Remembering Richard Powell
A public library is influenced by many people over its years of operation. Each and every librarian, staff member and board member serving that library will “make their mark” on the philosophy of the library and its operations.
This month our library system lost someone who made an enormous contribution to the library you see and use. That person was Judge Richard Powell. He was appointed to the library board as a 38-year-old attorney in January 1966. He was reappointed to the board every four years, to complete 50 years of service in 2016 making him the longest serving member of the board in the 118-year history of the library.
When I was hired in 1983, the library system was without any administrative staff and the judge wanted to be sure that I got on board and going as quickly as possible. He stopped by the library (he was always checking out books) and stopped by my office to see if there was anything he would do to assist my start as director.
As I got to know the judge, he confessed that the board had not checked my references, as he thought that process was silly. He said that everyone lists people who will say positive things about them, so what good is that?
Instead, Judge Powell was put in charge of finding people who really knew me, and that led him to the director of the Delphos, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce, and an attorney in Delphos who went to law school with the judge at Ohio Northern University.
Fortunately for me, I had worked with the chamber director, and Attorney Clark used the library there and we often chatted when he used the Delphos Public Library.
The judge shared his expectations for me and emphasized that he and the board expected me to do something to establish a “West End Library” and work with the new state funding of libraries, which would take place in 1986.
At the same time, the judge listened to any recommendation I had to make to the board and was supportive of any effort to make our library system a better place.
The judge took great interest in the staff and always inquired about their families.
He always read all the information from the Ohio Library Council and followed library legislative issues with a keen interest.
The judge served on the Intellectual Freedom Committee and felt that public libraries had to be at the forefront of censorship issues.
The judge was interested in the library’s building projects over the years but felt the details were my problem. He once told me to let him know when the “key fit the front door” so he could take credit for the work. He had a marvelous wit and sense of humor, and loved to make people laugh.
As his years of service on the library board grew, he inquired one day if he was one of the longest serving library board members in the state.
Having served as president of the Ohio Library Association, I knew there were many folks who had passed 60 years of service on library boards, but I also knew that answer wouldn’t please the judge so I answered carefully.
I told him that there were many who had served more than 60 years, but did he know that Orville Wright was a library board member at the Wright Memorial Library in Dayton?
And, Orville Wright only served 12 years. The judge was pleased that he served longer than Orville Wright.
The judge’s greatest ability was to listen to comments and develop a plan of action that was pleasing to everyone. That is a wonderful ability for someone serving on a board or committee.
So the next time you are in one of the facilities of our library system, remember that a little of Judge Powell remains all around you in some way.
(Hall is director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County.)