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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.

Miss Wilson and the first library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 9, 2006



The front of the large Accession Book is dated January 1902.


Next to the date is the handwriting of Ellen Summers Wilson, the first librarian of the Carnegie Library of Steubenville.


Miss Wilson arrived in Steubenville the month before the book was started from the Lawrenceville Branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.


A native of Albany, N.Y., she had attended the State University of New York in Albany and earned her Library Degree in 1898.


She had 3 months to prepare the 4,000 books that started the new Carnegie Library in Steubenville and the Accession Book was the first cataloging supply acquired.


Most supplies for public libraries in those days were manufactured and sold by the Library Bureau Company in Boston.


Their Accession Book provided a place to list the book collection in the order in which the books were acquired.


The author of the Accession Book and its instructions?  Melville Dewey, State Librarian of New York and the author of the Dewey decimal classification system for organizing libraries.


The construction of the new library building was consuming the time of the first Library Trustees, appointed November 1, 1899.


As the building at 4th and Slack Streets began to climb from its foundation, the realization that librarians and books were needed became the issue.


The collection of the old Steubenville School Library was boxed and in storage to be given to the new Carnegie Library.


That library was established in 1859, and opened and closed several times depending on space and operating monies, until it permanently closed February 21, 1899.


About 1,000 books were so worn from year of usage; they were discarded.  The remaining books were brought to the new Carnegie Library on December 21, 1899 and handed to the new 32-year-old librarian.


She put them in order by author, and began recording then into the Accession Book, likely sitting at one of the new oak tables in the library.


Painting and plastering continued around her, as well as installation of new electric lights and gas connections, in case the new electrical "things" didn't catch on.


Miss Wilson finished recording and shelving 2,715 books from the school library in about 2 weeks, and then started on about 500 new books, purchased from the McClurg Company in New York.


They arrived at the railroad depot packed in wooden barrels, and she paid nearly three dollars in shipping costs.


Mr. James Gill, one of the first Library Trustees, donated many new books, along with Arthur Gorman, Bessie Conn, and the "Hon. Means."


By then Opening Day had arrived and the new building opened to the public on March 12, 1902.


The Librarians worried that there weren't enough books to meet the demand, and many of the donated books were so worn out, they fell apart after a single usage.


The Methodist Church donated a large collection to the library, as well as the Odd Fellows Fraternity.


Rev. Dr. A.M. Reid, the head of the Steubenville Female Seminary and author of the letter urging Carnegie to fund the library, made several donations of books in 1903.


Most of the books in the original collection were discarded by the 1940s, but a scarce few remain in the Local History Collection today.


The collection of a public library is ever evolving.  We want people to use our books and wear them out. 


We retain a few titles of local interest and save our history for future generations.


Melville Dewey, in the preface to his Accession Book, says that libraries have a responsibility to their users to maintain good records.  What would he think of today's computers?