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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Staircase up to the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 02, 2018

Andrew Carnegie died in 1919, and with his death his program to fund 2,509 public libraries worldwide ended with the final building funded finished and opened in 1929.

 

The documentation of all of those gifts was retained by the Carnegie Corporation of New York until the late 1940s when all of the files were microfilmed with all the original correspondence and grants discarded.

 

Today, Columbia University retains all of the files in their research library.

 

Of the original 1,681 library buildings funded in the United States, some 911 remain in operation as libraries with 243 having been demolished and the remaining building converted to other uses.

 

Carnegie’s first library was in Dunfermline, Scotland, his hometown, followed by the library in his adopted hometown of Allegheny City, Pa.

 

Southwestern Pennsylvania was the home of his funded libraries until 1898, except for one Carnegie Library in Fairfield, Iowa in 1892.

 

Our Carnegie building was funded in the next cycle of 25 libraries funded in 1899 including East Liverpool and Sandusky in Ohio.

 

After 1904, Carnegie’s secretary James Bertram assumed the job of determining which community’s libraries would be funded, as well as the 300 towns which rejected Carnegie’s funds.

 

The only remaining plans for the Steubenville Carnegie Library contains only the main floor leaving no idea what the lower level looked like on opening day.

 

One-third of the basement contained the coal boiler and coal bin, and the opposite end had a meeting room, of sorts which was not completed until 1922.

 

The center of the lower level contained a “Men’s Retiring Room,” and lobby area that was intended to serve the gymnasium and shower rooms which were never constructed.

 

Retired Civil War veterans used the lower level lobby to look at government publications from that war, where the men were allowed to smoke their cigars.

 

In the new arrangement for the building, the lower level will be entirely staff and work areas, finally separated from the public portions of the library.

 

The former coal boiler section is now the new electrical room for the complex, heating and air conditioning systems, and staff lunchroom.

 

Oddly enough, the huge coal-fired boiler will remaining hiding under the basement floor still full of coal since it was taken out of service in 1957.

 

The former Civil War veteran’s area will be Technical Processing of materials for the county-wide system of libraries as well as Public Relations for the system.

 

The meeting room was made into the Children’s Room in 1941, and will convert to system-wide offices in the new complex.

 

The Bookmobile garage and delivery and receiving areas are in the new street-level portion of the new building.

 

Also in the new building is the elevator and interior stairways making the whole building ADA accessible for the first time, as well as computer rooms, reading rooms, study rooms, and the community meeting room.

 

Nearly every Carnegie Library had the entry staircase symbolizing a person’s elevation by learning, and a lamppost meant as a symbol of enlightenment in the same way schools and public buildings of the era used the outside staircase.

 

It is ironic that these features also made many buildings of the era unusable to people differently abled.