We need to be proud of Bexley’s public library. After a national survey rated it the best small-town (population 10,000-99,999) library in the country in 1999, we might be curious as to the history of one of our most frequented local institutions.1,2
Memories of the library reach back into the childhoods of many of us long-time residents. The library began in a room in the Bexley High School – now Montrose Elementary School – in 1924, just two years after the high school opened.
Following a $68,000 bond issue, the library began operating at its present location on September 9, 1929. Noting the Dedicatory Program, one catches well-known names of that era, such as: Dr. Otto Mees of Capital University; along with library board members H.C. Dieterich, Superintendent of the Bexley Public Schools; Rev. Dr. Sidney E. Sweet, President; Mrs. Hugh Bone, V-P; and Mrs. Fritz A Lichtenberg, Treasurer. Other board members were my Bexley High School Latin teacher, Mrs. Howard (Amy) Brightman and the Rev. Dr. C.V. Sheatsley. Mrs. Sarah H. Bilby was listed as librarian.
Since the library was an outgrowth of the Bexley Schools, the building libraries continued for the first thirty-five years to have free servicing and much representation on the Board. Children’s literature has always been a major part of the library, as it is today.
To lend perspective, the 1925 records state that there were 2,364 books and 640 registered borrowers with a circulation of 9,515. The number of patrons increased to 7,021 by 1934 with the opening of servicing outside of Bexley, those numbering, at that time, 817. The Board was reminded that financial support for the operating budget of the library came from the county tax on intangibles.
By the early 1940’s, it was apparent that space was at a premium. The $60,000 bond issue, passed in November ’45, turned out to be inadequate. With the delay in building until 1948, a supplementary bond issue of $50,000 had to be approved that year.
The new addition was comprised of two floors of stacks in the rear, to house the growing collection, along with an enlarged reference room, offices and workroom. Along with books, periodicals, and pamphlets, the library, in the early 1950’s, began a small collection of 16mm educational films and recordings.
New names appeared on the Board such as: Mrs. Wilbur T. Collins; Mr. James M. Hengst; Dr. Emerson D. Jarvis, Superintendent of Bexley Public Schools; Mr. Raymond W. Kilbourne; Mrs. Sheldon J. Mann; and Mr. Paul L. Schact.3,4,5
Originally, the land on which the library sits was leased from Capital University. The first lease, for 35 years, was up for renewal in 1958. After completing the renewal of the lease for another 35 years, the library board pressed to buy the land. In 1965, the Capital University Board finally consummated the transfer of ownership as a gift. This was just the beginning of a much greater plan…
You guessed it! Another expansion! This time of greater proportions. The plan was to increase the building square footage by 2/3rds. A federal grant of $75,000 was supplemented with a bond issue of $402,000, which was completed in June 1968.
The frontal expansion on the east side, including the 200-seat auditorium, was so well matched to the original building by the masons that anyone today, not acquainted with the original structure, would not see it as an addition.6
From Sarah H. Bilby, Mary Zimmerman, and Ruth Phillips, to our present director (at the time of this writing), Robert Stafford, Bexley has been fortunate to have capable and visionary leadership both in its Board and its directors.7
Certainly, the children’s program has been central to the library over the years, having been an outgrowth of the Bexley Public Schools. Puppet shows, annual summer reading programs, children’s book club and notable speakers and presenters suggests its variety. In his interview, Bob Greene pointed out that, “The Bexley Public Library has two underling assets: one being that Ohio law sets aside a portion of the state income tax to be reserved specifically for the public libraries of Ohio, and that Franklin County’s arrangement of seven local library districts. Columbus Metropolitan Library and six (suburban) local districts, of which Bexley is one, allows for friendly competition in library services to the benefit of the users.”8
By 1990, half of the users lived outside Bexley. With about 70% of Bexley residents having library cards, the high level of patronage can only be explained by noting some of the additional services. the intervening years saw the introduction of videotapes and CD’s. Recorded unabridged books had grown to 1,700 titles by 1992, the largest in the country.
Again, the library was not adequate for many of the services possible, considering the apparent needs of its patrons. In May 1990 the voters approved a $4.13 million bond issue. Most of the growth was to the south and to the west. The old stacks added to the rear in 1950 were replaced with elaborate three floors, allowing for an expanded audio-visual selection in the lower level, the children’s section on the ground floor, and the administrative offices on the top floor. All was kept below the original building roofline to the front, preserving the library’s original look. A new computerized library circulation system and catalog was operable by December 1991, with forty-four terminals accessing over 200,000 items.9
Library services have continued to expand, such as those for people with disabilities – that is, vision-impaired, hearing-impaired, along with external and internal accessibility by ramp and elevator. A relatively new area of the library service is the bank of computers available for learning how to use the library’s information data-base or for surfing the internet, which includes services to genealogists.10,11 Bexley is truly blessed with a rich cultural landmark.
Adapted from article By Edward L. Hamblin
Bexley Historical Society President, 1997-2002
Originally published in Historical Herald, June 2002
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1 “Library Ranked No. 1 in Survey” Ina Horwitz-Whitmore, This Week in Bexley, January 20, 1999, pp 1,2.
2 “Bexley Library is No. 1 Again” Ina Horwitz-Whitmore, This Week in Bexley, September 8, 1999, pp 1,2.
3 Unpublished synopsis of the early history of the Bexley Public Library in its files.
4 “Officials Prepare for Library Renovation” Charlene O’Donnell, This Week in Bexley, January 28, 1991, p 9.
5 “Can’t Win in Ligrary Fuss” The Columbus Dispatch, April 6, 1962.
6 “Addition to Be Completed Mid-June ’68” The Columbus Dispatch, July 9, 1967.
7 “Retired Bexley Public Librarian Sees Educational Center Growth” The Columbus Dispatch, April 28, 1974, p A4.
8 Interview of Bob Stafford, Director, Bexley Public Library, by Ed Hamblin, March 28, 2002.
9 “Bexley Library’s Makeover Draws on Beauty of its Past” Julie R. Bailey, The Columbus Dispatch, June 10, 1991, p B2.
10 “Library Updates Computed Access” Ina Horwitz-Whitmore, This Week in Bexley, March 31, 1997, p 10.
11 “Library to Offer Internet Programs” This Week in Bexley, September 15, 1999, p 7.