothe, Portsmouth, Zanesville, and Marietta; with only the Pomeroy and Coshocton buildings replaced.


I am proud that we will join the accessible group of libraries next spring when our Carnegie building proudly joins with our new building linking old with new.