Birth of Illumination: First Hundred Years of the Lorain Public Library System
By Kelly Boyer Sagert
© 2001 – Lorain Public Library System
From 1883 until 1924: Visions for the Library
Hundreds of thousands of books housed in a large two-story building,
an entire reading room devoted to periodicals and yet another
room filled with videos. Racks of CD-ROMs, with computers and
copiers flashing and beeping, people speaking on topics ranging
from Civil War history and genealogy to boomerang throwing and
winning the national yo-yo championship. Branch libraries and
outreach programs - and yes, even a bookmobile...
The first glimmering of a public library system in Lorain occurred
in 1883 and it isn't hard to imagine how overwhelming today's
Lorain Public Library System would seem to those literary pioneers.
Today's rapidly changing technology can be quite bewildering,
even to those living and learning in the twenty-first century.
Lorain Library Association
Each one of us, however,
owes a deep debt of gratitude to the founders of the Lorain
Library Association of 1883. On January 10th of that year, an
inconspicuous announcement, about two inches wide and four inches
long, appeared in the Lorain Times. A new association was being
formed, the article explained, with the following people serving
Mayor G. J. Clark, President
Miss H. E. Burrett, Vice President
Miss A. Reid, Secretary
Reverend F. McConaughy, Treasurer
This Association issued one hundred shares of stock at the
price of one dollar per share. C. P. Pursell kept the association's
books in the "parlour" of his dental office, which was located
above the Wilson and Co. bookstore in downtown Lorain. Only
stockholders could patronize this book-lending operation and
they could borrow only as many books as they owned shares
of stock. Since business wasn't brisk, Pursell also served
A parallel effort was emerging in the school system, led
by Superintendent J. R. Rogers. After collecting $90 and
putting it into a library fund (including one dollar donated
by a widow with a large brood of children), Rogers began
purchasing books. By June of 1886, his library contained
250 volumes and he also started two grade school libraries
that boasted 50 books each. While little information exists
about the selection of books in this school library collection,
in 1871 the Lorain public schools adopted an official set
of textbooks that included McGuffey's Reader, Ray's Arithmetics
and Harvey's Grammar.
But, while Rogers' efforts were expanding, the Lorain Library
Association had stagnated. In May 1886, the book-lending
activities located in Pursell's dentist office averaged
less than one transaction per week, so the group decided
to donate their materials to the school's library and the
two fledgling collections of literature were combined.
Civic Groups Become Involved
Fortunately, other local groups began to pursue the idea
of a public library. Three of them - Sisterhood, Sorosis
and WIMODAUGHSIS (standing for wives, mothers, daughters
and sisters) -- were comprised of all women. The goal of
a library was so vital to WIMODAUGHSIS members that they
even incorporated that vision into one verse of "WIMODAUGHSIS
Song," written by Mrs. Jones in 1896 and sung to the tune
of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Wives and mothers, daughters, sisters
When our Library shall stand,
Shedding forth its light of wisdom
Far and wide across the land,
Let us feel that to it growing
We have lent a helping hand,
As the world goes marching on.
And, in April of 1900, the ladies belonging to these three
literary clubs collectively got the "library bee in their
bonnets" and declared, "Let us constitute ourselves a library
committee here and now and begin the good work without delay."
Those interested in pursuing that stated goal met the following
Monday in the Opera House and they elected the following
Mrs. Elisha M. Pierce, chairman
Mrs. J. H. Hills, secretary and treasurer
Mrs. W. R. Comings
Mrs. F. D. Ward
Mrs. F. M. McIlvaine
Mrs. A. E. Thomson
Mrs. J.A. Graham
Mrs. S. Klein
Mrs. C. B. Hopkins
Funds were obviously needed and so these women began "giving
entertainment," raising $120 for their library. WIMODAUGHSIS
members donated their collection of books, which consisted
of 80 volumes, and the three groups issued the following
invitation to the public. "The Reading Room Committee and
the Library Association invite you to be present at the
opening of their room on Franklin Street near Broadway,
October the First, Nineteen Hundred. Donations of books
During the same time period that the women of Lorain were
raising funds and collecting books, a class of young men
meeting at the First Congregational Church were lamenting
that there was no place to meet other than in their rooms
or at a local saloon. Since Reverend A. Eugene Thomson,
an active member of the temperance movement, led this Bible
class, this comment was given great weight. But, as he reminisced
in a letter written on September 4, 1936, "We could see
no light on the subject."
A solution was found, however, when group member Harry
H. Pierce discovered that F. A. Rowley was moving his newspaper,
The Lorain Herald, to a building located on Broadway Avenue,
thus leaving his former offices on Franklin Street vacant.
"It was," wrote Reverend Thomson, referring to the Franklin
Street office, "an admirable site for a reading room."
So, along with Professor and School Superintendent F. D.
Ward, Professor Eldredge (spelled Eldridge in other documents)
and Postmaster S. L. Bowman, Thomson began to seek funding
for this proposed reading room. He knew that they needed
money for "rent, cleaning, equipment with fixtures, light
and heat, periodicals and a caretaker" and even though the
owner of the desired property had two earlier bids, he agreed
to sell it to Thomson if financial arrangement could be
made. Fortunately, the pleas of Thomson, Ward and Bowman
received a positive response and the men raised $113 in
three hours during their first afternoon of fundraising.
"The fund," Thomson said, "was reaching a satisfactory
mark. A Board of Control had been organized. The building,
which naturally needed much cleaning, being saturated with
oil and printer's ink, was renovated. Tables, chairs and
a desk for the Care-taker, who had no other title at first,
were installed, magazines and newspapers subscribed for
or placed, and a competent young woman put in charge."
No information exists about the "competent young woman
put in charge," and the first librarian listed in many sources
was Mr. Ellery Channing Loofbourrow. He earned a degree
in engineering from Ohio Northern University, had worked
for a time as Lorain's city engineer and also served in
the Spanish American War. Another source, however, points
out that Loofbourrow served as secretary of the Lorain Public
Library Association from its inception through August 14,
1902, so it seems doubtful that he also served as head librarian/care-taker.
From August 13, 1902 until March 23, 1903, Mr. Clark E.
Daniels may have filled the librarian void.
Besides that matter of confusion, little information exists
about the precise materials available in the fledging library,
although September 10, 1900 was the date that the two groups
officially agreed to this joint endeavor. Reverend Thomson
wrote that the various women's literary societies donated
a "small but well chosen library, in bookcase, for the use
of its members, and, moved by a desire to have their books
serve a larger constituency, they asked permission to put
their books in the Reading Room for public use, in charge
of the care-taker. This was of course gladly welcomed, and
this step could perhaps be called the real beginning of
the new City library."
Day 1 of the Lorain Public Library Association
And, on April 22, 1901, a formal merger took place among
these various groups and the new organization was named
the Lorain Public Library Association - and this is the
association from which the modern day Lorain Public Library
System traces its roots.
On April 23, the association owned "four tables, eighteen
chairs, a stove, a periodical rack, unexpired magazine and
newspaper subscriptions and the money that was in the treasury."
In May, the Ladies Library Board added their possessions
to the trove - 520 books, three bookcases and a librarian's
desk. Any and all permanent residents of Lorain had the
right to use this newly formed and free library, while temporary
residents were required to leave a deposit equal to the
value of the books that they borrowed. Permanent residents
of another city might also borrow books, but at a fee of
one dollar per year, payable in advance.
While money continued to be raised for more materials (one
lecture course netted $200, for example, with $100 used
for books, $70 for periodicals and $30 for more shelving),
the library was caught in a treacherous cycle. They wanted
to attract more patrons, but they also needed more resources
in which to draw the people to the facility, located at
what is now known as 202 5th Street, where Lorain County
coroner Dr. William Kishman had his medical practice for
Building Dream Achieved
By April 1902, the group realized that the Franklin Street
facilities had already become inadequate to house their
520 books. To further explore the new challenges, the Lorain
Public Library was formed with 50 members, with the following
community leaders serving as officers:
President: Mr. E. E. Hopkins
Secretary and Treasurer: Mr. E. C. Loofbourrow
Trustees: E. M. Pierce; Mrs. J. H. Rowley; A. E. Thomson; F. P. Bins; Mrs. F. W. McIlvaine; George Wickens
The initial and immediate goal of the new board was to
finance a library building. They worked with the board of
education to place a tax levy on the ballot, and, after
a successful campaign, $1,300 was given to the library in
In a February 4, 1902 report compiled by Reverend Charles
Collins, Chairman of the Book Committee, Collins noted that
"there is, moreover, imperative need of adding at once the
greatest possible number of new volumes. The patronage of
the Library is such that books commonly read are always
- or nearly always - out and a wider use of the Library
is thus greatly hindered. This committee therefore urges
that your Board make the most liberal appropriation possible
from the tax collection, for our use at once."
So, the levy was soon raised to four-tenths, which brought
in $1,700. And, on July 21, 1902, the board received wonderful
news: steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Foundation
would be willing to donate $30,000 for a library building.
The only stipulations required by Carnegie were that a suitable
site be located and that city officials continue to provide
$3,000 (10% of the donation) for yearly upkeep of the structure.
Financial issues were quickly resolved when city council
passed an ordinance amending the levy to .75 of a mill to
raise the required dollar amount. This action happened on
July 22, a sure sign of the enthusiasm of the community
for the proposed new building.
Then, on July 24, the library committee selected Streator
Park for the location, a site that had been deeded to the
city by former resident Worthy Streator. Complications arose,
however, when city council questioned whether or not the
terms of the deed would allow for a library to be built
on that particular property.
Attorneys quickly determined that building a library might
jeopardize the city's right to the property, but advised
that permission could be obtained from the trustee of Worthy
Streator's estate. Unfortunately, a trustee hadn't yet been
named and frustrating delays ensued.
Finally, on October 11, Streator trustee E. K. Perkins
granted the necessary permissions and the plans for the
building were put into motion. The library was to occupy
150 feet on Third Street and 150 feet on Kruger. On October
24, the library applied to the Secretary of State, asking
that their charter be amended to "accept bequests and gifts
of all kinds and to own and maintain a building for library
The cornerstone was finally laid on August 18, 1903 and
speeches abounded - or to quote a local newspaper, attendees
listened to "Eloquent Addresses and Fine Singing." Mayor
F. J. King reportedly used this platform to state that there
were "always evil influences abroad which had to be counteracted
in some way otherwise than the law. Next to the church,
the free Public Library is the most powerful institution
for uplifting society in the land." Claiming that the only
way to conquer evil was to strengthen the good, he implored
citizens to "strive to make the Public Library a lasting
benefit to every citizen."
Reverend W. C. Dawson reinforced this theme, saying, "Whenever
the library has been established, it has brought forth the
noblest of literary creation; it has proven the foundation
of the great masterpieces of literature . . . The library
is an ally of the church and not a substitute."
Reverend Thomson added that, "Library brings before the
public the best thought of the greatest minds and thus educates
them in branches of which they would otherwize (sic) know
And, finally Head Librarian Margaret Deming said the following.
"It is no mistaken enthusiasm that says that today, that
witnesses the laying of the cornerstone of the beautiful
building which is to be the home of the Lorain public library,
is one of the greatest days in the history of the city .
. . to broaden and uplift the life of the community in which
it stands along every channel of activity; to support and
supplement the work of the public schools and when the school
doors are closed behind one, to make self-education possible;
to aid and encourage reforms; municipal improvements; literary
movements; investigation and research - to assist the workman
in his work and the mother in her home - and above all and
always, to open the doors to that elect society which it
is the privilege of us all to enjoy when we read good books."
She also took this opportunity to recognize the women who
helped make the library a tangible entity, saying that they
"determined that the public library should no longer be
a thing talked about, sighed for or vaguely desired, but
an actuality and a potent force in our civil life."
Then, William Howard Brett of the Cleveland Public Library
praised Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born American who was
one of the wealthiest men of the time. "Mr. Carnegie has
shown himself a thoughtful, wise and practical socialist.
It is not surprising that such a man with such views and
purposes should have been impressed with the value of the
The construction of this new facility affected much of
Lorain, from the highly educated to those who tended shops.
In a newspaper ad, for example, a tailor included this in
his text: "Carnegie Free Library is a gift to be much admired
by Lorain people."
The anticipated opening of the library finally culminated
on May 20, 1904, when C. F. Thwing, President of Western
Reserve University, dedicated the new building. The building
was "first introduced to the public through an exhibition
of Elson and Turner prints and three art lectures" and 3,240
items were available for patrons to borrow, including 2000
books, six newspapers and 18 weekly or monthly magazines.
Another source lists that 2000 books were at the library
by July of that year, 500 of them purchased since February
- and a plan was instituted to buy new books each month.
In the first annual report of the new library, association
members were assured that the book budget was stretched
as far as possible and that "publisher's remainders" and
"second hand books" were selected, whenever possible. The
appearance was not neglected, however, with the "walls of
the poor little building (were) painted; we have been lodged
in new shades and sash curtains were hung; window shelves
were put up for flowers and plants and the disorderly accumulations
of magazines & pamphlets classified and put to rights.
The bare little ante-room was made attractive with artistic
posters advertising new books and magazines."
It was important, the report stressed, that the high percentage
of fiction reading not be considered too discouraging. "The
first use of the public library, especially in an industrial
community like this, will always be for recreation; that
it is also or can be made the great source of education
and inspiration of the people can only be taught in time,
and under wise directing policy." Shortly thereafter, a
rule was listed, stating that each borrower may check out
two books at one time, but only one could be fiction - but
that rule may not have been enforced, because it was X'd
out with a pencil.
Rules - and head librarians -- fluctuated often in the
earliest days of the Lorain Public Library, as witnessed
by the brief (possibly informal) terms of service of Ellery
Channing Loofbourrow and Clark E. Daniels.
The library board originally wanted to pay $50 per month
for a replacement for Clark Daniels, and they eyed Miss
Celia M. Houghton for the position. When she would not accept
the salary, they offered her $60 a month, with a $15 raise
to be given shortly thereafter. Still she refused, accepting
instead a higher paying job in New York.
Houghton did, however, recommend another librarian, a Miss
Margaret Deming. A graduate of Stanford in 1897, Deming
had traveled around Europe for two years before attending
the Albany Library School. Typhoid fever interrupted her
studies there, but by 1902 she'd organized two small libraries
in Vermont on a volunteer basis and she was looking for
According to Miss Houghton, Miss Deming was "a fine, generous
hearted woman who throws herself into her work with enthusiasm
and to her, as to me, the opportunity to work with people
is the attractive side of library work. In addition to all
this, she is a fine looking woman, and that really counts
for a good deal in a public library."
Deming accepted the terms and conditions offered to her,
and she became the first head librarian to oversee operations
in the brand new building.
The Lorain Public Library was one of the earliest public
libraries to include a separate area for children in their
original building plans, and Deming promoted that unique
and progressive feature in the newspapers. In one article
written by Margaret Deming, Librarian of the Lorain Free
Library, called "Library Notes of Literary Interest: Weekly
Review of Events at Free Library, With Comment on Current
Literature," she says the following, one week before the
opening of the children's room. "A cordial invitation is
extended to parents and teachers as well as to all the children
in Lorain to see the pretty little room that has been devised
for their use."
Fifty new books were on display, Deming noted, bringing
the total of juvenile books up to 500, "representing the
best of children's literature; many of the editions have
a high degree of artistic merit, with clear type, attractive
covers and illustrations by artists of wide reputation."
Then, during the following week she made this announcement
in her newspaper column. "The little room that has been
arranged for the children will be opened today. As the time
before the library enters its new quarters becomes shorter,
it has been impossible to go to any expense in furnishing
and arranging it. It is interesting to see therefore what
attractive results have been reached with no further expenditure
than a little time and thought, aided by the loan of a few
chairs by kind neighbors. A delightful feature of the room
and it will be a permanent one, is the exhibition of the
drawings of the school children."
This room was located in the sunny western portion of the
second story of the library and forty-four percent of the
annual circulation in 1904 was for juvenile books; by 1907,
reference librarians commented that their work had doubled,
thanks to the many visits of school aged children. It was
later noted that the "joyful comings and goings (of such
youthful borrowers) were to create such confusion in later
years that it would lead to the creation of separate quarters
on the first floor."
Miss Grace D. Chapmanm
While Margaret Deming's first annual report beamed enthusiasm,
she also noted that Lorain was too far from her home state
of California. Deming therefore pencilled her resignation
at the bottom of that annual report. Persuaded to retract
her resignation, she stayed - but only until December 1,
While Deming did much for the children's library, her successor,
Miss Grace D. Chapman, focused strongly upon the creation
of branch libraries. She urged board of director members
to remember the children of immigrants and the families
with lesser incomes.
Ironically, while Chapman requested an expansion of library
materials, the purchasing of new books actually stagnated
under her term, because of a leak in the roof of the library
in 1906. "It now appears," reported the Lorain Daily News,
"that the plans for the roof were defective and although
the contractor gave a bond, he cannot be required to put
on a new roof because the one that now exists was made according
to the plans and specifications."
So, the city needed to cure the defect in the roof, which
meant that no money was available to add to the current
collection of 7000 books.
Miss Frances Root
Chapman's successor was a woman named Miss Frances Root,
and she stayed in the position of Head Librarian from February
1, 1907 until 1910. During these years, the collection of
volumes did not increase in any significant way, causing
Miss Root to lament about the high rate of discards caused
by each book being circulated an average of six to nine
She suggested that the board publicize the library more
heavily, and they did. But, because of the increased traffic,
each book was now checked out an average of ten times per
year. When that happened, she withdrew her request for more
publicity. "It would be unfair as well as, in the end, a
decided detriment to the library," she noted, "to create
a new demand when we have not books to meet that of our
Another concern of hers was the same as Chapman's, which
was the development of branch or service stations.
Miss Elizabeth K. Steele
Next in line as head librarian was Miss Elizabeth K. Steele,
who stayed in the position significantly longer than any
of her predecessors, from September 24, 1910- February 25,
During her time, the juvenile section of the library continued
to receive time and attention, with younger borrowers getting
class instruction in the use of books as early as 1912.
She, like Miss Root and Miss Chapman before her, also urged
the creation of branch locations, especially in the area
where new immigrants were settling. Another irony occurred,
however. While she wanted to see further expansion because
of the many steel mill employees arriving in Lorain, she
said this during her 1916 report to the board of directors.
Prosperity brought by the tube mill (now known as the steel
mill, an industry that came to Lorain in 1903), was a "good
wind that blows ill," to a certain extent for the Lorain
"Library patrons have more time to read when times are
slack," she said, referring to 1914 ("a dull year industrially"),
when the library circulation was 64,717 books. Contrast
that to the 1917 circulation figures of 60,221 (fiction
and "all classes of literature") when economic times were
Nevertheless, even with Miss Steele's concerns about the
fluctuating interest in the public library, the institution
was in Lorain to stay. By 1923, the library was open from
9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., with Sunday hours of 2 - 5 p.m. for
"reading only." Outlying stations had books for a couple
of hours per week and in 1923, those stations were Longfellow
School (Wednesdays from 2 -4:30 p.m.), Lowell School (Tuesdays
and Fridays from 2-5 p.m.) and Mrs. Stack's Candy Shop (Thursdays
from 2-5:30 p.m.)
During that year, 95,724 volumes were checked out of the
library. Besides that, Miss Steele observed that, "People
come for information on all sorts of questions, from the
spelling of a word to the business addresses of out of town
firms, from data on the strength of materials to tar distillation,
from house plans to the raising of chickens, from window
dressing to the proper feeding of a baby, from salesmanship
to the writing of signs and tickets, from games and plays
for parties and entertainments, to the writing of Club (sic)
papers, High (sic) school themes and debates, and hundreds
She then asked that residents continue to use their services.
"The invitation is given to all to utilize its services
to capacity. Read for recreation, read for information,
read for inspiration; the choicest writings of today, as
well as those of all the ages, are available for the asking.
The formalities necessary are of the simplest, and intelligent
service is the rule."
When Miss Elizabeth Steele left her position as head librarian
for the Lorain Public Library, that wasn't the only transition
in the works; other transformations were beginning to brew
as the first quarter of the twentieth century was coming
to a close.
Creation of the South Lorain Branch Library: 1903-1923
In 1903, an announcement in the Daily Democrat foretold
a significant change for the city of Lorain. "You may announce
in your newspaper this afternoon," a Mr. Coolidge told the
editor, "that the tube mill is coming to Lorain. It was
definitely decided by the United States Steel Corporation
Executive Committee this morning."
This news, the Daily Democrat proclaimed, would mean an
"increased population of 15 thousand and will make Lorain
a 50,000 city within the next five years." While the second
part of that numerical prediction didn't occur, amazing
demographic changes did, indeed, take place. Not only did
the 1890 population of 4,863 increase to 28,883 by 1910,
the percentage of residents born in another country (but
now living in Lorain) rose from 22% to 37.8%. To put that
statistic in perspective, in 1910, the number of foreign-born
individuals living in the United States was only 14.6% of
So, the Lorain Public Library was faced with a unique set
of patrons, opportunities and challenges, and they worked
hard to provide books in a variety of languages. As early
as 1905, for example, the library owned 40 books in the
German language and 15 in Hungarian. By 1915, there were
283 books printed in a language other than English: 119
in German, 105 in Hungarian and 59 in Polish. Out of a total
adult book circulation of 35,332 that year, 2,343 of them
were foreign language books.
But Grace Chapman, Head Librarian in 1906, wanted something
more. Her greatest concern for the library, she said, was
the availability of library materials in "outlying areas,"
because many of the immigrants were settling in South Lorain
to be near the steel mill. Two deposit stations for the
return of books had been set up in that vicinity, but Chapman
called for the creation of a regular branch office, because
books should be for all people. Those needs, she believed,
must be better met by the library.
"A no less important task is that of bringing the books
to the people," Miss Chapman said, adding, "not the leisure
classes but those who work hard all day for a living and
have neither time nor inclination to go on a long detour
from their places of business for the sake of even a book
or the current magazine."
She would echo the beliefs of Dr. Schaeffer, the President
of the National Education Association, who stated that the
library was "an integral part of free and public education."
Citing the dropout rate of high schools as unacceptable,
Dr. Schaeffer added, "It thus becomes one of the most important
of the provinces of the library as a public institution
to carry on this educational work."
While, unfortunately, a regular branch library was not
to exist during Miss Chapman's time at the library, a rudimentary
program was established on October 23, 1905. Bags of books
were taken to the YMCA in South Lorain, where they would
circulate among males, and a tentative relationship between
the library and South Lorain patrons was formed in that
Besides the arrangement with the YMCA, another delivery
station was created at Mr. Chapin's dry goods store in 1907,
but the increased traffic during those two afternoons a
week became a "burden" to the storekeeper. So, in 1911,
those books were moved into the YMCA.
Chapman's successor, Elizabeth Steele, applied more pressure
for a branch library in South Lorain, pointing out that
many families there could not afford any books for their
children beyond the necessary textbooks. These children,
as she explained in 1923, had "little to feed the imagination
or stir the finest emotions, whose education begins and
ends with the school and street, and whose recreation is
of the moving picture houses and the street."
These children, Steele also assured the board of directors,
were eager to obtain books. "To them," she wrote, "most
of whom are of foreign parentage, the insight into American
ways of living and thinking, manners and customs, ideas
of loyalty, honor, justice and fair play, knowledge of the
history of our own country, and of other countries, acquaintance
with the heroic figures who have helped to make the world
what it is, can come only through reading, and these children
read for the joy of it and not because it is a task."
While library officials were willing, difficulties kept
"We have been moved," Steele wrote in 1923, "from pillar
to post, first out into the hall, then into the magazine
room, back into the hall, upstairs into the big room - after
the fire to the Lowell school - then back to the YMCA where
we were given a room of our own for a short time, but which
some one else soon wanted to use, then down stairs again
- sometimes in the midst of boys playing games at the tables
in the same room, some times (sic) with shouts of the billiard
players rising even above the clatter of the children. But
still the work has gone on and grown."
Frustrated as Steele must have become, her efforts - and
that of Frances Root and Grace Chapman - accomplished much.
While the creation of other in-city branches was attempted
in the mid-20th-century in the Lorain Public Library System,
the South Lorain Branch was the first one that flourished.
Lorain Public Library: Transitions From 1925 until 1956
Right when the library was expanding its horizons, geographically
speaking, financial difficulties arose. More and more people
were using the library system and checking out larger quantities
of books than ever before - but revenues were simply not
keeping pace with the growing expenditures.
Here are just a few comparisons. In 1904, the library was
receiving $3,508.13 in tax revenues and circulation figures
were 39,303. To use another benchmark, in 1914, revenues
increased to just $4,203.08 (a paltry difference of less
than $700 from the previous decade), but circulation figures
had exploded to a figure of 64,717. By 1925, it was obvious
that the revenues of $13,704.96 were not supporting (and
could not possibly support) the burgeoning circulation figures
High rates of book circulation demonstrated themselves
in the wear and tear of the actual volumes. "If you should
examine our shelves," an employee noted in the 1924 annual
report, "you would agree that there are many books so worn
that you would hate to have them in your homes."
To alleviate the problem of having too few books in respectable
shape, library employees began going door to door, visiting
patrons who had overdue books in their possession. "It is
surprising," read the same annual report, "how many people
will receive several notices and still be unmoved, but will
hand over the books when someone goes to the door saying
they have come for library books. Last summer in several
afternoons spent in home visiting, nearly fifty books were
collected. Books were found locked in bureau drawers, and
trunks, under porches, at neighbor's houses and in every
conceivable place. This was hard work for it meant considerable
walking but the time was well spent."
Soon, however, the library's financial position had worsened
considerably and this program of collecting overdue books
was not sufficient to solve the problems at hand. The already
insufficient tax revenues, the library was now informed,
were to be cut again by more than half. This problem was
not unique to the Lorain Library System, but permeated Ohio
due to the standard state system of library funding. Whenever
tax revenues decreased, library budgets were almost automatically
decreased and that was the situation at hand.
Lorain Becomes a School District Library
About eighty percent of Ohio's library systems found refuge, though, under
the "Ohio School District Public Law" of 1925, sections 7635
to 7640-1. This law declared that school districts could form
a unique partnership with public libraries; and, by appointing
a seven-person board of trustees, that group could ask for
funding specifically targeted for the library through the
financial tool of tax levies. Library officials in Lorain
wanted to switch over to this financial arrangement and they
were not met with any opposition; and so, on February 2, the
library asked the board of education to take over their management
- and on February 9, the school board agreed. By May 27, 1925,
the library had officially changed over to this format of
funding and Evelyn Yeaton, who succeeded Elizabeth Steele
as Head Librarian from October 1, 1924 until June 1, 1928,
was pleased with this turn of events. "I am confident," Yeaton
said, "that a beginning has been made for more rapid growth
of the library and for the extension of greater service to
The financial crisis was averted and revenues
of 29 cents per capita could be expected to increase to 42
cents per person in the very near future. While, in 1925,
revenues collected were just $13,704.96, the next year they
rose to $18,392.23 and the library could begin replacing the
books that desperately needed to be discarded. By 1929, the
crisis of 1925-1926 was but a bad memory and the Lorain Public
Library could continue in its quest for progressive service.
One of the library's goals since its inception had been providing
quality materials and service to the juvenile population.
And, during Book Week of November 1929, the library opened
up an all-new children's room, converting the first floor
auditorium into an area suitable for story hours, reading
contests, puppet shows, special exhibits and movies. Miss
Frances Nicholson, the library's first trained children's
librarian, was responsible for organizing both the equipment
and the furniture in this new children's area. During that
same re-organization of library space, the clubroom (originally
created to hold meetings), was converted into the county book
collection and a work space area.
Lorain Public Library Becomes Extension Center Library
And, on October 18, 1935, the library received more focus-altering
news. Miss Mildred Sandoe, the state library organizer,
had met with various librarians throughout Lorain County.
Since the Lorain Public Library System, now headed by Miss
Margaret Grant (June 1, 1928-May 1, 1937), was determined
to be the strongest system in the county, it was selected
to become the extension center library. The goal of this
program was to serve rural areas throughout the region,
a noble aim; but, since the program was started with little
funding or resources, in the beginning, an individual librarian
would simply load up her car and deliver books throughout
In January 1936, an NYA project provided opportunities
for student storytellers from Oberlin to introduce the various
volumes as they were added to the collection. And, as more
and more funding arrived from the state and from other libraries,
the program grew. By March of 1936, 1,400 volumes were finding
homes in "cross-road stores, churches, homes and schools."
Bookmobile Service Starts
Then another innovation occurred in the evolving Lorain
library system. On September 25, 1939, the bookmobile (a
vehicle specifically created to store and deliver books
and other library materials) began traveling throughout
Lorain County, on a pre-determined route. In 1939, bookmobile
circulation figures exceeded 51,000 and 1940 (the "banner
year" for the bookmobile) showed circulation figures of
93,000. At this point, each of twenty-one schools and sixteen
adult locations were visited every two weeks.
The 1940s saw two major changes in the bookmobile operations.
One was that the funding program that strongly supported
the bookmobile service was dropped in 1942. The twice-monthly
delivery therefore decreased to a monthly visit - and circulation
figures, predictably enough, also dropped. The other change
occurred because of World War II. While men originally served
as drivers of the bookmobile, the war made the procurement
of such employees difficult and so women were hired. They
proved more than satisfactory for the job and the trend
By the time of these changes, Head Librarian Margaret Grant
had already accepted the position as the executive secretary
of the New Hampshire State Library Commission. Under Grant's
tutelage, the bookmobile collection and circulation figures
had almost doubled, and her replacement, Miss Marion King
was also a progressive thinker. King worked with librarian
Miss Eleanor Fenner to bring this bookmobile service to
full fruition and Fenner actually served as the first bookmobile
Subsequent bookmobile librarians have included Miss Janice
Land, Mrs. Joseph Hudak, Miss Grace Worthington, Mrs. Grace
Nugent, Miss Gladys Miller, Mrs. Madelene Cozard, Miss Theresa
Perusek, Miss Winifred E. Decker and Mrs. Anne W. Dennis.
Bookmobile: Ripple Effect
While the odometer of the bookmobile would now register
fewer miles, because of the reduction in funding, four branch
libraries would be built as a direct result of the humble
library on wheels: ones located in Sheffield Lake, Columbia
Township, North Ridgeville and Avon.
Columbia Township Library Service Starts
Columbia Township was the first area to receive the benefits
of the bookmobile and that occurred in 1935. Twenty years
later, however, Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Furlong wanted to see
a more permanent facility in their rural area. Working with
Head Librarian Marion King, the library rented a small frame
building at the intersection of Station and Royalton Roads,
and this branch opened for business on April 2, 1955.
The collection of books at this branch continued to grow,
eventually reaching the figure of 14,000, and by 1963, larger
facilities were needed. An active community service group,
the Columbia Acme Grange, helped the Columbia Station library
achieve its dream of better quarters - and those ended up
being located at 25796 Royalton Road. While the Acme Grange
helped financially, the Columbia Kiwanis did so as well,
buying and installing necessary shelving for the many volumes.
In 1971, just 8 short years later, another building was
needed. This time, Columbia residents voted on a 2 ½-mill
levy, passing it to allow a new structure to be built on
land owned by Columbia Township. Town officials pay the
utilities on the building that opened on March 1, 1973 and
they also maintain the outside of the structure.
The building was renovated during December 1995 and January
1996. New carpeting and periwinkle blue paint brightened
the interior and new tables and chairs arrived shortly thereafter.
And, the collection of books, videos, compact discs and
CD-ROMs now total over 27,000. Due to the passage of a 1.44
mil levy in November, 2000, a 4,000 square foot addition
will be constructed. The Lorain Public Library System will
finance the construction and the levy monies will be used
to operate the expanded library. Groundbreaking for the
addition should take place in mid-2002.
North Ridgeville Branch Is Born
While the Columbia Station location began receiving bookmobile
service in 1935, North Ridgeville wasn't far behind. In
1939, residents could choose material from the traveling
library and in 1958, North Ridgeville residents also found
themselves with a branch library, opened in a storefront
in the Tran Building on Avon-Belden Road.
This building became overcrowded, though, and in September
1977, the library was moved to Old Town Hall on Center Ridge
Road. The city owned building was provided rent-free and
the city also covered the cost of utilities and the North
Ridgeville Junior Women's Club and the North Ridgeville
Welcome Wagon raised funds for the move itself.
The library continued to grow and soon the 1800-square-foot
building was filled to the rafters with computers for patrons
and shelving for both videocassettes and books. Since the
state had, in 1986, established the Library and Local Government
Support Fund, money was available for the North Ridgeville
branch to either rent or purchase a larger building.
In 1988, trustees reviewed a number of sites and finally
selected a 5000-square-foot building that once housed a
bank, located at 6401 Jaycox Road. This site was conveniently
located by the main roads and shopping areas of North Ridgeville
and there was potential for future expansion.
Renovations began in June of 1989 and materials were moved
in September. The library purchased the building the following
year and they also placed a levy on the May, 1993 levy.
While that levy did not pass, the library still managed
to buy property north of the building in 1995 for future
In 1998, the library had already outgrown their 5000-square-feet
building. Through the efforts of a hard-working levy committee
and a committed community, a levy to construct a new building
was passed on November 2, 1999. A new 25,000 square foot
building will be constructed with its ground-breaking eagerly
anticipated in 2001.
Sheffield Lake Gets a Library
Another branch library, that in Sheffield Lake, also originated
from the bookmobile's journey. Starting in 1940, the library
added this town to its route and Sheffield Lake residents
enjoyed the bookmobile service until 1963.
By 1960, however, the desire for a permanent structure
caused the Kiwanis Club to begin fundraising efforts (they
raised $3100) and in 1962, the Budget Commission of Lorain
County donated $10,000 to the cause. On January 20, 1963,
a branch opened in the Shoreway Shopping Center - and just
eight months later, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Domonkas donated
$100,000 for the construction of a new library-owned building.
The city of Sheffield Lake provided another $36,000 and
the library earmarked $12,000 to equip the new building.
The building was constructed immediately and dedicated on
November 8, 1964. While levies have failed in both 1976
and 1977, the 1979 effort was successful and by 1983, 47,286
items were circulated from the Domonkas Branch Library alone.
Levies passed in 1984, 1989, 1991 and 1996, and circulation
has continued to rise, with 1998 seeing 146,928 items checked
out, and 1999 with figures of 154,521.
Avon Branch Library
Further expansion was occurring, as well, at the eastern
end of Lorain County. In November 1956, another branch of
the Lorain Public Library System was opened, this time in
the town of Avon. For twelve years, this branch was located
in the Old Town Hall building located at the intersection
of Detroit Road and Stoney Ridge Road. In 1968, however,
the Lorain Public Library (with the support and assistance
of the Avon Women's Club) relocated the library in a more
convenient location in the Avon Plaza on Detroit Road. By
1968, 2000 books were available at the Avon branch.
In 1976, the Friends of the Avon Library campaigned for
a 1.5-mill tax levy, along with its renewal in 1981. This
funding allowed them to purchase materials, increase hours
of service and provide more programming for children - and
also allowed them to move into new quarters again in 1983.
This building was privately owned and leased to the Lorain
Public Library for a ten-year period. In 1986, another 1-mill
tax levy was passed, and in 1991, community leaders began
searching for an appropriate location for the new branch
Harvest Drive was selected as the location and the new
Avon Branch Library (10,400 square feet) opened on June
13, 1994. The building boasts a spacious room, suitable
for library programming and community meetings.
South Lorain Branch Library Moves to Its Own Quarters
Each of these branches owes a debt of gratitude to three
head librarians: Frances Root, Grace Chapman and Elizabeth
Steele, who fought for the establishment of the first branch
library in South Lorain.
None of these women worked at the Lorain Library in 1934,
however, their collective efforts led to the South Lorain Branch
Library moving into its own building. Located at 3059 Pearl
Avenue, that site served the community well for 23 years,
and then the library was moved to a leased storefront building,
located at 3008 Grove Avenue.
In 1968, the library built an addition to the South Lorain Branch,
one that almost doubled the available space, and in 1982,
the site was again enlarged, this time to 3,910 square feet.
On Thursday, January 29, 1998, the library purchased land
on Homewood Drive to build a freestanding South Lorain Branch Library
structure, and groundbreaking ceremonies occurred on March
On Sunday, May 21, 2000, library officials celebrated the
grand opening of the new South Lorain Branch Library, located on
2121 Homewood Drive. Lorain Public Library System Director
Kenneth Cromer officiated, amid poetry readings and harp
music. Friends of the Lorain Public Library, a group of
volunteers supporting library efforts, provided refreshments.
Meanwhile, visitors toured the 12,000 square foot structure,
complete with a state of the art meeting room and three
times the seating space of the previous building.
Expansion to Sixth and Reid: The Main Library From 1940s
into the 2000's
Carnegie Building Outgrown
While the 1940s witnessed the baby steps of the expanding
library branch system, that's also when it became clear
that the Carnegie building was no longer large enough to
support the growing amount of library materials at the central
location. So, board of trustee president J.S. Masson spearheaded
the quest to place a five-year, one-mill tax levy on the
ballot and his hard work was rewarded. In 1946, voters in
Lorain passed a levy large enough to provide funds to build
a new structure at the intersection of Sixth Street and
Reid Avenue and residents donated many pieces of equipment,
which allowed the Lorain Public Library to remain at the
cutting edge of technology.
Donations included a record player and a collection of
records, and a 16-mm sound projector. Besides that, there
was the donation of four ceiling projectors and accompanying
books on microfilm. Each projector was housed in a black
box with a handle, and people could rent one of these projectors,
along with one or more of the hundreds of rolls of microfilmed
books. While mostly children's books were available, there
were also adult books, and each of these books could be
projected on the wall, or for the convenience of people
who were bedridden, on the ceiling.
And, in the summer of 1957, the structure that would house
these donations was completed. The new Lorain Public Library
boasted a capacity for 240,000 volumes, reading rooms with
240 chairs and central air conditioning. The total cost
of the building was $540,528, which included $487,528 for
the building and $53,000 for equipment.
The only remaining obstacle was the move itself.
When the time for the move finally arrived, Head Librarian
Marion King solicited bids from moving companies, but the
results were dissatisfactory. She only received one bid
that met her specifications and that company wanted approximately
$3300 for the service. As an alternative solution, she asked
the Junior Chamber of Commerce for their assistance and
they agreed to volunteer their time.
"The only cost to the library," said Richard Barnes, who
helped coordinate the move, "was the purchase of pairs of
work gloves and some coffee. Almost everything else was
donated, from our labor to materials required for the move."
Fifteen volunteers worked on the project, in shifts, over
a period of five and a half days. "We worked four to five
hours a night," Barnes said, "and over the weekend. We had
to move approximately 133,000 pieces of material - mostly
books, but also magazines and newspapers."
Volunteers and library staff members coordinated their
efforts, to affect the most efficient use of time. "We provided
boxes," Barnes said, "and then the librarians pasted slips
of paper at one end of each box. They'd label where the
books belonged, and we'd transfer the boxes to the new location
and then unpack them and put them on the new shelving."
"The circular staircase at the old library," Barnes added,
"was hardly conducive to effective transporting of thousands
Nevertheless, the move was efficiently completed, and the
Junior Chamber of Commerce won a first-place award for their
Modern Day Library
Reverend A. Eugene Thomson, the women belonging to the
turn-of-the-century WIMODAUGHSIS Club, and all the others
who helped found the Lorain Public Library System would
be utterly astonished to witness the technological explosions
of the second half of the twentieth-century.
When the Junior Chamber of Commerce moved the Main Library
to its present location at Sixth and Reid, the newest technology
included 16mm films and LP records. The late 60s saw the
availability of 8mm films and audiocassettes, and in the
1970s, staff members started using electric typewriters
and patrons could now use microfilm readers and the newly
computerized card catalog.
In the 1980s, the library purchased Beta and VHS videocassettes
for patrons and provided photocopiers for public use. Other
advances included online search capabilities, inter-library
loans via computer and electric typewriters for patrons.
In 1981, the Lorain Public Library System became one of
the first library systems in Ohio to offer patrons free
use of microcomputers.
In 1990, library users could receive CLEVNET cards, greatly
expanding their borrowing options. And, as older technologies
were weeded out (Beta videos and 16mm films, among others),
CD-ROMs became available, as did Self-Check, a machine that
allowed patrons to check out their own materials. In 1995,
an area network became available in the periodicals section,
and the library began offering training sessions in Windows
Throughout the decade of the 90s, the Lorain Public Library
System kept updating their Internet technologies, and in
1997, they opened the Computer Resources Room. In 1999,
information about the library and its services became available
24 hours a day, via this website: http://www.lorain.lib.oh.us
In 2000, over 4.9 million web documents were accessed via
60 library-based computers available to the public. This
was a 203% increase over 1999 figures.
These advances have taken place under the leadership of
these four library directors:
Marion M. King (July 15, 1937-October 31, 1967)
Richard E. Willson (December 11, 1967-September 1977)
Pauline Demaree (January, 1978- December, 1993)
Kenneth Cromer (January, 1994-present)
And, of course, not all advances through these decades
were in the arena of technology. For example, in 1970, under
Willson's leadership, Lorain Public Library ranked 13th
out of the state (255 total) in the size of book collections.
227,958 people used the library, and 174 programs were presented,
with 5,538 people attending. That September, the library
started Project Libros in conjunction with the Cleveland
Public Library, a program designed to meet the needs of
Spanish-speaking residents of Lorain.
In 1976, an operating levy was successfully passed, allowing
librarians to purchase new materials and offer new services.
After these purchases, circulation figures increased significantly.
During that year, the Lorain Public Library System also
helped celebrate the country's Bicentennial with a multitude
of patriotic programming.
Library Expanded and Remodeled
Under Pauline Demaree's leadership, the library received
a $456,000 grant of Library Service and Construction Act
funds, to finance a $1.4 million expansion of the main library.
The groundbreaking occurred on February 20, 1984, the first
major building project of the library system in twenty-five
years, and workers completed the expansion on April 30,
The project consisted of two prongs: to renovate the current
47,600 square foot building and to add 13,300 square feet
to the back of the building. This two-story addition increased
shelving space by 30%.
In 1981, a renewal levy passed, among business-like facts
and poetic pleadings such as Lou Kepler's comments in the
Lorain Journal. "Please don't let the efforts of those people
who thought about their descendants and their need for a
library wilt on the vine. The renewal of the levy is necessary
to keep our library first class, A-1 shape so it can serve
all people, provide a variety of material and programming
for everyone's informational, educational, recreational
and cultural needs. That's its purpose and has been for
over 80 years."
Toni Morrison Reading Room Dedicated
Library officials and supporters alike celebrated the levy's
passage, and further cause for celebration occurred on January
22, 1995. On that date, the library honored Nobel Prize
and Pulitzer Prize winner, Toni Morrison, by officially
opening the Toni Morrison Reading Room. She was born and
raised in Lorain, although friends and family there know
the award-winning author as Chloe Ardelia Anthony Wofford.
Ms. Morrison attended the ribbon cutting, as did Congressman
Sherrod Brown, poet Sonia Sanchez, and members of Morrison's
family. "This felt fine to me," Morrison said about the
room, "much better than the alternatives. I remember working
at the library, making a little change. I spent long, long
hours reading there, so I wanted one place available in
the neighborhood with a quiet room and comfortable chairs.
I hope that people spend 45 minutes, or an hour or two there.
Not for entertainment. Not for rest. The point is, in books
lie real knowledge."
Morrison's books and memorabilia are displayed in an oak
and glass case in the plush burgundy and gray reading room,
and a letter that she wrote to library officials hangs on
one wall. "The kinds of things described for the Reading
Room seem exquisite to me and ought to produce a warm and
welcoming atmosphere for people who would relish the comfort
of such a place."
Another wall displays the 1981 issue of Newsweek with Morrison
on the cover. "That voice of hers is so sure," it reads.
"She lures you in, locks the doors and encloses you in a
very special, very particular universe - all in the first
three pages." In the same article opera star Leontyne Price
adds, "She paints pictures with words, and reading or hearing
those words is like listening to music."
Etched on the glass wall of the room is a portion of her
acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. "I will leave this
hall with a new and much more delightful haunting than the
one I felt upon entering: that is the company of the laureates
yet to come. Those who, even as I speak, are mining, sifting
and polishing languages for illuminations none of us has
Those words take on an enormous significance when one considers
the humble beginnings - and tremendous progress - of the
Lorain Public Library System. Which laureates are yet to
come? What accomplishments and advances will take place,
both within the walls of the library, and/or because of
its influences? Because, to paraphrase Morrison, even as
we speak, as we think, and as we read, illuminations are
being birthed, "illuminations none of us has dreamed of."