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September 15, 2010

Ohio Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled

The sun was shining brightly as Tim Diamond, Cleveland Public Library’s Special Assistant and Planning Administrator, and I arrived at the Ohio Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled (OLBPD) on September 15, 2010.  I was there to serve as a guest speaker for OLBPD’s Family Fun and Learning Day, an annual event that brings patrons and friends to the OLBPD for a full day of programs, an opportunity to learn about and try adaptive technology, and the chance to talk with OLBPD staff about their service.  This was the first time the event was held outside and the weather cooperated perfectly.

Books-on-Tape fill stacksTim explained that the facility, located on the shores of Lake Erie at the eastern edge of Cleveland, was once the Villa Angela Academy for Girls. The Cleveland Public Library obtained the facility in 1991 and renovated the space to use for a variety of functions.  In addition to the OLBPD, the 15,625 square-foot facility houses the Memorial-Nottingham Branch Library, CPL’s Technical Services Department, and off-site book storage. 

We had just enough time before the program got underway to take a quick tour of the building.  Our first stop was the Memorial-Nottingham Branch Library, which is the third busiest among the 28 branch libraries in the CPL system.  The branch boasts an open floor plan and a display featuring two replacement carousel horses from the old Euclid Beach Amusement Park.  We then toured the OLBPD, which works in partnership with the State Library of Ohio to provide eligible Ohio residents with the services of the Talking Book Program.   The OLBPD provides free Braille and audio materials to more than 16,000 visually disabled persons all across Ohio, while the State Library of Ohio acts as the machine lending agency, loaning equipment and accessories to eligible participants.

Entry to Sensory Garden Sensory Garden Carousel horses

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Next, we were treated to a tour of the beautiful Sensory Garden, led by garden designer and caretaker, Ben Zaremba.  The Sensory Garden features a wonderful variety of flowers, herbs, and plants specially selected for their bloom, color, fragrance, taste, and texture.

Cleveland Public Library

Main entranceAfter my portion of the program, Tim and I returned to Cleveland Public Library’s historic Main Library in downtown Cleveland, where I had the opportunity to have lunch and talk informally with Library Director Felton Thomas, several CPL administrators, Board member, Alice G. Butts, and Board president, Thomas D. Corrigan.    I learned that the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards had been presented the previous evening and that Oprah Winfrey was one of the four honorees.  Kamila Shamsie, Elizabeth Alexander, and William Julius were also honored for their literary contributions to the understanding of racism and the importance of diversity.

Eastman Reading GardenJohn Skrtic, Assistant Public Services Administrator, was my guide for a tour of the Main Library.  Cleveland Public Library’s Main Library consists of two buildings:  the original Main Library built in 1925 and the Louis Stokes Wing, which was completed in 1997.  The Main Library’s subject departments are divided between the two buildings.  The beautiful Eastman Reading Garden is located between the two buildings.  John explained that the public artwork on display in the Reading Garden is part of the See Also program, which “strives to initiate creative, innovative, and thought-provoking works of art that add to the Library’s broad range of cultural programming.” 

As John and I walked through the Main Library, he provided me with some interesting statistics about the Cleveland Public Library.  John noted that as the economy has declined, Library usage has increased.  Circulation has increased by 17% and library visits have increased by 12% since the beginning of the national financial crisis.  John shared with me that the Library’s public computers are used by over 1 million people each year, over 170,000 children and adults attended a Library program last year, and CPL staff answer more than 1 million reference questions each year.

As we traveled from department to department, I noticed several art displays.  One that caught my eye was a display of posters titled, The Winds and Words of War.  This exhibit, on display through December, showcases a collection of vintage World War I posters including one that is captioned, “Books Wanted for Our Men in Camp and Over There.  Take Your Gifts to the Public Library.”

Although I enjoyed my visits to each of the Library’s subject departments, two areas of the Library stood out for me.  This first is the Library’s grand Reading Room, which houses the reference collection and serves as a reading room and now includes several public computers.  The room is stunning and quite large (112 feet long and 38 feet wide) and has a 44 foot vaulted ceiling adorned with geometric motifs.  The walls of this beautiful room are decorated with murals, three of which were selected as part of a public competition held in 1978.

Reading RoomThe other department that I especially enjoyed visiting was the John G. White and Special Collections Department.  This department houses so many unique and interesting things that I could spend days just browsing the collections.  The John G. White Collection of Chess and Checkers was established in 1928 and has continued to grow over the years so that it is currently one of the largest collections in the world.

This department also houses all of Cleveland Public Library’s rare books and manuscripts including books printed before 1501, illuminated manuscripts, chapbooks,  early children’s books, Korans in thirty-eight languages, and other works.  Special Collections is also home to a significant collection of materials related to folklore, gypsies, and Orientalia, including one of the largest collections of The Arabian Nights in the country.  Finally, one of the most popular collections in the department is the Miniature Book Collection.  I would like to extend a special thank you to Special Collections Librarian, Amy Dawson, for putting together a special display of materials for me to see on my visit.  Her display included two beautiful editions of the Koran, miniature books, and a collection of beautiful illuminated manuscripts.

Many thanks to Director Felton Thomas, OLBPD Manager Will Reed, Special Assistant & Planning Administrator Timothy Diamond, and Assistant Public Services Manager John Skrtic for coordinating and hosting my visit to the Cleveland Public Library.  I look forward to returning to learn more about this impressive library system.

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