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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.

The Library System and Carnegie Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 15, 2009

For the remainder of 2009, I would like to share information about all of the components of our library system, from branches to departments to the system formation itself.


The Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County ranks as 35th in size of Ohio’s 251 public library districts.


It is the largest along the Ohio River between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.


We join the Muskingum County Library in Zanesville as the two largest public library systems in southeastern Ohio.


We were one of the founding libraries of the SEO Automation System, formed by four libraries in 1985 to develop a shared database.


Today, that system contains 73 public library districts in Ohio and almost 6 million items in the total collection.


On weekdays by late morning, over 1,400 computers are busy checking out books, CDs, DVDs, periodicals, and pamphlets to 700,000 users of those libraries.


The roots of our library system just passed 110 years of age.  The first Library Board Meeting was held October 31, 1899 as the first board members signed with the United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company contract to begin “bookkeeping as the Carnegie Library of Steubenville.”


Checks from Mr. Andrew Carnegie of New York City were deposited for the next two years as construction began on a new building at the corner of 4th and Slack Streets.


The new library opened on March 12, 1902 amid great celebration and fanfare.


Six months after the building opened, a little secret was revealed to the public.


Mr. Carnegie had provided the library with a “second payment” of $ 12,000 over the promised $ 50,000 in order to complete what was reported as a “costly building for the iron master.”


The final cost of the massive Victorian Romanesque structure was $ 62,436.23 with all bills paid.


A letter dated June 26, 1900 to Mr. Carnegie at Skibo Castle in Scotland explained that as construction moved forward, the increased costs were apparent.


A lengthy description of the beautiful views of the Virginia hills from the library site followed; even though those Virginia hills had belonged to West Virginia since 1863.


Mr. Carnegie was positively moved by the appeal, and an additional check for $ 12,000 was received; one of only and handful of Carnegie Library projects to receive additional money.


Legend says that when finished, there is no remaining money to buy the clock for the tower, so a third letter was dispatched to Mr. Carnegie.


The supposed response was, “let the fine people of Steubenville look at their watches,” and so the round clock openings remained as round windows until the top of the tower was removed in 1956.


Panic struck all of Ohio’s Carnegie Libraries in the summer of 1905, when the Circuit Court for southwestern Ohio ruled that Carnegie’s funding of libraries was illegal.


Like all Carnegie agreements, the Lebanon Public Library was to be constructed on land provided by local government with agreement for operating expenses.


The Ohio Supreme Court reviewed the case, and ruled that local governments could indeed contract with the steel giant to provide library services.


About 300 communities around the country refused money from Carnegie for libraries for a variety of reasons.


Despite those numbers, some 1,679 public libraries were funded and constructed by Andrew Carnegie in the United States including 105 in Ohio.