October 8, 2014

Ten things you should know about libraries in Columbus, Ohio


Where I spent my childhood summers: the Upper Arlington Public Library in Columbus, Ohio.

Where I spent my childhood summers: the Upper Arlington Public Library in Columbus, Ohio.

I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and spent a good part of my summers in the Upper Arlington Public Library, which was conveniently located very close to Tremont Pool, where I spent the rest of my time. I have happy memories of browsing the young adult fiction section, checking out VHS tapes, and competing in the summer reading program, where ten hours of reading could earn me an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen or a ticket to the Columbus Clippers (our hometown baseball team).

Columbus has changed a bit since the late 80s and early 90s, and so have perceptions of what a library should be, according to a new article by Deborah Fallows about the city’s public library system in the Atlantic. Here are ten things I learned about my hometown from the article, which, as a collective list, made me proud that Ohio is funding libraries and thinking about their future.

1) The Columbus Metropolitan Library system has a CEO.

Author Fallows says the fact that CEO Patrick Losinski exists is significant:  “His title alone, CEO, should be a hint about how progressive the libraries of Columbus are, and how serious the city is about placing the libraries front and center in its trajectory toward a modern, relevant, connected city.”

 2) The library system is undergoing a 120 million dollar expansion.

While New York City libraries are being sold off and shrinking, Columbus is expanding. The main public library, which is a Carnegie building, will “feature, among other things, replacing the solid back wall of the building with two stories of windows, where readers will overlook the existing Topiary Park, a seven-acre tree park and garden, which is groomed to represent Seurat’s famous post-impressionist painting, Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte.” (Having been to this Topiary Park, I have to recommend it on your next trip to Ohio.)

3) Columbus will host the 2016 World Congress of the International Federations of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).

Competition for these bragging rights is apparently fierce: “The city won rights to host the Congress in an Olympic-venue type competition.”

4) The Columbus library system has developed a program to get kids ready for kindergarten.

“For a million dollars, the Ready for Kindergarten program settles into the neediest neighborhoods. They scout for families in laundromats, shops, clinics, shelters, churches, anywhere they can find them. Teams of library staff visit homes of these families regularly, kits with board books and bath-sponge letters in hand, and invitations to the library and story hours, all pointing toward helping families get started toward kindergarten a few years away.”

 5) There are books on the bus.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library system “stock[s] school buses with books, 5000 of them. Bus drivers are reporting better behavior.”

6) People in Ohio are nice — especially at libraries.

Fallows reports: “Since I grew up in Ohio, I knew that some of this is just the Ohio-nice attitude. But even on that metric, people are nice in Ohio and they are really nice at the Columbus public library. I stopped by the library shop and found a great book on the history of aviation in Columbus, delivered with more friendly conversation, much more like my favorite neighborhood restaurant than my grumpy local post office.”

7) Libraries in Columbus are OPEN TO ALL.

It says it right above the door of the front entry of the main branch.

8) Library funding is strong in Ohio.

“As for the public part, facing a loss to the library budget from state revenues, voters in 2010 passed by more than a two-to-one margin an increased tax levy for $50 million per year for better library services. As for the private part, the Library Foundation raised $500,000 last year at a gala fundraiser.”

9) Summer reading programs are still going strong — and still offering prizes.

Twenty years after I participated, the summer reading incentives are still offered at Columbus library branches. Except the prizes have changed slightly — for five hours of reading you’ll win a “mystery creepy crawly prize.”

10) You’ll find the Columbus Metropolitan Library at the end of a rainbow.

Claire Kelley




Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.