From its beginnings on the first floor of the residence of temperance leader Purley Baker, the Westerville Public Library has been dedicated to meeting the expanding needs of the community. On December 15, 1930, the library opened in the "Baker House" at 131 West Park Street with Cora Bailey as Librarian, and within several weeks it contained 3,062 volumes and 885 registered borrowers. Within two years, increased books and patrons created the need to move to the second floor of the municipal building which is today a part of the municipal complex on State Street. The library's newly remodeled three rooms included four tables in the main reading room, a "junior" reading room, and a room for processing and repairing books. By 1946, lack of physical space again became a tremendous problem. Books were stacked on radiators and window sills, a high school annex was added and the Masonic Temple was used for storage of over 6,000 volumes.
Cora Bailey retired after 19 years and was followed as director by Irene Burk, one of Mrs. Bailey's high school volunteers who had continued her education in library science. In 1952, Jane Bradford became director and oversaw the planning and construction of a new building on the current site, completed in 1954. It boasted 41,000 volumes and 4,000 borrowers.
The '50s, '60s and '70s were marked with expanded services which included book delivery to outlying schools by a bookmobile, the availability of phonograph records and the establishment of the Ohio Room for research and information on our state. The library was remodeled several times to provide expansion of services to the community. The children's department doubled in space, and meeting rooms were remodeled to expand the audio-visual department.
In 1973, the sole trustee of the Anti-Saloon League donated to the library their headquarters, land and extensive 200,000 volume temperance collection. The library's administrative offices, community services department, the Local History Resource Center and the Anti-Saloon League Museum were located there. In 1979, a levy was passed and 17,820 square feet of space was added to the library, including a public meeting room and a study area. The 1980s marked the beginning of advancement in technology. The library's catalog became an online computerized system where all materials, from children's picture books to videos and art prints, were made accessible via terminals in every department. Microfilm readers aided informational research and business reference information became available on computer.
In 1988, Don W. Barlow assumed the directorship when Miss Bradford retired after 36 years. In 1990, when the library completed its 60th year of service, community use had reached record levels for the tenth straight year. A long range plan for initiation and improvement of library services was drafted and took effect in 1991, with dial-up access service enabling patrons to search the library's database from home.
With circulation over 1.2 million and holdings well over 200,000 volumes, the library was again bursting at the seams. When levy requests failed in 1992 to fund an expansion and operational costs, the space needs could not be addressed. In 1993, two conveniences were introduced that provided customer service and efficient use of staff time. Westerville patrons became the first in the state to use self check-out machines, and a local area network using compact disc database technology was introduced.
In 1994, after months of planning and anticipation, Westerville became the first public library in Ohio to offer Internet access to patrons. The library spearheaded a community information network in Westerville by developing home pages for the City of Westerville, Westerville City Schools, the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Westerville Visitors and Convention Bureau.
With bookshelves overflowing and seating capacity reduced from 168 to 60, the library again asked voters to approve a bond issue for an expansion of the library. On May 2, 1995, voters responded with 63% supporting the issue to add 27,000 square feet to the facility.
Technological advances in the library continued during the time of construction and renovation. In 1996, the library entered a partnership to develop The Library Channel, software enabling librarians to select Web sites and load them into "cyber" shelves for use by library patrons. As a result, the library received the Technology Company of the Year Award for Central Ohio in 1997.
The expanded and refurbished library facility went on display at grand opening festivities held March 1, 1998. Remarks from Speaker of the Ohio House Jo Ann Davidson kicked off an afternoon of celebration. The expanded area included a gift shop operated by the Friends of the Library. Through a Westerville Library Foundation fundraising effort, supporters purchased 672 engraved bricks for the new courtyard.
Introducing new ways to serve the information needs of our community continued as the hallmark of the Westerville Public Library. In 1999, two new online services enabled patrons to view their accounts over the Internet and to place their own reserves on materials. Coupled with the opening of a new reserve room drive-up window, these conveniences contributed to a 44% increase in the number of reserves.
In September 1999 the library received national recognition when Hennen's American Public Library Rating Index rated 9,000 libraries and named Westerville Public Library No. 1 library in the nation among those serving populations of 50,000 to 99,999. The library continued to rank in the top five, achieving a No. 2 ranking in 2003.
In 2000, the start of a new millennium signaled a jump in library business, increased commitment to community partnerships and a yearlong series of programs sponsored by the Friends of the Library that saluted bygone decades. Book delivery to homebound and senior citizen facilities increased by 135%. The library partnered with Mt. Carmel St. Ann's Hospital to provide books for expectant moms and newborns. In December, the outdated 1983 catalog system was replaced by Millennium, equipping every computer with Web-based access to the library collection of more than 300,000 items, 19 databases, a catalog just for kids and other features.
Funding was a major concern in 2001 as state income tax proceeds decreased, creating a reduction in the Library and Local Government Support Fund, the source of 95% of the library's funding. Financial need and increased library usage prompted a proposal for a levy that would relieve the heavily used State Street facility and construct branches at two Westerville school sites. When the levy failed in November and state funds for the library were reduced by 16% mid-2002, library trustees took emergency measures. In July 2002, overdue fines increased from 15 cents to 25 cents per day and the book budget was reduced by 25%. The library, which had never in its history received funds from an operating levy, now turned to voters for local assistance. Voters said "yes" to the November 2002 levy request.
With funding in place in 2003, the library moved forward with the installation of roofing repairs, carpet replacement, and a new public address system. All ages enjoyed musical performances, old-fashioned workshops and summer reading programs commemorating Ohio's bicentennial. The library Web site was recognized in worldwide competition as Most Innovative for 2003. The final promise to voters went into development-a building project that would enlarge the media department, provide a computer room for children and create a new teen area. With construction planned for 2004, the completion time was targeted for summer 2005, the library's 75th year of operation.
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