By Sue Botos
Rumor has it that sometimes, after the Rocky River Public Library closes its doors for the day, the ghost of its first head librarian, Katherine Wilder, can be seen peeking out of her old second floor office, which looks down on the information desk.
Wilder, who served from the library’s opening in 1928 until 1967, would be at home with the shelves of books, but may wonder what became of the old wooden card catalogs. Above all, she’d no doubt puzzle over the fact that today’s librarians rarely hiss, “Shhhh!”
These are just a few of the changes seen by the library during its 85 years. Its anniversary will be celebrated from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 24 and will include the presentation of a proclamation by Mayor Pam Bobst and the unveiling of a plaque honoring former Director George Scherma, who spearheaded the effort to establish the Cowan Pottery Museum at the library 35 years ago.
The Rocky River Public Library began in 1924 with a collection of books from the North Ridge Library Society, but soon outgrew its space on the second floor of the senior high school. A $25,000 donation from Thomas and Emily MacBeth and the approval of a $60,000 bond issue by voters allowed construction to begin at the library’s present location at the corner of Hampton and Riverview roads.
In 1954, prominent resident Sophia Schlather donated $100,000 for a much-needed expansion, in memory of her husband, Leonard. Leonard Schlather, a businessman and philanthropist, operated a popular Ohio City brewery from 1857 to 1902, which is now the home of the Great Lakes Brewing Co. A piece of that history can be seen in the form of a tin lithographed sign hanging on the wall of the periodical room, which came from the side of an L. Schlather Brewing Co. delivery truck. Art and furnishings from the Schlather estate can be seen throughout the library.
Since those early days, the library has continued to grow, undergoing major renovation projects in 1971, after passage of a $1.5 million bond issue, and again in 2006-2007. But the biggest change, one that would totally stump Wilder, is the explosion of technology.
“We’re more heavily investing in the delivery of electronic services that are compatible with our physical collection,” commented Nick Cronin, library director since 2010. For example, he said that the library would soon implement Hoopla, an online service that allows patrons to borrow digital videos, music and audiobooks with their library card. In addition, Cronin said that the collection of e-books is “ever-growing,” and iPads are now available for in-house use.
However, the printed word is still the library’s base. “We circulate more printed materials than electronic. It’s about 52 to 53 percent,” Cronin noted. He added that the library’s outreach program brings materials to those unable to visit.
But will the library be around in another 85 years? “I see the library as being around forever, but its nature will change,” Cronin said, adding that it is becoming even more of a “community gathering place” than just somewhere to check out a book. He noted that there are free programs offered for everyone from babies to senior citizens, including computer training, book discussion groups and children’s crafts. Cronin said that noted children’s author Eric Litwin will visit in March, and the “On Stage in River” series offers a variety of performing arts show presentations.
Although Wilder would not be familiar with all of the changes to the library over the last 85 years, Cronin said she would be happy. “She was such a huge part of the library for so many years. I think she would be pleased that it has remained a center of community gathering,” he stated.