Carnegie Public Library has surpassed 10,000 borrowers in Fayette County and in 2018 served over 40,000 individual sessions for computer and wireless users.
The library is located in Washington Court House with a smaller branch in Jeffersonville. The Record-Herald recently spent some time behind the scenes at Carnegie to explore its success.
Sarah Nichols has worked at Carnegie for 10 years and has been the director of the library for four years. She now lives in Washington Court House with her family. She said, “I like the variety and I like the people—which is sometimes one-in-the same.”
Nichols said, “This is a very special place. I was fortunate to finish grad school, then be introduced to this library. I was not familiar with Washington Court House and just really found a library home here.”
Nichols spoke positively about her staff regarding how wonderful they all are with their unique roles as part of the library family. Currently, the library has 19 staff members between the two locations.
Jodi Noel is the circulation manager for Carnegie. She is in charge of the majority of the adult department and has a hand in the shipping room. She said, “I assess the needs of patrons.”
Dawn Roberts is the outreach specialist. She travels to different nursing homes to find out what residents would like to read, then orders or checks those books out and delivers them. Roberts said, “I hope this keeps growing to other facilities.”
Gary Huffman works security to make sure everyone stays safe and to keep “things cleaned up.” Huffman said, “This is a place you can come and be safe.”
Noel explained it “is wise to have someone be your eyes and ears while staff is engaged.”
The majority of staff members, even the director, takes turns working the front desk in the adult department. This allows the staff to connect with the community.
Carnegie Public Library is part of a consortium of nearly 100 libraries around the state. Essentially, nearly 100 different independent libraries in Ohio have made an agreement to share resources to better serve their communities. Nichols said, “Folks can request titles from anywhere [in Ohio].”
Those requested titles are mailed to and from these other libraries. Carnegie has a shipping room, which Noel explained “is all a group effort.”
They ship and receive books in different containers including boxes and canvas bags. According to Noel, the average number of containers that have to be processed per day is 70, but they recently had a day with 236 containers that required processing.
Jeanne Miller works in the processing room and said, “It’s kind of cool—it comes from all over Ohio.”
Also in the processing room is Belinda Michael, who repairs the books and DVDs to the best of her ability. She explained the materials can’t always be fixed and have to be discarded.
According to Nichols, many people may not realize that the library offers digital borrowing as well, which allows readers who utilize kindles, tablets, smart phones and other devices to borrow those digital copies of various items—including audio-books. She said, “The Ohio Digital Library is top in the world among circulation and we belong to the Ohio Digital Library.”
Other services the library offers includes free WiFi access, printing for 20 cents a page, computer use, technical assistance, scanning documents and microfilm of local news articles. The staff often helps visitors fill out applications for jobs, doing research, finding information and book suggestions.
Nathan Forsha handled the requests for research on genealogy and obituaries for nearly two years. Forsha said, “We’re the last stop for information in person while everything has gone to computers, and we find all our information on computers. People who are not so technology savvy will—most of the time—refer to us, because we’re the only entity available that will even listen to inquiries that they have.”
Forsha uses newspaper articles which the library places onto microfilm. The microfilm contains articles from the local papers dating from 1833 to 2018. The process to transfer papers to microfilm takes approximately six months. The microfilm is available for public use.
To get the scanned documents printed, it does cost the printing fee of 20 cents per page. To have the scanned pages emailed, it does not cost but the staff does ask for a small donation.
“Microfilm is the standard for historic preservation,” Nichols said. “Tech changes, format changes, computers change. What doesn’t change is film with illumination and magnification.”
Noel explained one of the things the staff does is weeding—they pull books from the shelves that aren’t being read or are in bad conditions. Noel either discards or replaces the books.
To discard books, there is a cart set up outside the adult department entrance on the side of the parking lot with books available for purchase—50 cents per book. Books that aren’t purchased are boxed up for a book sale.
Anne Quinn works in the children’s department and often goes to community events and schools to do readings and presentations. The children’s department offers several materials for kids, activities, story-times and a kids’ reading program. According to Quinn, the children’s department offers a safe place for children to spend time, have somewhere to go after school and to be surrounded by supportive adults.
“We are a service, we are here at the behest of the public. So, whatever is going on is reflected here in the library too—the time of the year, the season, politically, tax season, the school year—just all these different things. It constantly keeps us on our toes,” said Nichols.
The current library building in Washington Court House opened in 1904, according to Nichols. It was renovated in 2008, but Nichols spoke of some difficulties involved in keeping an older building operating smoothly. As the director, part of her responsibility is working with maintenance and custodial staff to keep their historical building functional and beautiful.
Ohio is fortunate when it comes to funding for libraries. Nichols said, “many states do not have the kind of funding Ohio provides, and therefore, libraries of the caliber we are accustomed to aren’t as common in other states.”
According to Nichols, Carnegie is one of 50 libraries in Ohio that does not have a levy—it is funded 95 percent by the state.
Nichols explained when state funding was cut in 2009, Carnegie had to make some changes—the most noticeable to the community being shortened hours. The library is currently receiving the same amount of funds it received 20 years ago.
Due to the decrease in funding, the hours the library is open must remain limited as staff must remain limited, not as many materials can be purchased and there can be no ambitious or large initiatives undertaken.
Nichols said, “At the very top of my to-do list is public funds—we try to be very thoughtful and conservative when it comes to spending money.”
“Our current Governor is very supportive of libraries,” Nichols said. For the first time, Ohio libraries were included in a paragraph of the Budget Fact Sheet—for 2020 and 2021.
Nichols said, “We make very good use of every resource we can and may need to investigate other sources of revenue in the future.”
If the library does receive more funding at some point in the future, Nichols explained, “there are many projects and services, large and small, that my staff and I would love to bring to the community but many times cannot. Longer hours, expanded presence throughout the county through digital kiosks and pick-up locations, book bikes, streaming movie services, and circulating wireless hot-spots to name just a few.”
“It takes everybody in the community to support a strong library,” said Nichols.
The Washington Court House location is the main library—it is located at 127 S. North St. and can be reached at 740-335-2540. It is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is closed on Sundays.
The Jeffersonville branch is located at 8 N. Main St. and can be reached at 740-426-9292. It is open Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. however, the library does close from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch. It is closed Friday-Sunday.
Follow the library Facebook page for updates: https://www.facebook.com/cplwcho/.
Quinn said, “I just think this is a wonderful sanctuary for the community. More people should be taking advantage of that—we’re a wonderful, little jewel downtown.”
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355.