Ohio’s extensive library system
One of our “good library users” — meaning that they use the library often enough that we recognize them by name — was chatting with me about their grown children and their families.
Both families now live in distant cities, and the purpose of the conversation was to share their comments on public library service in other areas of the United States.
If you have always used an Ohio public library, you would assume that public libraries everywhere are all the same, and you would be wrong.
Our library system is linked online with 93 other library systems in Ohio, with nearly 8 million items online and able to be borrowed and sent to your local library, whether the Schiappa branch or the Dillonvale branch.
That alone doesn’t happen in lots of areas of the United States.
Ohio is unique and the whole process started in 1906 with the establishment of the Library Development Office of the State Library of Ohio. About the same time, countywide library systems were allowed in Ohio, with our own converting from a municipal service area to countywide service in 1936.
In 1940, the State Library of Ohio began a “union catalog” of library holdings where 3-by-5-inch cards had the holdings of libraries across the state, so a book title could be found at the Lima Public Library or the John McIntire Public Library in Zanesville and shared as needed.
Today that would sound archaic in nature, but it led to the establishment in 1967 of the Ohio College Library Center in Columbus, which is today’s OCLC Inc. — the largest database of library holdings in the world used for people to locate books.
In the 1970s, the State Library of Ohio supported “service centers” around Ohio to equalize library service to all Ohio citizens, and when combined with growing technology, today’s databases were formed.
So here you have Ohio today, and its 251 public library districts with 850 or so public library locations, but that is only the tip of the bookshelf. We also have millions and millions of pages of online databases provided by the Ohio Public Library Information Network supplemented by additional resources provided local libraries. And there is the Ohio Digital Library and nearly a half million eBooks for downloading.
These resources don’t exist in all 50 states of the United States, but you don’t realize this until your family relocates or you spend time in another part of the country.
During my term of office as president of the Ohio Library Council, I attended meetings and workshops around the country and the difference of Ohio’s libraries was often pronounced.
At a Denver meeting, the speaker was addressing library services around the nation and kept using the phrase, “well, except of course Ohio.” It was actually a positive statement for Ohio, as no other state in the nation compared in library services, except perhaps New York or Illinois.
Our State Library of Ohio is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, and its impact on library service today is often overlooked until you compare it to another state.
Often today’s online technology is taken for granted and the building blocks of an earlier era are not understood as a reason for today’s information online.
I can remember when someone would ask for a book that the local library didn’t own, and we sat down at a manual typewriter and pounded out a four-copy form that was sent to Columbus looking for a specific book. That was replaced by telefax machines in 1976 to speed up the transfer of information, and today has moved to online databases where the user can make his or her own online request.
Ohio’s public libraries were the first in the nation to be 100 percent linked to the Internet.
Our own Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County is the 35th largest system in Ohio out of the 251 total systems.
Ohio also sports some of the largest public library systems in the nation, including Columbus Metropolitan Library, Cleveland Public Library, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Toledo-Lucas County Public library, Akron-Summit County Public Library and the Dayton Metropolitan Library which just opened its brand new Main Library.
And we are all part of the whole, yet individually we form the greatest public library network in the nation.
(Hall is director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County.)