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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.

Anniversary of Countywide Library System

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 29, 2006

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the conversion of our library system to countywide service. On January 1, 1936, the former Carnegie Library of Steubenville added "and Jefferson County" to its name and began countywide service to the public. Since the first publicly supported public library opened in Ohio in 1805, libraries were generally departments of another governmental unit. The Carnegie Library of Steubenville was a Department of the City of Steubenville and operated as a unit of city government.

In 1933, State Senator Robert Taft spearheaded a movement to fund all Ohio public libraries from one tax source, and change their operations to a public library district. From that, the situs intangibles tax was established.  It was a flat tax collected by each county on stocks and bonds owned by the public.

In 1935, the State Library of Ohio assigned all of Jefferson County to the Carnegie Library of Steubenville for public library service, and the change took place at the beginning of the next year. The Toronto Library, with its roots back to 1931, became the first Branch Library of the new system. Aiding the effort at establishing countywide service was the WPA Library Project, which provided $ 98,000 in funds for Jefferson County libraries between 1936-1941.Several library stations and branches were established, as well as a Bookmobile Program. The event was celebrated with a visit in 1936 from Mr. Paul A.T. Noon, State Librarian. The final Branch Libraries were established in Brilliant and Adena in 1940, completing the library system.

Usage of libraries in Jefferson County doubled with the establishment of the new system, and a ten percent increase was noted every year through 1940 as more books became available to the public. In 1962, the name "Carnegie" was replaced with "Public" in the name, to end confusion over the fact that Andrew Carnegie only provided funds for the 1902 building, and never for operations.

This month also marks the 20th anniversary of the end of the intangibles tax for libraries. People had always complained that the intangibles tax was regressive and did not account for income in its collection. On January 1, 1986, that tax was repealed and made a part of the state income tax, with libraries receiving a dedicated percentage of the state income tax.

The formula worked well for the first decade of its existence.  An equalization factor corrected funding statewide and made Ohio the No. 1 state for public libraries. In the 1990s, legislative action reduced the state income tax rates, and the dedicated fund rate was changed, frozen, and changed again. Now, the state income tax rate is being reduced over the next five years.  The problem is that the rate changes never adjust the dedicated fund for libraries. A Committee of Legislators is now studying all three of Ohio's Local Government Funds to determine what can be done to return stable funding to local governments and libraries.

Edwin M. Stanton demonstrated the importance of libraries when he opened his personal library to everyone, and by Andrew Carnegie when he spent his fortune funding thousands of libraries around the world. It is shown today when someone performs a database search when researching for a school project.