Recently, the first anniversary of the completion of the renovation and addition to the Amos Memorial Public Library slipped by and was only very quietly observed. Even those of us who still remember climbing the stairs to the library’s previous home in the Monumental Building knew that the “new” library was badly in need of a facelift.
I can only recall once climbing the steps to the library when it was housed in the Monumental Building, just once. And what I remember most was the cavernous space, the stuffed creatures sitting high atop the shelves, a visitor’s every move carefully observed though their glass eyes, and a gray-haired lady with glasses perched on the end of her nose who hissed — shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!
As a kid who grew up in rural Shelby County, my primary contact with the library was the bookmobile. It visited my school once every two weeks, and it provided me with a lot of choices.
Although I struggled learning to read, by the time I was in the fourth grade, I was a voracious reader, and the bookmobile was my candy store. A vivid memory remains with me — I wanted to check out The Lindbergh Kidnapping when I was in the sixth grade and the librarian told me that it was too mature for me to read. As only my father could, he had a “conversation” with the bookmobile staff and from that point on, I was able to check out any book I wanted to read.
Fast forward five decades to today — the library remains the “candy store” for those of us who like to read — the focal point of the community. More than 12,000 patrons visit the Amos Memorial Public Library every month! The library’s $4.85 million expansion project focused on technology, improved spaces for children, expanded areas for teens, and increasing the size and comfort of all study, work and programming areas.
The library’s board members, past and present, are to be commended for their careful stewardship of their funds. More than half the money used for the project — $2.5 million of the total — came from library reserves.
Most of our residents likely do not know that our Shelby County Libraries operate on revenues from the state Public Library Fund (approximately 1.7 percent of the state budget), and those funds are divided among Ohio’s public libraries. Unlike other public library systems throughout the state, Shelby County Libraries are not supported by a local tax levy.
The Amos Memorial Public Library and in fact, every library in the county operated under the auspices of Shelby County Libraries, are far more than collections of books and banks of computers. Libraries are places individuals gather to connect with others.
Libraries are community builders — important partners in revitalizing communities — libraries help to preserve historic artifacts, oral histories, digital history projects, and monographs relevant to the community they serve. Libraries help to champion, promote, and reflect important democratic values. Library buildings are architectural structures that are culturally relevant, and certainly that is the case with the expanded and renovated space.
Libraries are community centers for diverse populations — the Tom and Sandy Shoemaker Community Room is just one of the spaces in the library that provides a tremendous space for all kinds of meetings. Libraries are centers for the arts. Perhaps most importantly, libraries are people’s universities, providing resources for those who may never go to college, but who have at their fingertips, the combined knowledge of the ages. Libraries are champions of youth, important partners in child development and, libraries are so much more.
Libraries have no age restrictions — no restrictions as to color, creed, national origin or religious preference – they simply allow their patrons to discover new things. The expanded facility has a variety of gathering spaces. Those spaces invite patrons to connect. There are also study rooms for small groups. As mentioned previously, the community room can accommodate larger groups — in fact, depending up the seating arrangement, groups as large as 125.
The expanded use of technology throughout the facility also invites patrons to connect and explore. Space now exists for comfortable personal computer use — for the first time, patrons can even bring their own devices into the library, connect to the internet and use them and not have to wait a turn on one of the library’s devices.
The technology available in the community room attracts businesses, non-profits, service clubs and many other groups to the library for meetings and events. In fact, the room is in such demand that scheduling it can be difficult.
The Amos Memorial Library has always provided interest-based programming for adults and children, but the new maker-space and STEM lab are welcome additions for expanded programming opportunities. The 3-D printer, robotics and Lego kits are helping teach the children of our community the principles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an energizing and engaging environment.
Before I close, I want to quote a guest speaker from the dedication of the original building. Columbus Judge Roscoe Walcutt, the son-in-law of Emma Amos Pegg. Judge Walcutt represented the Amos Family — the family who contributed the bulk of the funds for the then “new” library. “Only by knowledge gained from books can we hope to develop the minds of our nation’s young people and provide an informed citizenry.”
In closing, I want to commend Board President Julia Frantz, Vice-President Cindy Helman, Secretary Harry Faulkner and board members Kurt Barhorst, Bruce Boyd, Steve Roberts and Amy Zorn for their wise stewardship of scarce resources. I also want to commend the trustees who served in prior years and who some years ago, saw the need for both additional resources and space, and began saving so that eventually the library would have the ability to add both.
Thanks as well to the librarians, who, for some decades, have longed for an addition to the library that would improve upon the dated but once state of the art 1958 building. A special thanks to Suzanne Cline, who brought those dreams to reality.
Thank you as well to the donors who contributed their treasure to guarantee the success of this project. Thank you to the architects and the builders, who designed and constructed the project and as a result of their labors, added an essential element to the revitalization of downtown Sidney. You are all heroes in a truly remarkable story that could be labeled “Made in Sidney, Ohio.”
The writer is the mayor of Sidney.