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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.

Bits and Pieces about the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 19, 2013

Librarians are notorious for scooping up bits and pieces of information and stashing them away for future use, especially items of interest that might be used at a later time.


As I was preparing for a talk to the Academy of Lifelong Learning last month, I had assembled much more than I actually use (much to their relief) but found these odds and ends about the library to be too good to simple tuck away.


People are always fascinated by the Carnegie Library building, and I shared that it was designed by the architectural firm of Alden and Harlow of Pittsburgh.  Designed in 1899, the building was actually the product of the first name of the firm, Frank Ellis Alden.


I am sure that his partner Alfred Branch Harlow saw the plans, and may have had input, but Alden did the public and commercial buildings of the firm.


The firm opened its Pittsburgh office in 1886, moving from Boston.  The name of Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow was on the front of the firm at that time, and yes, he was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s nephew.


Longfellow decided to return to Boston after a decade in Pittsburgh, and continued his career until his death in 1923.


We have little to document Alden’s thoughts on our Carnegie building, other than a letter noting that the “window screens were not correct” and he would speak to the contractor.


A photo of the Alden and Harlow firm shows a staff of a dozen standing outside their office on the top floor of the Monongahela Building in Pittsburgh, which they had designed.  That space today is full of HVAC equipment.


Our Carnegie Library was one of the first three in Ohio, sharing the spotlight with Sandusky and East Liverpool.  The three buildings are quite different in design; they all remain in operation as libraries with the Sandusky building having undergone a huge renovation and expansion to incorporate a neighboring building of similar design into the complex.


While Andrew Carnegie was quite interested in his library buildings, there is no evidence that he was ever in Steubenville to actually “see” our building.


After 1904, his library program was passed to his Scottish secretary, James Bertram, who managed the fund distribution, and approved designs.


Over the inside entrance door to our building is an arched area with a round portrayal of the world.  Until the 1940s that round area contained an electric clock, which kept time poorly.  Constant complaints, and attempts at repair were given up and the area re-plastered and re-painted to its design today.


The steam lines that heat the building today are 110 years old and still do their job.  Ductwork within the stone and brick walls were a failed attempt to bring cool air into the building from the tower, and today are access points for building utilities.


Various plans for renovation and addition to the building over the years have been dropped, except for a 1948 garage and 1963 rear addition.  Trying to make the building handicapped accessible result in no plan due to cost, and the inability to easily find a way to make a street-level entrance.


There have been 12 Directors of the library system in its 111 year history.  The first librarian was Ellen Summers Wilson who was hired a year before the building opened so she could prepare a collection from the various libraries that were assembled on opening day.


The young librarian was only 29 years old when she arrived, being formerly head of one of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branches.  She died in 1904 of TB after returning home to Albany.


The head librarian has included 9 women and 3 men.  Three left for other positions in Lansing, Youngstown, and Canton.  Two died, and five retired from the position.  Two had served as Presidents of the Ohio Library Association.


Four of the twelve were originally from Ohio; most of the others were Pennsylvania natives.  Only three children descended from the 12 librarians.  The longest serving Director is, well, yours truly, with 30 years next month.


Perhaps the oddest tidbit of head librarian history at Steubenville is the fact that the last four Directors have consecutive birthdays (one day after another).  Now you say, how would I know that?   Well, I was organizing our archival staff files, and just happened to make that observation.


This is probably why you don’t say, “What’s new?” to a librarian.