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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.

Carnegie Building plans & reality

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 25, 2018


A citizen’s committee had written to Andrew Carnegie in 1899 to determine if he would fund a new library for Steubenville.  He had just started funding the construction of public libraries, particularly ones in the Pittsburgh area.


A formal library board was established Oct. 1, 1899 and began immediately finding a site (a requirement) and hired the architectural firm of Alden & Harlow to design the building.


The City of Steubenville had signed a contract to bond the purchase of a site, and provide operating expenses.


The library board was looking at the Duquesne Library and its $ 310,000 cost, and the Allegheny Library and its higher cost of $ 481,000; but was told that Carnegie would be providing less funds for libraries away from Pittsburgh.


The board was surprised when the $ 50,000 check arrived as that was far less that what was being designed by the architect.


The original plans for the Carnegie building in Steubenville included three reading room wings as well as a gymnasium, showers, a side entrance and delivery dock.


Needless-to-say, quick changes had to be made and the entire West Wing was eliminated which included everything listed above.


Book shelves were placed around the walls of the remaining reading rooms, and the main desk and work areas were condensed in an area off the lobby where the 4-story book stacks were to have been located.


Until 1952, people asked why there was a 4 story opening to the ceiling.  That year, a balcony/mezzanine was added to the space.


In 1936, the Carnegie Library of Steubenville added “and Jefferson County” to its name was it was assigned countywide service by the State Library of Ohio and the “crunch” for space to serve the entire county had begun.


The Bookmobile garages were constructed in 1948 to house the vehicle and space for sending books out to the branches and station stops around the county, as well as space to prepare the books for shipment.


In 1963, an annex provided more space for offices and a reference room as the building was expanding to provide countywide services.


The library board felt these were temporary measures, as a new Main Library would be constructed someplace to handle library services to the entire county.


Add another 20 years, and I had arrived and the library board had changed its plans to accommodate the county with improved branches.


In 2012, I told the library board that something had to be done with accessibility to the Main Library and the general condition issue of the then-110 old building, and planning began on the Main Library Project.


And we are now approaching the completion of that project on the site of the never-constructed West Wing with a new entrance right where the never-constructed entrance was supposed to be.


The lower level of the Carnegie building will become staff area handling issues relating to the entire system, and part of the street-level new building will have bookmobile services.


Overall, the existing building will have all-new utilities and systems and reorganized spaces for better efficiency. 


The whole facility is ADA accessible for the first time, and eliminates to ominous distinction of our library being the last public library in Ohio that is not ADA compliant.


The design and construction has revealed how various spaces and rooms have changed over the years.  Some are new uses, and other spaces are just-the-same as they were in 1902.


The portraits of Baron von Steuben and Gen. George Rogers Clark will remain over the fireplaces just as they have been for a century, but the murals in the children’s room are moving to the atrium to start their 62nd year in a new location.


Computers and technology will abound, mixed with books still on the shelves.


I hope you are as excited as I am about the new library complex.  Substantial completion is slated for Feb. 1, 2019 --- reopening will likely be a couple of months after that.