History of the Westerville Public Library

Established in 1930

From its beginnings on the first floor of the residence of Purley Baker, temperance leader in the Anti-Saloon League, the Westerville Public Library has been dedicated to meeting the expanding needs of the community.

On December 15, 1930, the library opened 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. From the library's inception, educational programming was important. Programs celebrating National Book Week were held, a children's story hour was established and a tour of the library for first graders was initiated.

By 1946, lack of physical space again became a tremendous problem. Books were stacked on radiators and windowsills, a high school annex was added and the Masonic Temple was used for storage of over 6,000 volumes. Programs had to be canceled. It was evident, as Mrs. Bailey said, that the 16-year-old adolescent library needed "a room of her own." Cora Bailey retired after 19 years and was followed by Irene Burk, one of Mrs. Bailey's high school volunteers who had continued her education in library science.

A photo of the Westerville Public Library, unknown date between 1930-1949. Courtesy of Westerville History Museum.

From 1952 to 1988

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 building was then used to house the library's administrative offices, community services department, the Local History Resource Center and the Anti-Saloon League Museum (now the Westerville History Museum). 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 '80s 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.

Photo of the Westerville Public Library, unknown date betwen 1950-1969 - Circulation Desk. Courtesy of Westerville History Museum.

From 1988 to 1999

Leadership from past directors Cora Bailey, Irene Burk and Jane Bradford laid the foundation for a progressive and responsive library. 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. Over 1,000 residents, including trustees, staff, and community leaders, contributed to the drafting of a long range plan for initiation and improvement of library services over the next five years. The implementation of the plan began in 1991 with dial-up access, enabling patrons to use their computer and modem at home or at the office to search the library's database.

With circulation leaping 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 ever-increasing space needs could not be addressed. An already-budgeted face lift put a fresh coat of paint and new carpet in the building. Record numbers of patrons filled story hours, attended adult programs, borrowed materials, joined in summer reading and sought reference assistance.

Mr. Barlow presented a new formula for success, innovation + technology = cost savings, and brought about exciting changes in the library in 1993. In response to rapidly changing technology, 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. The systems became an immediate hit, providing borrowers with a receipt listing the titles, authors and the due date. A giant step in serving the community's information needs took place when a local area network using compact disc database technology was introduced, offering 1,200 magazine titles--six million pages of information--within fingertip reach, and saving money in magazine subscriptions.

In 1994, after months of planning and anticipation, the library introduced the Westerville Information Network (WIN). On WIN, for the first time library users could not only access our catalog of materials, but also explore the library's twelve CD-ROM databases, access the Greater Columbus Free-net and find worldwide information resources on the Internet. Westerville became the first public library in Ohio to offer full Internet access to patrons via the World Wide Web, bringing the virtual library to reality. Full information was now available to individuals inside the library facility and to those with a computer and modem at home, office or school. 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, every department desperately cramped for space, and seating capacity reduced from 168 to 60, the library once again asked voters for relief--approval of a bond issue for an expansion of the library. On May 2, 1995, voters responded with 63% saying a resounding "Yes" to the expansion project which will add 27,000 square feet to the facility, providing space for our expanding collection, increased seating, and a technology center.

Technological advances in the library continued during the time of construction and renovation. During the latter part of 1996, the library partnered with vImpact, Inc. and the Pingle Design Group to develop a revolutionary new product called "The Library Channel." This new Internet interface made it possible for librarians to select reliable and valuable websites, and load them into "cyber" shelves that were made instantly available to library patrons. The ribbon cutting was held in 1997, with the purchase of the product to take place soon after in 300 libraries across the country. The library was recognized as a leader in technology in 1997, receiving the "Technology Company of the Year" Award for Central Ohio.

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. A unique vaulted entrance welcomed visitors to the facility. Two 1998 Builders Exchange Craftsmanship Awards were earned for outstanding exterior masonry work and the meticulously paneled two-story birch wall in the atrium. The expanded area included a gift shop operated by the Friends of the Library. In support of the Westerville Library Foundation fundraising effort, area families and businesses purchased 672 engraved bricks that were laid in the new courtyard. With an eye towards service and rising paper costs, in 1998 the library introduced a new library/debit card, making it possible to check out materials, pay for copies and printouts, and take care of overdue fines with one card. A 10-cent per page fee for printouts went into effect. In four months, toner and paper use was reduced by two-thirds. Introducing new ways to serve the information needs of a community is the hallmark of the Westerville Public Library, with convenience as the key.

In 1999, two new services became accessible through the Internet. Patrons were able to view their accounts over the Internet by using their library card number and a personal identification number. This capability enabled the library patrons at home to see information on fines as well as verify address and phone number. An opportunity that was extremely well-received was the invitation to patrons to reserve materials for themselves. Reserving items through the Internet coupled with the new convenience of a drive-up window contributed to a 44% increase in reserves. In September 1999 the library received national recognition when Hennen's American Public Library Rating Index rated 9,000 libraries nationwide and named Westerville Public Library top-ranked library No. 1 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.

Parents and children at a library storytime with Nancy Smith and Patti Barb. Unknown date. Courtesy of Westerville History Museum.

From 2000 to 2017

In 2000, the library ranked among the top 10 public libraries in the nation in our district category. 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. In 2000, 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 1983 catalog system was replaced by Millennium, equipping every computer with Web-based access to the library collection, nineteen databases, a catalog just for kids and other features.

The funding for libraries in Ohio was a major concern in 2001 as the income tax proceeds took a dip, causing the state to reduce the Library and Local Government Support Fund, the source of 95% of the Library's funding. The need for financial help, coupled with increased usage of the library and an offer from the Westerville City Schools to locate branches in the planned high school and on land at Hawthorne Elementary, prompted a request to voters to approve a levy that would relieve the heavily used State Street facility and construct two branches. When the levy failed in November and further state cuts reduced the Library's funding by 16% for the last half of 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 facility repairs that had been put on hold. Roofing repairs, carpet replacement, and a new public address system were installed. The Library marked Ohio's bicentennial year with a showcase of musical performances, old-fashioned workshops and record-breaking summer reading programs that invited all ages to "Celebrate Ohio." With the materials budget reinstated, the collection grew to fill requests for more audiobooks on CD and more DVDs, as well as books. Hennen's ranked the Library as No. 2 in the nation. The final initiative put forward to voters went into the planning stage - a building project that would enlarge the media department, provide a computer room for children and create a new teen area.

In September 2004 the library broke ground on the $3.2 million renovation and expansion project. The plan included 2,350 square feet for the growing collections in Media, 3,425 square feet in Youth for a picture book room and a computer lab, and 3,011 square feet for the relocation of the library's administration offices, to permit utilization of more space by the local history and temperance collections. Also in 2004, the Project Connect effort, initiated in 2000 in order to fill requests for library materials from students and teachers in Westerville schools, evolved and the library started providing daily delivery to every school building, thanks to the donation of a van by the Friends of the Library.

In 2005, the library celebrated 75 years of service to the Westerville community, sharing cake with hundreds of well-wishers who toured the nearly-completed expansion project, enjoyed music in the atrium and watched slides portraying the bygone years. In this landmark year, the library served the needs of 78,300 cardholders, receiving 621,704 walk-in visitors and .5 million electronic visits. In support of the library's dedication to the encouragement of reading, Ohio and community leaders posed for a picture with their favorite book, making possible the array of 39 READ posters hung throughout the building.

The expanded and renovated areas formally opened May 20, 2006, with entertainment, refreshments and a library-wide treasure hunt that led visitors to a teen center resembling an Internet cafe with iMac computers and booth seating, a stunning Media space with retail-like shelving and flat screen TVs, and an enlarged Youth area with fun furniture and a lab housing 12 computers loaded with kid-friendly software. June marked the unveiling of the John R. Kasich Congressional Collection in the local history building, the only such collection listed in the National Archives to be held by a public library. Also during that busy year, the library led a consortium of five Ohio county public libraries in the establishment of SearchOhio, a network for sharing resources.

The year 2007 was a critical year for funding. The five-year operating levy passed in 2002 by residents was set to expire at year-end and it represented 30% of the library's revenue. To meet this crucial need, the board of trustees passed a resolution to seek voter approval for the replacement of that 0.8-mill levy. On August 7 residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of the request, approving the replacement levy by a 78% margin. Circulation topped 1.9 million items by the end of 2007.

In 2012, the library launched their Meet the Authors series. Since then, the library has welcomed authors from all walks of life, including Rick Steves, Diana Gabaldon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Debbie Macomber, Jason Reynolds, Alexander McCall Smith, Jodi Picoult, and Nick Offerman.

In 2014, the library was ranked as one of the Best Employers in Ohio and Columbus Parent's Best Children's Area and Best Story Times. Total revenue was $7.38 million, 34% of which came from state funds, 62% from a local operating levy and 4% from fines, interest and other miscellaneous income.

By 2015, the library had over 118,000 active library cardholders and welcomed more than 40,000 visitors during an average month, making it the 4th busiest public library facility in the state, behind the main branches of Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Having undergone four major expansions and renovations, the library building is currently 102,300 square feet, with 153 parking spaces.

In 2015, the Westerville History Museum began to install rotating and traveling exhibits that have attracted visitors from near and far. Themes have included the Prohibition Era, WWI, WWII, fashion, food, and more.

In 2016, the Westerville Public Library was once again rated in the top 1% of the nation’s public libraries by Library Journal. In partnership with the City of Westerville, 100+ new parking spaces were added.  With the implementation of RFID tracking tags came the ability to check out multiple items at once, immediately check in and automatically sort returns, prevent theft and easily locate and inventory items on the shelf.

On June 12, 2017, Erin Francoeur assumed the directorship when Don W. Barlow retired after 28 years of dedicated service and innovation. She brings not only her expertise of library science to Westerville, but also her passion for early childhood education and her interest in embracing technology. Ms. Francoeur holds a master’s degree in library science from Emporia State University, a master’s degree in religious studies from Arizona State University, and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Indiana University.

From 2017 to Present

As the population continued to increase within the library’s service district, the library focused on expanding access for all. The first step was to stop charging overdue fines. This change allowed customers to avoid significant financial burdens and retain access to core library services. Additional changes included convenience services such as automatic renewal and a partnership with the Westerville City School District to put a library card in the hand of every child at every school.

To expand access to the far corners of the district, three story trails were installed in partnership with the Blendon Township, City of Westerville, and Genoa Township. Wi-fi access was installed at Freeman Park in Genoa Township, and pickup lockers were installed in Uptown Westerville as well as the Blendon Township Community Senior Center.

Since 2018, the library has hosted the Wizards & Wands Festival – a signature event that transforms the library into a magical wonderland each October with spellbinding performances, fantastical missions, and a life-size dragon on the roof.

Efforts to bridge the digital divide and encourage lifelong learning led to the opening of the Innovation Lab in 2020, featuring printing, custom printing, a photo and video recording station, and a recording studio.

Photo of Hilda the Dragon on display in 2021

Looking ahead, the future continues to be filled with opportunities for the staff, trustees and volunteers of the Westerville Public Library to remain dedicated to the mission to Deliver the Future.

To learn more, visit this page.

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