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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 Little Book from Michigan

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 21, 2010

You bring those boxes of donated books to the library, and you think librarians don’t go through them book-by-book?


Even a wet box of water-damaged paperbacks receives the keen eye of a librarian looking to see if someone accidentally donated the unfound set of “Gutenberg Bibles.”


This story begins in the Detroit suburb of Northville, at a suburban public library system preparing of a used book sale.


On the floor is a pile of books being donated just for the book sale, paperbacks and textbooks, book club editions of bestsellers.


The observant librarian noted a little brown book, peeking from under the pile of books, enough of a curiosity to extract it for further examination.


The little book is in fair condition for its age, being published in 1840.


It is titled, “The Life of Sir Isaac Newton” by David Brewster, published by Harper & Brothers in New York, a later publication of the original 1831 classic about Newton.


The front page has a faded pencil script that seems to say “Dunfirmline” or something similar.


Beyond the book, and writing, the inside front cover has a book plate which clearly states, “The City Library Association of Steubenville, Ohio.”


The book plate makes the little book unique, and he quickly scanned the 4 x 6 card and sent it by e-mail to the Director of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County; that’s me.


Our web site connected to the only public library system in Steubenville, Ohio, and the Michigan librarian thought it was a good place to start for information.


When I read the e-mail and viewed the scan of the book plate, I knew where the little brown book originated.


The City Library Association of Steubenville, Ohio was formed in 1846 and incorporated in 1852 with Benjamin Lister, Eli Tappan, and James Wyatt as co-founders.


It was located on S. 4th Street on the 2nd floor of one of the commercial buildings.


Articles indicate that the “City Library” opened and closed over the years, and moved from rental locations to church rooms.   The number of volumes seemed to waiver around 1,500.


In 1876, an effort was put forth to revitalize the “City Library” to serve as a place for our “young men and boys to gather, to stop them from frequenting the many halls of sporting, drinking, and gambling in the city.”


The library was still operating in 1879, but in 1882 with the construction of the new City Hall, the books were boxed and stored in an upstairs room.  In 1899, the remaining books were transferred to the new Carnegie Library of Steubenville.


We have a few of those books, and the book plate is covered with a new plate for the new library.


This little brown book “escaped” the collection before coming to the new public library, as its book plate is still pristine.


How it made its way to Northville, Mich. will forever remain a mystery.


The exciting part of the e-mail from Northville was the last line, “If you would like the book, I would be glad to mail it to you.”  I said that we would love it for library history.


The little brown book arrived in my office a week later, carefully packed in bubble wrap with a dime taped to a card inserted in the book.


Above the dime was the following note from the librarian in Northville, “In accordance with Rule No. 4, find a dime attached.”


Rule No. 4 of the City Library Association of Steubenville, Ohio states that “Readers keeping a book over the time period specified, will be subject to a fine of ten cents.”


That is better than Rule No. 5 which fines the user one dollar if you give the book you loaned to anyone else.