By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
When the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library opened its doors 130 years ago, patrons were charged a small fee to borrow a book they weren’t even allowed to choose for themselves.
Things have changed since then. The books are still there — available to all — but so are cooking lessons, craft nights, movies, book clubs and storytimes.
“We try to have something for everyone,” said director Sarah Clevidence. “And if you think we don’t have something for you, I’d like the chance to change your mind.”
To commemorate the anniversary, cookies will be served Monday and historic photos and facts will be on display throughout the main library on Broadway Street. There will be treats at the Arlington branch and on the bookmobile as well.
“For us to have been serving the community and for the community to have embraced the library for 130 years is just incredible,” Clevidence said. “Think about all of the books, all of the families whose kids grew up here and then their kids grew up here. It just keeps going.”
The library — which was then located in the basement of the Hancock County Courthouse — officially opened its doors to the public on Jan. 27, 1890.
A smaller subscription library preceded the courthouse facility, according to historical accounts. During the late 1870s and early 1880s, a room above George Connell’s book store at 411 S. Main St. was fitted with shelves and a table and lamps, and a limited number of books were circulated.
A local board was formed when the state General Assembly authorized the establishment of a public library and the election of a board of trustees in 1888.
The county commissioners offered the use of a room in the southeast corner of the courthouse basement, and the old library association turned over 900 books which became the nucleus of the public library. Librarian Nelle Baker made book selections for patrons as the library implemented a closed shelf system.
By 1905, the collection had grown to 4,500 volumes. The commissioners agreed to provide an additional room for reference materials. Another children’s room was added several years later.
Library policy also changed that year. For the first time, school children were allowed to check out one book a month during the school year. The borrower’s fee was dropped, and patrons were allowed to choose their own books.
Circulation continued to grow and on Feb. 18, 1905, 388 books were checked out — the largest number ever issued in one day since the library’s opening. (In contrast, the library circulated 3,172 items per day on average in 2019.)
As space grew limited, library officials made several attempts to secure larger quarters.
One offer came in 1914 when relatives of Mrs. E.P. Jones, the wife of E.P. Jones, first president of the First National Bank, offered the family home at 313 E. Sandusky St. for use as a public library. Board members turned down the offer, citing the expense of remodeling, the increased cost of operation and the limited uses of the building.
The next offer came in 1923 when the heirs of David Kirk Sr., a prominent Findlay businessman, offered $50,000 for the erection of a library to serve both the city and county. A prospective site on West Sandusky Street was eyed, but like the Jones’ offer, the gift was turned down because of the added expense it would bring. City council members projected that another $30,000 would be needed to complete the building.
Citizens passed a $125,000 bond issue for a library in 1929. However, the Depression delayed any action until 1935. The post office moved to new quarters on West Main Cross Street, and the old post office building on Broadway was purchased for $50,000. The library was formally dedicated on Dec. 27, 1935.
By 1944, the library had 5,850 registered borrowers and was circulating 28,739 volumes a year. The fine for an overdue book was 2 cents a day, while 5 cents was charged to patrons who mutilated, marked or injured a book in any way.
Space again became limited by the 1950s, and insufficient funds prevented officials from making any changes. By 1964, head librarian Catherine Achord reported to the board of trustees that at times, it was nearly impossible to find a seat in the library.
The library was approved as a countywide facility in 1972, and the name Findlay-Hancock County District Public Library was adopted.
The board continued making plans for expansion and in 1973, purchased the abandoned DWG Cigar factory located just south of the library. The threat of a recession slowed plans for several years, but the red-brick factory was eventually razed and the foundation used as retaining walls for the basement of a new 9,500-square-foot library addition.
The new building housed the main reading room, adult book collection, children’s area and director’s office, while reference, genealogy, audio-visual materials and a new community room occupied the older building.
By the mid-1980s, space was again an issue at the main library. Problems included a lack of air conditioning for audio-visual services, a lack of study space and lounge space for library users, a lack of shelving space for the expanding collection and limited work space for staff. About one-third of the building was not handicap accessible.
Following a feasibility study, trustees endorsed a plan for enlarging the library which called for constructing a single-story building that would encompass the entire library lot. The 1978 addition would be incorporated into the new building, while the older section which had served as the post office would be razed.
The estimated cost of the project was $3.8 million. Voters were asked to approve a $3 million, 20-year bond issue in 1988 to finance the expansion, but the request was turned down. Instead of returning to the voters, the board entered into a 20-year lease-purchase agreement with the county.
Work on the first phase of the project began in 1989, which added nearly 20,000-square-feet of space. Phase II called for razing the older building and completing a single-story, two-level structure which was completed in 1991.
Several times through the years, flooding has caused problems for the library, including in 2007 when a 100-year flood hit Hancock County. At that time, the library lost the entire contents of its basement, including administration, technical services, the Book Cellar, adult services offices and maintenance. Work began the following year to rebuild the basement and community room. The 125th anniversary of the library was celebrated in 2015.