Birth of Illumination: First Hundred Years of the Lorain Public Library System

By Kelly Boyer Sagert

© 2001 – Lorain Public Library System

From 1883 until 1924: Visions for the Library

Hundreds of thousands of books housed in a large two-story building, an entire reading room devoted to periodicals and yet another room filled with videos. Racks of CD-ROMs, with computers and copiers flashing and beeping, people speaking on topics ranging from Civil War history and genealogy to boomerang throwing and winning the national yo-yo championship. Branch libraries and outreach programs - and yes, even a bookmobile...

The first glimmering of a public library system in Lorain occurred in 1883 and it isn't hard to imagine how overwhelming today's Lorain Public Library System would seem to those literary pioneers. Today's rapidly changing technology can be quite bewildering, even to those living and learning in the twenty-first century.

Lorain Library Association

Each one of us, however, owes a deep debt of gratitude to the founders of the Lorain Library Association of 1883. On January 10th of that year, an inconspicuous announcement, about two inches wide and four inches long, appeared in the Lorain Times. A new association was being formed, the article explained, with the following people serving as officers:

  • Mayor G. J. Clark, President
  • Miss H. E. Burrett, Vice President
  • Miss A. Reid, Secretary
  • Reverend F. McConaughy, Treasurer

This Association issued one hundred shares of stock at the price of one dollar per share. C. P. Pursell kept the association's books in the "parlour" of his dental office, which was located above the Wilson and Co. bookstore in downtown Lorain. Only stockholders could patronize this book-lending operation and they could borrow only as many books as they owned shares of stock. Since business wasn't brisk, Pursell also served as librarian.

A parallel effort was emerging in the school system, led by Superintendent J. R. Rogers. After collecting $90 and putting it into a library fund (including one dollar donated by a widow with a large brood of children), Rogers began purchasing books. By June of 1886, his library contained 250 volumes and he also started two grade school libraries that boasted 50 books each. While little information exists about the selection of books in this school library collection, in 1871 the Lorain public schools adopted an official set of textbooks that included McGuffey's Reader, Ray's Arithmetics and Harvey's Grammar.

But, while Rogers' efforts were expanding, the Lorain Library Association had stagnated. In May 1886, the book-lending activities located in Pursell's dentist office averaged less than one transaction per week, so the group decided to donate their materials to the school's library and the two fledgling collections of literature were combined.

Civic Groups Become Involved

Fortunately, other local groups began to pursue the idea of a public library. Three of them - Sisterhood, Sorosis and WIMODAUGHSIS (standing for wives, mothers, daughters and sisters) -- were comprised of all women. The goal of a library was so vital to WIMODAUGHSIS members that they even incorporated that vision into one verse of "WIMODAUGHSIS Song," written by Mrs. Jones in 1896 and sung to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Wives and mothers, daughters, sisters When our Library shall stand, Shedding forth its light of wisdom Far and wide across the land, Let us feel that to it growing We have lent a helping hand, As the world goes marching on.

And, in April of 1900, the ladies belonging to these three literary clubs collectively got the "library bee in their bonnets" and declared, "Let us constitute ourselves a library committee here and now and begin the good work without delay." Those interested in pursuing that stated goal met the following Monday in the Opera House and they elected the following officers:

  • Mrs. Elisha M. Pierce, chairman
  • Mrs. J. H. Hills, secretary and treasurer
  • Mrs. W. R. Comings
  • Mrs. F. D. Ward
  • Mrs. F. M. McIlvaine
  • Mrs. A. E. Thomson
  • Mrs. McKee
  • Mrs. J.A. Graham
  • Mrs. S. Klein
  • Mrs. C. B. Hopkins

Funds were obviously needed and so these women began "giving entertainment," raising $120 for their library. WIMODAUGHSIS members donated their collection of books, which consisted of 80 volumes, and the three groups issued the following invitation to the public. "The Reading Room Committee and the Library Association invite you to be present at the opening of their room on Franklin Street near Broadway, October the First, Nineteen Hundred. Donations of books thankfully received."

During the same time period that the women of Lorain were raising funds and collecting books, a class of young men meeting at the First Congregational Church were lamenting that there was no place to meet other than in their rooms or at a local saloon. Since Reverend A. Eugene Thomson, an active member of the temperance movement, led this Bible class, this comment was given great weight. But, as he reminisced in a letter written on September 4, 1936, "We could see no light on the subject."

A solution was found, however, when group member Harry H. Pierce discovered that F. A. Rowley was moving his newspaper, The Lorain Herald, to a building located on Broadway Avenue, thus leaving his former offices on Franklin Street vacant. "It was," wrote Reverend Thomson, referring to the Franklin Street office, "an admirable site for a reading room."

So, along with Professor and School Superintendent F. D. Ward, Professor Eldredge (spelled Eldridge in other documents) and Postmaster S. L. Bowman, Thomson began to seek funding for this proposed reading room. He knew that they needed money for "rent, cleaning, equipment with fixtures, light and heat, periodicals and a caretaker" and even though the owner of the desired property had two earlier bids, he agreed to sell it to Thomson if financial arrangement could be made. Fortunately, the pleas of Thomson, Ward and Bowman received a positive response and the men raised $113 in three hours during their first afternoon of fundraising.

"The fund," Thomson said, "was reaching a satisfactory mark. A Board of Control had been organized. The building, which naturally needed much cleaning, being saturated with oil and printer's ink, was renovated. Tables, chairs and a desk for the Care-taker, who had no other title at first, were installed, magazines and newspapers subscribed for or placed, and a competent young woman put in charge."

No information exists about the "competent young woman put in charge," and the first librarian listed in many sources was Mr. Ellery Channing Loofbourrow. He earned a degree in engineering from Ohio Northern University, had worked for a time as Lorain's city engineer and also served in the Spanish American War. Another source, however, points out that Loofbourrow served as secretary of the Lorain Public Library Association from its inception through August 14, 1902, so it seems doubtful that he also served as head librarian/care-taker. From August 13, 1902 until March 23, 1903, Mr. Clark E. Daniels may have filled the librarian void.

Besides that matter of confusion, little information exists about the precise materials available in the fledging library, although September 10, 1900 was the date that the two groups officially agreed to this joint endeavor. Reverend Thomson wrote that the various women's literary societies donated a "small but well chosen library, in bookcase, for the use of its members, and, moved by a desire to have their books serve a larger constituency, they asked permission to put their books in the Reading Room for public use, in charge of the care-taker. This was of course gladly welcomed, and this step could perhaps be called the real beginning of the new City library."

Day 1 of the Lorain Public Library Association

And, on April 22, 1901, a formal merger took place among these various groups and the new organization was named the Lorain Public Library Association - and this is the association from which the modern day Lorain Public Library System traces its roots.

On April 23, the association owned "four tables, eighteen chairs, a stove, a periodical rack, unexpired magazine and newspaper subscriptions and the money that was in the treasury." In May, the Ladies Library Board added their possessions to the trove - 520 books, three bookcases and a librarian's desk. Any and all permanent residents of Lorain had the right to use this newly formed and free library, while temporary residents were required to leave a deposit equal to the value of the books that they borrowed. Permanent residents of another city might also borrow books, but at a fee of one dollar per year, payable in advance.

While money continued to be raised for more materials (one lecture course netted $200, for example, with $100 used for books, $70 for periodicals and $30 for more shelving), the library was caught in a treacherous cycle. They wanted to attract more patrons, but they also needed more resources in which to draw the people to the facility, located at what is now known as 202 5th Street, where Lorain County coroner Dr. William Kishman had his medical practice for many years.

Building Dream Achieved

By April 1902, the group realized that the Franklin Street facilities had already become inadequate to house their 520 books. To further explore the new challenges, the Lorain Public Library was formed with 50 members, with the following community leaders serving as officers:

  • President: Mr. E. E. Hopkins
  • Secretary and Treasurer: Mr. E. C. Loofbourrow
  • Trustees: E. M. Pierce; Mrs. J. H. Rowley; A. E. Thomson; F. P. Bins; Mrs. F. W. McIlvaine; George Wickens

The initial and immediate goal of the new board was to finance a library building. They worked with the board of education to place a tax levy on the ballot, and, after a successful campaign, $1,300 was given to the library in 1903.

In a February 4, 1902 report compiled by Reverend Charles Collins, Chairman of the Book Committee, Collins noted that "there is, moreover, imperative need of adding at once the greatest possible number of new volumes. The patronage of the Library is such that books commonly read are always - or nearly always - out and a wider use of the Library is thus greatly hindered. This committee therefore urges that your Board make the most liberal appropriation possible from the tax collection, for our use at once."

So, the levy was soon raised to four-tenths, which brought in $1,700. And, on July 21, 1902, the board received wonderful news: steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Foundation would be willing to donate $30,000 for a library building. The only stipulations required by Carnegie were that a suitable site be located and that city officials continue to provide $3,000 (10% of the donation) for yearly upkeep of the structure.

Financial issues were quickly resolved when city council passed an ordinance amending the levy to .75 of a mill to raise the required dollar amount. This action happened on July 22, a sure sign of the enthusiasm of the community for the proposed new building.

Then, on July 24, the library committee selected Streator Park for the location, a site that had been deeded to the city by former resident Worthy Streator. Complications arose, however, when city council questioned whether or not the terms of the deed would allow for a library to be built on that particular property.

Attorneys quickly determined that building a library might jeopardize the city's right to the property, but advised that permission could be obtained from the trustee of Worthy Streator's estate. Unfortunately, a trustee hadn't yet been named and frustrating delays ensued.

Finally, on October 11, Streator trustee E. K. Perkins granted the necessary permissions and the plans for the building were put into motion. The library was to occupy 150 feet on Third Street and 150 feet on Kruger. On October 24, the library applied to the Secretary of State, asking that their charter be amended to "accept bequests and gifts of all kinds and to own and maintain a building for library purposes."

Cornerstone

The cornerstone was finally laid on August 18, 1903 and speeches abounded - or to quote a local newspaper, attendees listened to "Eloquent Addresses and Fine Singing." Mayor F. J. King reportedly used this platform to state that there were "always evil influences abroad which had to be counteracted in some way otherwise than the law. Next to the church, the free Public Library is the most powerful institution for uplifting society in the land." Claiming that the only way to conquer evil was to strengthen the good, he implored citizens to "strive to make the Public Library a lasting benefit to every citizen."

Reverend W. C. Dawson reinforced this theme, saying, "Whenever the library has been established, it has brought forth the noblest of literary creation; it has proven the foundation of the great masterpieces of literature . . . The library is an ally of the church and not a substitute."

Reverend Thomson added that, "Library brings before the public the best thought of the greatest minds and thus educates them in branches of which they would otherwize (sic) know nothing."

And, finally Head Librarian Margaret Deming said the following. "It is no mistaken enthusiasm that says that today, that witnesses the laying of the cornerstone of the beautiful building which is to be the home of the Lorain public library, is one of the greatest days in the history of the city . . . to broaden and uplift the life of the community in which it stands along every channel of activity; to support and supplement the work of the public schools and when the school doors are closed behind one, to make self-education possible; to aid and encourage reforms; municipal improvements; literary movements; investigation and research - to assist the workman in his work and the mother in her home - and above all and always, to open the doors to that elect society which it is the privilege of us all to enjoy when we read good books."

She also took this opportunity to recognize the women who helped make the library a tangible entity, saying that they "determined that the public library should no longer be a thing talked about, sighed for or vaguely desired, but an actuality and a potent force in our civil life."

Then, William Howard Brett of the Cleveland Public Library praised Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born American who was one of the wealthiest men of the time. "Mr. Carnegie has shown himself a thoughtful, wise and practical socialist. It is not surprising that such a man with such views and purposes should have been impressed with the value of the Public Library."

The construction of this new facility affected much of Lorain, from the highly educated to those who tended shops. In a newspaper ad, for example, a tailor included this in his text: "Carnegie Free Library is a gift to be much admired by Lorain people."

Opening Day

The anticipated opening of the library finally culminated on May 20, 1904, when C. F. Thwing, President of Western Reserve University, dedicated the new building. The building was "first introduced to the public through an exhibition of Elson and Turner prints and three art lectures" and 3,240 items were available for patrons to borrow, including 2000 books, six newspapers and 18 weekly or monthly magazines. Another source lists that 2000 books were at the library by July of that year, 500 of them purchased since February - and a plan was instituted to buy new books each month.

In the first annual report of the new library, association members were assured that the book budget was stretched as far as possible and that "publisher's remainders" and "second hand books" were selected, whenever possible. The appearance was not neglected, however, with the "walls of the poor little building (were) painted; we have been lodged in new shades and sash curtains were hung; window shelves were put up for flowers and plants and the disorderly accumulations of magazines & pamphlets classified and put to rights. The bare little ante-room was made attractive with artistic posters advertising new books and magazines."

It was important, the report stressed, that the high percentage of fiction reading not be considered too discouraging. "The first use of the public library, especially in an industrial community like this, will always be for recreation; that it is also or can be made the great source of education and inspiration of the people can only be taught in time, and under wise directing policy." Shortly thereafter, a rule was listed, stating that each borrower may check out two books at one time, but only one could be fiction - but that rule may not have been enforced, because it was X'd out with a pencil.

Rules - and head librarians -- fluctuated often in the earliest days of the Lorain Public Library, as witnessed by the brief (possibly informal) terms of service of Ellery Channing Loofbourrow and Clark E. Daniels.

The library board originally wanted to pay $50 per month for a replacement for Clark Daniels, and they eyed Miss Celia M. Houghton for the position. When she would not accept the salary, they offered her $60 a month, with a $15 raise to be given shortly thereafter. Still she refused, accepting instead a higher paying job in New York.

Houghton did, however, recommend another librarian, a Miss Margaret Deming. A graduate of Stanford in 1897, Deming had traveled around Europe for two years before attending the Albany Library School. Typhoid fever interrupted her studies there, but by 1902 she'd organized two small libraries in Vermont on a volunteer basis and she was looking for work.

According to Miss Houghton, Miss Deming was "a fine, generous hearted woman who throws herself into her work with enthusiasm and to her, as to me, the opportunity to work with people is the attractive side of library work. In addition to all this, she is a fine looking woman, and that really counts for a good deal in a public library."

Deming accepted the terms and conditions offered to her, and she became the first head librarian to oversee operations in the brand new building.

Children's Library

The Lorain Public Library was one of the earliest public libraries to include a separate area for children in their original building plans, and Deming promoted that unique and progressive feature in the newspapers. In one article written by Margaret Deming, Librarian of the Lorain Free Library, called "Library Notes of Literary Interest: Weekly Review of Events at Free Library, With Comment on Current Literature," she says the following, one week before the opening of the children's room. "A cordial invitation is extended to parents and teachers as well as to all the children in Lorain to see the pretty little room that has been devised for their use."

Fifty new books were on display, Deming noted, bringing the total of juvenile books up to 500, "representing the best of children's literature; many of the editions have a high degree of artistic merit, with clear type, attractive covers and illustrations by artists of wide reputation."

Then, during the following week she made this announcement in her newspaper column. "The little room that has been arranged for the children will be opened today. As the time before the library enters its new quarters becomes shorter, it has been impossible to go to any expense in furnishing and arranging it. It is interesting to see therefore what attractive results have been reached with no further expenditure than a little time and thought, aided by the loan of a few chairs by kind neighbors. A delightful feature of the room and it will be a permanent one, is the exhibition of the drawings of the school children."

This room was located in the sunny western portion of the second story of the library and forty-four percent of the annual circulation in 1904 was for juvenile books; by 1907, reference librarians commented that their work had doubled, thanks to the many visits of school aged children. It was later noted that the "joyful comings and goings (of such youthful borrowers) were to create such confusion in later years that it would lead to the creation of separate quarters on the first floor."

Miss Grace D. Chapmanm

While Margaret Deming's first annual report beamed enthusiasm, she also noted that Lorain was too far from her home state of California. Deming therefore pencilled her resignation at the bottom of that annual report. Persuaded to retract her resignation, she stayed - but only until December 1, 1904.

While Deming did much for the children's library, her successor, Miss Grace D. Chapman, focused strongly upon the creation of branch libraries. She urged board of director members to remember the children of immigrants and the families with lesser incomes.

Ironically, while Chapman requested an expansion of library materials, the purchasing of new books actually stagnated under her term, because of a leak in the roof of the library in 1906. "It now appears," reported the Lorain Daily News, "that the plans for the roof were defective and although the contractor gave a bond, he cannot be required to put on a new roof because the one that now exists was made according to the plans and specifications."

So, the city needed to cure the defect in the roof, which meant that no money was available to add to the current collection of 7000 books.

Miss Frances Root

Chapman's successor was a woman named Miss Frances Root, and she stayed in the position of Head Librarian from February 1, 1907 until 1910. During these years, the collection of volumes did not increase in any significant way, causing Miss Root to lament about the high rate of discards caused by each book being circulated an average of six to nine times annually.

She suggested that the board publicize the library more heavily, and they did. But, because of the increased traffic, each book was now checked out an average of ten times per year. When that happened, she withdrew her request for more publicity. "It would be unfair as well as, in the end, a decided detriment to the library," she noted, "to create a new demand when we have not books to meet that of our present patrons."

Another concern of hers was the same as Chapman's, which was the development of branch or service stations.

Miss Elizabeth K. Steele

Next in line as head librarian was Miss Elizabeth K. Steele, who stayed in the position significantly longer than any of her predecessors, from September 24, 1910- February 25, 1924

During her time, the juvenile section of the library continued to receive time and attention, with younger borrowers getting class instruction in the use of books as early as 1912.

She, like Miss Root and Miss Chapman before her, also urged the creation of branch locations, especially in the area where new immigrants were settling. Another irony occurred, however. While she wanted to see further expansion because of the many steel mill employees arriving in Lorain, she said this during her 1916 report to the board of directors. Prosperity brought by the tube mill (now known as the steel mill, an industry that came to Lorain in 1903), was a "good wind that blows ill," to a certain extent for the Lorain Public Library.

"Library patrons have more time to read when times are slack," she said, referring to 1914 ("a dull year industrially"), when the library circulation was 64,717 books. Contrast that to the 1917 circulation figures of 60,221 (fiction and "all classes of literature") when economic times were better.

Nevertheless, even with Miss Steele's concerns about the fluctuating interest in the public library, the institution was in Lorain to stay. By 1923, the library was open from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., with Sunday hours of 2 - 5 p.m. for "reading only." Outlying stations had books for a couple of hours per week and in 1923, those stations were Longfellow School (Wednesdays from 2 -4:30 p.m.), Lowell School (Tuesdays and Fridays from 2-5 p.m.) and Mrs. Stack's Candy Shop (Thursdays from 2-5:30 p.m.)

During that year, 95,724 volumes were checked out of the library. Besides that, Miss Steele observed that, "People come for information on all sorts of questions, from the spelling of a word to the business addresses of out of town firms, from data on the strength of materials to tar distillation, from house plans to the raising of chickens, from window dressing to the proper feeding of a baby, from salesmanship to the writing of signs and tickets, from games and plays for parties and entertainments, to the writing of Club (sic) papers, High (sic) school themes and debates, and hundreds of others."

She then asked that residents continue to use their services. "The invitation is given to all to utilize its services to capacity. Read for recreation, read for information, read for inspiration; the choicest writings of today, as well as those of all the ages, are available for the asking. The formalities necessary are of the simplest, and intelligent service is the rule."

When Miss Elizabeth Steele left her position as head librarian for the Lorain Public Library, that wasn't the only transition in the works; other transformations were beginning to brew as the first quarter of the twentieth century was coming to a close.

Creation of the South Lorain Branch Library: 1903-1923

In 1903, an announcement in the Daily Democrat foretold a significant change for the city of Lorain. "You may announce in your newspaper this afternoon," a Mr. Coolidge told the editor, "that the tube mill is coming to Lorain. It was definitely decided by the United States Steel Corporation Executive Committee this morning."

This news, the Daily Democrat proclaimed, would mean an "increased population of 15 thousand and will make Lorain a 50,000 city within the next five years." While the second part of that numerical prediction didn't occur, amazing demographic changes did, indeed, take place. Not only did the 1890 population of 4,863 increase to 28,883 by 1910, the percentage of residents born in another country (but now living in Lorain) rose from 22% to 37.8%. To put that statistic in perspective, in 1910, the number of foreign-born individuals living in the United States was only 14.6% of the population.

So, the Lorain Public Library was faced with a unique set of patrons, opportunities and challenges, and they worked hard to provide books in a variety of languages. As early as 1905, for example, the library owned 40 books in the German language and 15 in Hungarian. By 1915, there were 283 books printed in a language other than English: 119 in German, 105 in Hungarian and 59 in Polish. Out of a total adult book circulation of 35,332 that year, 2,343 of them were foreign language books.

But Grace Chapman, Head Librarian in 1906, wanted something more. Her greatest concern for the library, she said, was the availability of library materials in "outlying areas," because many of the immigrants were settling in South Lorain to be near the steel mill. Two deposit stations for the return of books had been set up in that vicinity, but Chapman called for the creation of a regular branch office, because books should be for all people. Those needs, she believed, must be better met by the library.

"A no less important task is that of bringing the books to the people," Miss Chapman said, adding, "not the leisure classes but those who work hard all day for a living and have neither time nor inclination to go on a long detour from their places of business for the sake of even a book or the current magazine."

She would echo the beliefs of Dr. Schaeffer, the President of the National Education Association, who stated that the library was "an integral part of free and public education." Citing the dropout rate of high schools as unacceptable, Dr. Schaeffer added, "It thus becomes one of the most important of the provinces of the library as a public institution to carry on this educational work."

While, unfortunately, a regular branch library was not to exist during Miss Chapman's time at the library, a rudimentary program was established on October 23, 1905. Bags of books were taken to the YMCA in South Lorain, where they would circulate among males, and a tentative relationship between the library and South Lorain patrons was formed in that way.

Besides the arrangement with the YMCA, another delivery station was created at Mr. Chapin's dry goods store in 1907, but the increased traffic during those two afternoons a week became a "burden" to the storekeeper. So, in 1911, those books were moved into the YMCA.

Chapman's successor, Elizabeth Steele, applied more pressure for a branch library in South Lorain, pointing out that many families there could not afford any books for their children beyond the necessary textbooks. These children, as she explained in 1923, had "little to feed the imagination or stir the finest emotions, whose education begins and ends with the school and street, and whose recreation is of the moving picture houses and the street."

These children, Steele also assured the board of directors, were eager to obtain books. "To them," she wrote, "most of whom are of foreign parentage, the insight into American ways of living and thinking, manners and customs, ideas of loyalty, honor, justice and fair play, knowledge of the history of our own country, and of other countries, acquaintance with the heroic figures who have helped to make the world what it is, can come only through reading, and these children read for the joy of it and not because it is a task."

While library officials were willing, difficulties kept surmounting.

"We have been moved," Steele wrote in 1923, "from pillar to post, first out into the hall, then into the magazine room, back into the hall, upstairs into the big room - after the fire to the Lowell school - then back to the YMCA where we were given a room of our own for a short time, but which some one else soon wanted to use, then down stairs again - sometimes in the midst of boys playing games at the tables in the same room, some times (sic) with shouts of the billiard players rising even above the clatter of the children. But still the work has gone on and grown."

Frustrated as Steele must have become, her efforts - and that of Frances Root and Grace Chapman - accomplished much. While the creation of other in-city branches was attempted in the mid-20th-century in the Lorain Public Library System, the South Lorain Branch was the first one that flourished.

Lorain Public Library: Transitions From 1925 until 1956

Right when the library was expanding its horizons, geographically speaking, financial difficulties arose. More and more people were using the library system and checking out larger quantities of books than ever before - but revenues were simply not keeping pace with the growing expenditures.

Here are just a few comparisons. In 1904, the library was receiving $3,508.13 in tax revenues and circulation figures were 39,303. To use another benchmark, in 1914, revenues increased to just $4,203.08 (a paltry difference of less than $700 from the previous decade), but circulation figures had exploded to a figure of 64,717. By 1925, it was obvious that the revenues of $13,704.96 were not supporting (and could not possibly support) the burgeoning circulation figures of 107,269.

High rates of book circulation demonstrated themselves in the wear and tear of the actual volumes. "If you should examine our shelves," an employee noted in the 1924 annual report, "you would agree that there are many books so worn that you would hate to have them in your homes."

To alleviate the problem of having too few books in respectable shape, library employees began going door to door, visiting patrons who had overdue books in their possession. "It is surprising," read the same annual report, "how many people will receive several notices and still be unmoved, but will hand over the books when someone goes to the door saying they have come for library books. Last summer in several afternoons spent in home visiting, nearly fifty books were collected. Books were found locked in bureau drawers, and trunks, under porches, at neighbor's houses and in every conceivable place. This was hard work for it meant considerable walking but the time was well spent."

Soon, however, the library's financial position had worsened considerably and this program of collecting overdue books was not sufficient to solve the problems at hand. The already insufficient tax revenues, the library was now informed, were to be cut again by more than half. This problem was not unique to the Lorain Library System, but permeated Ohio due to the standard state system of library funding. Whenever tax revenues decreased, library budgets were almost automatically decreased and that was the situation at hand.

Lorain Becomes a School District Library

About eighty percent of Ohio's library systems found refuge, though, under the "Ohio School District Public Law" of 1925, sections 7635 to 7640-1. This law declared that school districts could form a unique partnership with public libraries; and, by appointing a seven-person board of trustees, that group could ask for funding specifically targeted for the library through the financial tool of tax levies. Library officials in Lorain wanted to switch over to this financial arrangement and they were not met with any opposition; and so, on February 2, the library asked the board of education to take over their management - and on February 9, the school board agreed. By May 27, 1925, the library had officially changed over to this format of funding and Evelyn Yeaton, who succeeded Elizabeth Steele as Head Librarian from October 1, 1924 until June 1, 1928, was pleased with this turn of events. "I am confident," Yeaton said, "that a beginning has been made for more rapid growth of the library and for the extension of greater service to the community."

The financial crisis was averted and revenues of 29 cents per capita could be expected to increase to 42 cents per person in the very near future. While, in 1925, revenues collected were just $13,704.96, the next year they rose to $18,392.23 and the library could begin replacing the books that desperately needed to be discarded. By 1929, the crisis of 1925-1926 was but a bad memory and the Lorain Public Library could continue in its quest for progressive service. One of the library's goals since its inception had been providing quality materials and service to the juvenile population. And, during Book Week of November 1929, the library opened up an all-new children's room, converting the first floor auditorium into an area suitable for story hours, reading contests, puppet shows, special exhibits and movies. Miss Frances Nicholson, the library's first trained children's librarian, was responsible for organizing both the equipment and the furniture in this new children's area. During that same re-organization of library space, the clubroom (originally created to hold meetings), was converted into the county book collection and a work space area.

Lorain Public Library Becomes Extension Center Library

And, on October 18, 1935, the library received more focus-altering news. Miss Mildred Sandoe, the state library organizer, had met with various librarians throughout Lorain County. Since the Lorain Public Library System, now headed by Miss Margaret Grant (June 1, 1928-May 1, 1937), was determined to be the strongest system in the county, it was selected to become the extension center library. The goal of this program was to serve rural areas throughout the region, a noble aim; but, since the program was started with little funding or resources, in the beginning, an individual librarian would simply load up her car and deliver books throughout the community.

In January 1936, an NYA project provided opportunities for student storytellers from Oberlin to introduce the various volumes as they were added to the collection. And, as more and more funding arrived from the state and from other libraries, the program grew. By March of 1936, 1,400 volumes were finding homes in "cross-road stores, churches, homes and schools."

Bookmobile Service Starts

Then another innovation occurred in the evolving Lorain library system. On September 25, 1939, the bookmobile (a vehicle specifically created to store and deliver books and other library materials) began traveling throughout Lorain County, on a pre-determined route. In 1939, bookmobile circulation figures exceeded 51,000 and 1940 (the "banner year" for the bookmobile) showed circulation figures of 93,000. At this point, each of twenty-one schools and sixteen adult locations were visited every two weeks.

The 1940s saw two major changes in the bookmobile operations. One was that the funding program that strongly supported the bookmobile service was dropped in 1942. The twice-monthly delivery therefore decreased to a monthly visit - and circulation figures, predictably enough, also dropped. The other change occurred because of World War II. While men originally served as drivers of the bookmobile, the war made the procurement of such employees difficult and so women were hired. They proved more than satisfactory for the job and the trend continued.

By the time of these changes, Head Librarian Margaret Grant had already accepted the position as the executive secretary of the New Hampshire State Library Commission. Under Grant's tutelage, the bookmobile collection and circulation figures had almost doubled, and her replacement, Miss Marion King was also a progressive thinker. King worked with librarian Miss Eleanor Fenner to bring this bookmobile service to full fruition and Fenner actually served as the first bookmobile librarian.

Subsequent bookmobile librarians have included Miss Janice Land, Mrs. Joseph Hudak, Miss Grace Worthington, Mrs. Grace Nugent, Miss Gladys Miller, Mrs. Madelene Cozard, Miss Theresa Perusek, Miss Winifred E. Decker and Mrs. Anne W. Dennis.

Bookmobile: Ripple Effect

While the odometer of the bookmobile would now register fewer miles, because of the reduction in funding, four branch libraries would be built as a direct result of the humble library on wheels: ones located in Sheffield Lake, Columbia Township, North Ridgeville and Avon.

Columbia Township Library Service Starts

Columbia Township was the first area to receive the benefits of the bookmobile and that occurred in 1935. Twenty years later, however, Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Furlong wanted to see a more permanent facility in their rural area. Working with Head Librarian Marion King, the library rented a small frame building at the intersection of Station and Royalton Roads, and this branch opened for business on April 2, 1955.

The collection of books at this branch continued to grow, eventually reaching the figure of 14,000, and by 1963, larger facilities were needed. An active community service group, the Columbia Acme Grange, helped the Columbia Station library achieve its dream of better quarters - and those ended up being located at 25796 Royalton Road. While the Acme Grange helped financially, the Columbia Kiwanis did so as well, buying and installing necessary shelving for the many volumes.

In 1971, just 8 short years later, another building was needed. This time, Columbia residents voted on a 2 ½-mill levy, passing it to allow a new structure to be built on land owned by Columbia Township. Town officials pay the utilities on the building that opened on March 1, 1973 and they also maintain the outside of the structure.

The building was renovated during December 1995 and January 1996. New carpeting and periwinkle blue paint brightened the interior and new tables and chairs arrived shortly thereafter. And, the collection of books, videos, compact discs and CD-ROMs now total over 27,000. Due to the passage of a 1.44 mil levy in November, 2000, a 4,000 square foot addition will be constructed. The Lorain Public Library System will finance the construction and the levy monies will be used to operate the expanded library. Groundbreaking for the addition should take place in mid-2002.

North Ridgeville Branch Is Born

While the Columbia Station location began receiving bookmobile service in 1935, North Ridgeville wasn't far behind. In 1939, residents could choose material from the traveling library and in 1958, North Ridgeville residents also found themselves with a branch library, opened in a storefront in the Tran Building on Avon-Belden Road.

This building became overcrowded, though, and in September 1977, the library was moved to Old Town Hall on Center Ridge Road. The city owned building was provided rent-free and the city also covered the cost of utilities and the North Ridgeville Junior Women's Club and the North Ridgeville Welcome Wagon raised funds for the move itself.

The library continued to grow and soon the 1800-square-foot building was filled to the rafters with computers for patrons and shelving for both videocassettes and books. Since the state had, in 1986, established the Library and Local Government Support Fund, money was available for the North Ridgeville branch to either rent or purchase a larger building.

In 1988, trustees reviewed a number of sites and finally selected a 5000-square-foot building that once housed a bank, located at 6401 Jaycox Road. This site was conveniently located by the main roads and shopping areas of North Ridgeville and there was potential for future expansion.

Renovations began in June of 1989 and materials were moved in September. The library purchased the building the following year and they also placed a levy on the May, 1993 levy. While that levy did not pass, the library still managed to buy property north of the building in 1995 for future expansion.

In 1998, the library had already outgrown their 5000-square-feet building. Through the efforts of a hard-working levy committee and a committed community, a levy to construct a new building was passed on November 2, 1999. A new 25,000 square foot building will be constructed with its ground-breaking eagerly anticipated in 2001.

Sheffield Lake Gets a Library

Another branch library, that in Sheffield Lake, also originated from the bookmobile's journey. Starting in 1940, the library added this town to its route and Sheffield Lake residents enjoyed the bookmobile service until 1963.

By 1960, however, the desire for a permanent structure caused the Kiwanis Club to begin fundraising efforts (they raised $3100) and in 1962, the Budget Commission of Lorain County donated $10,000 to the cause. On January 20, 1963, a branch opened in the Shoreway Shopping Center - and just eight months later, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Domonkas donated $100,000 for the construction of a new library-owned building.

The city of Sheffield Lake provided another $36,000 and the library earmarked $12,000 to equip the new building. The building was constructed immediately and dedicated on November 8, 1964. While levies have failed in both 1976 and 1977, the 1979 effort was successful and by 1983, 47,286 items were circulated from the Domonkas Branch Library alone.

Levies passed in 1984, 1989, 1991 and 1996, and circulation has continued to rise, with 1998 seeing 146,928 items checked out, and 1999 with figures of 154,521.

Avon Branch Library

Further expansion was occurring, as well, at the eastern end of Lorain County. In November 1956, another branch of the Lorain Public Library System was opened, this time in the town of Avon. For twelve years, this branch was located in the Old Town Hall building located at the intersection of Detroit Road and Stoney Ridge Road. In 1968, however, the Lorain Public Library (with the support and assistance of the Avon Women's Club) relocated the library in a more convenient location in the Avon Plaza on Detroit Road. By 1968, 2000 books were available at the Avon branch.

In 1976, the Friends of the Avon Library campaigned for a 1.5-mill tax levy, along with its renewal in 1981. This funding allowed them to purchase materials, increase hours of service and provide more programming for children - and also allowed them to move into new quarters again in 1983. This building was privately owned and leased to the Lorain Public Library for a ten-year period. In 1986, another 1-mill tax levy was passed, and in 1991, community leaders began searching for an appropriate location for the new branch library building.

Harvest Drive was selected as the location and the new Avon Branch Library (10,400 square feet) opened on June 13, 1994. The building boasts a spacious room, suitable for library programming and community meetings.

South Lorain Branch Library Moves to Its Own Quarters

Each of these branches owes a debt of gratitude to three head librarians: Frances Root, Grace Chapman and Elizabeth Steele, who fought for the establishment of the first branch library in South Lorain.

None of these women worked at the Lorain Library in 1934, however, their collective efforts led to the South Lorain Branch Library moving into its own building. Located at 3059 Pearl Avenue, that site served the community well for 23 years, and then the library was moved to a leased storefront building, located at 3008 Grove Avenue.

In 1968, the library built an addition to the South Lorain Branch, one that almost doubled the available space, and in 1982, the site was again enlarged, this time to 3,910 square feet. On Thursday, January 29, 1998, the library purchased land on Homewood Drive to build a freestanding South Lorain Branch Library structure, and groundbreaking ceremonies occurred on March 21, 1999.

On Sunday, May 21, 2000, library officials celebrated the grand opening of the new South Lorain Branch Library, located on 2121 Homewood Drive. Lorain Public Library System Director Kenneth Cromer officiated, amid poetry readings and harp music. Friends of the Lorain Public Library, a group of volunteers supporting library efforts, provided refreshments. Meanwhile, visitors toured the 12,000 square foot structure, complete with a state of the art meeting room and three times the seating space of the previous building.

Expansion to Sixth and Reid: The Main Library From 1940s into the 2000's

Carnegie Building Outgrown

While the 1940s witnessed the baby steps of the expanding library branch system, that's also when it became clear that the Carnegie building was no longer large enough to support the growing amount of library materials at the central location. So, board of trustee president J.S. Masson spearheaded the quest to place a five-year, one-mill tax levy on the ballot and his hard work was rewarded. In 1946, voters in Lorain passed a levy large enough to provide funds to build a new structure at the intersection of Sixth Street and Reid Avenue and residents donated many pieces of equipment, which allowed the Lorain Public Library to remain at the cutting edge of technology.

Donations included a record player and a collection of records, and a 16-mm sound projector. Besides that, there was the donation of four ceiling projectors and accompanying books on microfilm. Each projector was housed in a black box with a handle, and people could rent one of these projectors, along with one or more of the hundreds of rolls of microfilmed books. While mostly children's books were available, there were also adult books, and each of these books could be projected on the wall, or for the convenience of people who were bedridden, on the ceiling.

And, in the summer of 1957, the structure that would house these donations was completed. The new Lorain Public Library boasted a capacity for 240,000 volumes, reading rooms with 240 chairs and central air conditioning. The total cost of the building was $540,528, which included $487,528 for the building and $53,000 for equipment.

The only remaining obstacle was the move itself.

When the time for the move finally arrived, Head Librarian Marion King solicited bids from moving companies, but the results were dissatisfactory. She only received one bid that met her specifications and that company wanted approximately $3300 for the service. As an alternative solution, she asked the Junior Chamber of Commerce for their assistance and they agreed to volunteer their time.

"The only cost to the library," said Richard Barnes, who helped coordinate the move, "was the purchase of pairs of work gloves and some coffee. Almost everything else was donated, from our labor to materials required for the move."

Fifteen volunteers worked on the project, in shifts, over a period of five and a half days. "We worked four to five hours a night," Barnes said, "and over the weekend. We had to move approximately 133,000 pieces of material - mostly books, but also magazines and newspapers."

Volunteers and library staff members coordinated their efforts, to affect the most efficient use of time. "We provided boxes," Barnes said, "and then the librarians pasted slips of paper at one end of each box. They'd label where the books belonged, and we'd transfer the boxes to the new location and then unpack them and put them on the new shelving."

"The circular staircase at the old library," Barnes added, "was hardly conducive to effective transporting of thousands of boxes."

Nevertheless, the move was efficiently completed, and the Junior Chamber of Commerce won a first-place award for their voluntary contributions.

Modern Day Library

Reverend A. Eugene Thomson, the women belonging to the turn-of-the-century WIMODAUGHSIS Club, and all the others who helped found the Lorain Public Library System would be utterly astonished to witness the technological explosions of the second half of the twentieth-century.

When the Junior Chamber of Commerce moved the Main Library to its present location at Sixth and Reid, the newest technology included 16mm films and LP records. The late 60s saw the availability of 8mm films and audiocassettes, and in the 1970s, staff members started using electric typewriters and patrons could now use microfilm readers and the newly computerized card catalog.

In the 1980s, the library purchased Beta and VHS videocassettes for patrons and provided photocopiers for public use. Other advances included online search capabilities, inter-library loans via computer and electric typewriters for patrons. In 1981, the Lorain Public Library System became one of the first library systems in Ohio to offer patrons free use of microcomputers.

In 1990, library users could receive CLEVNET cards, greatly expanding their borrowing options. And, as older technologies were weeded out (Beta videos and 16mm films, among others), CD-ROMs became available, as did Self-Check, a machine that allowed patrons to check out their own materials. In 1995, an area network became available in the periodicals section, and the library began offering training sessions in Windows and Works.

Throughout the decade of the 90s, the Lorain Public Library System kept updating their Internet technologies, and in 1997, they opened the Computer Resources Room. In 1999, information about the library and its services became available 24 hours a day, via this website: http://www.lorain.lib.oh.us

In 2000, over 4.9 million web documents were accessed via 60 library-based computers available to the public. This was a 203% increase over 1999 figures.

These advances have taken place under the leadership of these four library directors:

  • Marion M. King (July 15, 1937-October 31, 1967)
  • Richard E. Willson (December 11, 1967-September 1977)
  • Pauline Demaree (January, 1978- December, 1993)
  • Kenneth Cromer (January, 1994-2007)
  • Joanne Eldridge (January, 2008 - present)

And, of course, not all advances through these decades were in the arena of technology. For example, in 1970, under Willson's leadership, Lorain Public Library ranked 13th out of the state (255 total) in the size of book collections. 227,958 people used the library, and 174 programs were presented, with 5,538 people attending. That September, the library started Project Libros in conjunction with the Cleveland Public Library, a program designed to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking residents of Lorain.

In 1976, an operating levy was successfully passed, allowing librarians to purchase new materials and offer new services. After these purchases, circulation figures increased significantly. During that year, the Lorain Public Library System also helped celebrate the country's Bicentennial with a multitude of patriotic programming.

Library Expanded and Remodeled

Under Pauline Demaree's leadership, the library received a $456,000 grant of Library Service and Construction Act funds, to finance a $1.4 million expansion of the main library. The groundbreaking occurred on February 20, 1984, the first major building project of the library system in twenty-five years, and workers completed the expansion on April 30, 1985.

The project consisted of two prongs: to renovate the current 47,600 square foot building and to add 13,300 square feet to the back of the building. This two-story addition increased shelving space by 30%.

In 1981, a renewal levy passed, among business-like facts and poetic pleadings such as Lou Kepler's comments in the Lorain Journal. "Please don't let the efforts of those people who thought about their descendants and their need for a library wilt on the vine. The renewal of the levy is necessary to keep our library first class, A-1 shape so it can serve all people, provide a variety of material and programming for everyone's informational, educational, recreational and cultural needs. That's its purpose and has been for over 80 years."

Toni Morrison Reading Room Dedicated

Library officials and supporters alike celebrated the levy's passage, and further cause for celebration occurred on January 22, 1995. On that date, the library honored Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winner, Toni Morrison, by officially opening the Toni Morrison Reading Room. She was born and raised in Lorain, although friends and family there know the award-winning author as Chloe Ardelia Anthony Wofford.

Ms. Morrison attended the ribbon cutting, as did Congressman Sherrod Brown, poet Sonia Sanchez, and members of Morrison's family. "This felt fine to me," Morrison said about the room, "much better than the alternatives. I remember working at the library, making a little change. I spent long, long hours reading there, so I wanted one place available in the neighborhood with a quiet room and comfortable chairs. I hope that people spend 45 minutes, or an hour or two there. Not for entertainment. Not for rest. The point is, in books lie real knowledge."

Morrison's books and memorabilia are displayed in an oak and glass case in the plush burgundy and gray reading room, and a letter that she wrote to library officials hangs on one wall. "The kinds of things described for the Reading Room seem exquisite to me and ought to produce a warm and welcoming atmosphere for people who would relish the comfort of such a place."

Another wall displays the 1981 issue of Newsweek with Morrison on the cover. "That voice of hers is so sure," it reads. "She lures you in, locks the doors and encloses you in a very special, very particular universe - all in the first three pages." In the same article opera star Leontyne Price adds, "She paints pictures with words, and reading or hearing those words is like listening to music."

Etched on the glass wall of the room is a portion of her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. "I will leave this hall with a new and much more delightful haunting than the one I felt upon entering: that is the company of the laureates yet to come. Those who, even as I speak, are mining, sifting and polishing languages for illuminations none of us has dreamed of."

Those words take on an enormous significance when one considers the humble beginnings - and tremendous progress - of the Lorain Public Library System. Which laureates are yet to come? What accomplishments and advances will take place, both within the walls of the library, and/or because of its influences? Because, to paraphrase Morrison, even as we speak, as we think, and as we read, illuminations are being birthed, "illuminations none of us has dreamed of."