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Rediscover the Treasure of Cleveland Public Library

Mar. 3, 2011

By Lauren Solarz

As technology continues to advance, more and more people are relying on the internet as their main source for information and buying books. The largest U.S. traditional book-selling chain “Barnes and Noble” has recently filed for Bankruptcy and another big-time book seller “Borders” is in the process of closing an approximate 200 stores.
Perhaps having a strong historical background is what paves the way for longevity. Since its humble beginnings in the middle of the 19th century, the Cleveland Public Library, nestled in the heart of downtown, to this day, still remains standing for many book lovers of the world.

The landmark Main Library, located on E. 6th and Superior, had its grand opening on May 6, 1925. Cleveland Public Library was the first large public library to allow people to select their own books directly from its bookshelves. Originally founded in 1869, the library was housed in a rented room on the third floor of the Northrup and Harrington Block at the corner of Superior Ave and West 3rd St.

In 1916, eight architectural firms, three of which were from Cleveland, found themselves in competition over the design of the new library.
Over the past century, the library has faced both triumph and difficulty. By the early 1930’s, the library continued to prosper and the number of users increased from 5,000 daily to more than 12,000.CPL
Inside, holds the memory of several great visionaries that molded this exquisite landmark into what it is today. Brett Hall on the first floor of the Main building, the John G. White reading room on the third floor and the Eastman Reading Garden are in honor of three great people. The honor goes to William Howard Brett, director from 1884 to 1918, John Griswold White, board member from 1884 to 1886 and again in 1910 to 1928, and board president of 17 years; Linda Anne Eastman.

The library has become a well-known American treasure, having one of the largest and most extensive collections in the country which holds close to ten million items.

“The library’s peak had to be when Cleveland was a big city in the 1970’s. Downtown was busy and we used to be open about as long as Higbees was open,” said Christopher Wood, a staff member in the History and Geography Dept.

In 1997, the Louis Stokes Wing became a great addition to the Main Library. Dramatically modern in comparison to the Main Library, bright blue fiberglass columns and other vibrant colors light up the new wing from the moment you enter the doors.
Today, there are 29 branches on the Eastside of Cleveland, along with expansion of suburban libraries which has kept many people further away from the main building and closer to home.

“The downtown library is struggling,” said Wood. “A major service today is public internet access so people can locate the books they need; they don’t have to come downtown.” Ron Burdick, manager of the History and Geography Dept. in the Louis Stokes Wing, has always enjoyed history, exploring the past and how it relates to what is happening today.

“We don’t get many students from the inner-city schools which is unfortunate,” said Burdick. “Everybody seems to be in too much of a hurry to look into something, to examine, to think.” Both Wood and Burdick feel that with the growing popularity of virtual aid, fewer and fewer people have the desire to educate themselves the old fashioned way. “I think it’s sad. Reading a book from cover to cover is not quite the same as snatching it from the internet,” Wood said.

Many may not be aware of the special collections which are available in the library. The Cleveland Public Library has consolidated rare holdings from the subject departments into a unified collection.
Special Collections attributes its legacy to prominent citizen and former President of the Cleveland Library Board of Trustees, John G. White.
This collection has been specially designed for optimum housing, preservation and security.

The core of the collection focuses on chess and checkers, folklore and orientalia which continues to thrive due to generous support from donors.
White’s efforts helped the library acquire rare books that could not be purchased with public funds.

Wood feels that DVD’s have transformed the library simply because they carry so many classic films which he assures cannot be found at regular video stores.
Despite the fact the Louis Stokes Wing is considered to be fairly modern, it is rapidly becoming obsolete since the physical aspect of the library continues to change.
The library still has much to offer for any person willing to learn and as long as its standing, employees will find ways to keep it alive.