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Visiting Libraries in Southeast Ohio

October 13, 2010
St. Clairsville Public Library

Library Consultant Jan Haines and I visited five libraries in Belmont, Jefferson, and Harrison Counties on October 13-14, 2010.  Our first stop was the St. Clairsville Public Library in Belmont County.  Sheila Perkins has directed the St. Clairsville Public Library for 30 years and recently announced that she plans to retire at the end of this year.  The St. Clairsville Public Library was established in 1938 with the help of the local Rotary Club, which has continued to support the library in a number of ways throughout the years. The library was housed in various locations until 1955, when it moved to the Second National Bank Building.

The community of St. Clairsville is small, with a population of just over 5000, but it is a community that loves and supports its local public library.  The local Wal-Mart provided support for the Library’s children’s literacy program and the St. Clairsville Sunrise Rotary helped fund the Gaming@Your Library progam, provided funding to renovate the Children’s Room by donating $5000 each year for five years, and donates books to the Children’s Room.  A Library Foundation Giving Tree, adorned with the names of donors, is proudly displayed on a wall in the Library.  The Foundation recently purchased ten laptop computers for the Library to help reduce the wait time for patrons wishing to use the Library’s public computers.  The Library also has Friends and Junior Friends of the Library groups to help support programs.

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The Library maintains a close relationship with Belmont Technical College.  The two organizations have worked together on a number of projects including the recent renovation of the Library’s large front windows.  Students enrolled in the college’s Building Preservation and Restoration program worked to repair and restore the windows at no cost to the library.

Martins Ferry Public Library

The Martins Ferry Public Library was built in 1968 by Robert E. Forsythe, a Martins Ferry native who also designed the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.  The Martins Ferry Public Library consists of a Main Library in Martins Ferry and branches in Bethesda, Bridgeport, Powhatan Point, Shadyside, and Flushing.  Yvonne Myers is the library’s director.

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The library offers programs for all ages including two story times for babies, a strong teen program, and adult programs that include reading groups and book signings.  Chris Berthalter, the Belmont County Prosecuting Attorney recently published his first novel, Heir to the Throne, and did a book-signing as a fundraiser for the library.

The library houses the Martins Ferry Hall of Honor.  The Hall of Honor was established to acknowledge those citizens whose actions or accomplishments have affected, aided, or brought fame to Martins Ferry. Those eligible for this honor must have been born, lived, or worked in the City of Martins Ferry.  The library’s architect, Robert E. Forsythe, was inducted into the Hall of Honor in 2008.

The library has established beneficial partnerships with several community agencies and organizations.  One such partnership resulted in having inmates from the local correctional facility paint the lower level of the library with bright colors and characters to brighten the children’s area.

Bellaire Public Library

The Bellaire Public Library was established in 1927 and was located in the basement of Bellaire High School.  In the 1940’s the Mellott Family donated $450,000 to support the public library and community center.  A portion of these funds were used to construct the Mellott Memorial Building, which opened on December 19, 1960.  The library underwent a remodeling and expansion in 1998-2000 using Mellott Trust Funds.  This expansion allowed the library to double its original size.  The Mellott Memorial Mural, honoring the Mellott Family, is prominently displayed in the library.

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Mary Roberts is the Interim Director of the Bellaire Public Library, which boasts a collection of nearly 80,000 items, a special collection of materials documenting the history of glass in the area, and a community room that is used by the Bellaire High School Thespians, the Ohio Valley Promenaders, and many other local groups and organizations.  While we were visiting, the Bellaire High School Thespians were rehearsing for a production of one-act comedies scheduled to take place that week.

October 13, 2010
AnchorPublic Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County

Alan Hall has been the director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County (PLSJC) since June 1, 1983.  When we visited on October 14, he was in the midst of the library’s first-ever levy campaign (the levy passed) and he’d been busy speaking to local residents, community groups, and media about the library’s services and its need for additional funding.  Talking about the library’s rich history and wealth of services is something Alan is only too happy to do.

A public library serving the residents of Steubenville was founded on October 1, 1899.  With the help of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, a building was constructed at the corner of 4th and Slack Streets in downtown Steubenville and has served as the city’s public library since it opened on March 12, 1902.  The library boasts two reading rooms and displays a portrait of Baron Frederick von Steuben over the south fireplace.  Unfortunately, it is often mistaken as a portrait of George Washington.  Today, the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County has a Main Library and six branches (Adena, Brilliant, Dillonvale-Mt. Pleasant, Schiappa, Tiltonsville, and Toronto) to provide a wide variety of services to the residents of the Ohio Valley.

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The Main Library is alleged to be haunted and is featured in Haunted Ohio IV by Chris Woodyard.  According to Alan, the library may be haunted by a friendly ghost that just might be Ellen Summers Wilson, the librarian from 1901 – 1904.  He cautions however, that it is also possible that the noises heard in the library have no ghostly origins and could be coming from the building’s abandoned air ducts or the wooden trusses, which expand and contract with temperature changes.

Schiappa Memorial Branch Library



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We also had the opportunity to tour the Schiappa Memorial Branch Library, which is located near the Fort Steuben Mall.  Linda Stuller is the manager of this busy branch library, which was built in 1987 and has been renovated twice.  Its most recent renovation was completed in 2008. The Schiappa Branch houses the PLSJC’s local history and genealogy department, which has the local newspaper dating back to 1806.  The library also has a café area, a children’s activity room, and a teen area that includes a very popular section devoted to career exploration.  The Schiappa Branch offers programs for children of all ages including Babygarten, a program for caregivers and children from birth to 24 months.  For adults, the Schiappa Branch hosts a Cooking Club that meets monthly for demonstrations by a local caterer, recipes from her cookbooks, and sample foods.

Puskarich Public Library

Our last stop on this whirlwind tour of libraries was the Puskarich Public Library in Cadiz.  This library was built in 1986 and is truly a focal point in this county of 15,000 residents.  Director Sandi Thompson told us that the first free public library in Cadiz was established in 1910 and was located in various rooms of the Harrison County Court House until 1986 when it moved into its newly constructed home.  The library board established the Clark Branch Library at Freeport in 1991 and the Scio Branch Library in 2001 to extend library programs and services to the entire county.  The Puskarich Public Library System now offers three full service, automated libraries in Harrison County, plus a bookmobile to put library service within fifteen minutes of all Harrison County residents. Circulation exceeds 175,000 annually, and there are over 9000 registered borrowers.

Harrison County was one of the top coal-producing counties in Ohio so it is fitting that the library houses the Harrison County History of Coal Museum.  The museum opened in 1994 and documents this history of coal mining in the area.  One display focuses on the Willow Grove Coal Mine Explosion, which claimed the lives of 72 miners on March 16, 1940.  Another display showcases items made from coal and coal by-products.  The library is also home to the Harrison County Sports Hall of Fame.

The library offers a wide range of programs for children and adults including toddler times, preschool story times and a reading club.  To help keep these programs and other library services going strong, the library passed a 1 mill 5-year operating levy in 2009 with 65% of voters voting in support of the library.

The five libraries we visited on this tour are all different; each offering something unique to its local community.  The one thing these libraries clearly have in common is their use of community partnerships to provide enhanced programs and services to local residents.  Thank you to the directors, staff, and boards of these libraries for graciously hosting our visits.  We look forward to visiting again.