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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.

Our Carnegie Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 24, 2018


Last week we returned from visiting family in northwestern Ohio and went through a couple of Ohio cities to look again at a couple of Carnegie libraries that, like ours in Steubenville, have been renovated.


I have visited both libraries, but wanted to review them again from the exterior and compare how they looked in comparison with what ours will look like when completed late this year.


Of Ohio’s 105 Carnegie libraries funded from 1899 to1924, about half remain as libraries.  The remainder has found alternative functions, and a few have been demolished.


The Bucyrus Public Library, which opened in 1906, sits on the corner of the Town Square, and is one of only two Carnegie libraries in Ohio whose original entrance faces a corner.


Four large classic pillars flank the entrance with a pediment on top, looking down on stone steps that descend to the street corner.


That entrance is now closed after a major renovation wraps around the library with a new street-level entrance to the side of the complex.


The issue was the same as nearly all Carnegie libraries --- every entrance tended to require the user to climb steps like most Greek and Roman buildings.


Over the years all of those Carnegie libraries have renovated to provide street level entrances, except for one --- our Main Library which is now being done.


A few miles to the east is the city of Mansfield, with their Carnegie building faces a downtown street and was formerly wedged between other commercial buildings when opened in 1908.


Their building also has classical white fluted columns on the façade with a pediment, and originally had a long row of steps leading to the front door.


Mansfield solved its accessibility by removing the steps in 1951 and directly accessing the “ground floor” directly off the street.


Their access issue was solved, and the Director’s Office moved to the former 2nd floor vestibule which had the most impressive view I had ever experienced.


My former office had no view, and if it had a view it would have shown the underside of cars parked in the lot.


The open vestibule inside Mansfield allowed for an elevator shaft to be added around the ornate stairway with a Victorian railing.


In 1989, a major renovation was undertaken and buildings on both sides of the Carnegie were demolished and a new expansion was performed on the Main Library of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library including a parking garage.


Both are wonderful renovations sympathetic to the design of the original buildings, and are well-used by area residents.


Those buildings and our own Main Library shared the long run of steps to the entrance, but ours does not have the classic columns on the façade, instead we have Victorian-Romanesque architecture that probably came from the 1888 Cambridge, Mass. City Hall, done also by Alden & Harlow Architects.


Our building shared the difficulty of making the new library complex ADA accessible while retaining the charm and love held for the design of the 1902 Carnegie.


We all struggled with possible ramps to make the buildings accessible, but all three moved on to other designs to achieve street-level access.


It has always been interesting to me to experience people’s appreciation and love for their local public library whether or not they actually use the facility.


A man recently commented to me that he is watching the renovation and construction of our Main Library building and hopes to enter the new facility as his last visit was about 1957.


I told him that he should start at our 6 branch libraries and visit a different one each week/