Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Libraries

Do you remember your first trip to the library? Were you, like me, utterly amazed at the shelves and shelves of books? Were you a little intimidated by the librarians who would “shush” you if you talked in the library? (I don’t think they do this as much any more in our day of kinder and gentler libraries.) Those are some of the early memories I have of going to the library as a boy growing up in Youngstown.

Some of you may have noticed that when I’m not writing about Youngstown, I write a good bit about books–books I’ve read and about reading and literacy.  I have to say that I owe my love for books and this value of literacy, at least in part, to the libraries in Youngstown.

Main Library from Public Library of Youngstown website:

Main Library from Public Library of Youngstown website:

My first memory of the Youngstown Library was of my father taking me to the main library on Saturday mornings. As a child, you were only allowed to go to the children and youth section of the library in the lower level. How I longed to be old enough to explore the stacks upstairs!

Later on, I got a library card of my own. Back then, they had a system that I believe involved photographing the card along with the cards of the books you were withdrawing–long before the days of barcodes! Eventually, most of my trips to the library were to the West Side branch on Mahoning Avenue. I liked going during the summer to get an armful of books to read on hot summer days (when I wasn’t at the pool!). I had fun just exploring the different sections–science, sports, and war history were among my favorites. I’d usually check out the maximum and come back a week later.

West Side Library--Youngstown Ohio from Public Library of Youngstown website:

West Side Library from Public Library of Youngstown website:

In high school, I would visit the library for papers I would have to write. Our school librarians introduced us to the card catalogue, and the Dewey Decimal System, and The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, these green covered journals where you could look for magazine articles by topic, listed in columns and columns of tiny print. (What is amazing is that I can now access all these things, and either read online or reserve materials and even drive through and pick them up!)

Of course as a college student, I spent a good deal of time in Maag Library at Youngstown State. During an honors seminar in my sophomore year when I wrote a long research paper, I discovered that reference librarians could be your friend in helping you find material not only at your own library but at others. They were great–and I think often under-appreciated!

Maag Library (c) Robert C Trube

Maag Library (c) Robert C Trube

It seems that libraries are a common thread in my family. My wife worked at the Brownlee Woods and Main Libraries during high school and part of college. My son’s first job during high school was shelving books at our local library in Columbus. And libraries in Youngstown have figured even in our adult life. We celebrated a 50th birthday of a good friend at the Austintown Library. We donated books from my parents home to the Poland Library book sale. I’ve even met colleagues from Pittsburgh at the Poland Library a couple times in conjunction with Youngstown visits and enjoyed lunch at the Kravitz Deli.

A bit of history about the Public Library of Youngstown (most of this I found in A Heritage to Share, a birthday gift from my son who found a copy in a used bookstore in Columbus). The Youngstown Library was founded in 1880 by Reuben McMillan, then superintendent of the Youngstown Public schools. Like many libraries around the country, it received major funding from Andrew Carnegie, but unlike many others, bore McMillan’s name, a tribute to his leadership in the formation of the library. I came across this set of facts from the Depression era that signified the importance of the libraries to working class Youngstown:

Poland Library (c) Robert C Trube

Poland Library (c) Robert C Trube

“The Reuben McMillan Library reflected the times when it reported a 20% increase in the circulation of fiction, and a 40% increase in non-fiction circulation. The greatest demand in non-fiction was for books and manuals concerning repairs of furniture and household appliances, automobiles, and other practical household procedures, and books concerning business and science. The library reported a total circulation in excess of 1 million books.”

Then as now, libraries offered the economically disadvantaged the resources to sustain themselves through do-it-yourself projects as well as the chance to self-educate to improve one’s opportunities. Libraries provided books for both educational and pleasure purposes for children at no cost to cash-strapped families.

I’m thankful for the educational and civic leadership that created the library system in Youngstown. It encourages me to see that libraries still are an important part of the Youngstown community. Children’s programs, access to the internet, and promotion of both literacy and technological knowledge are critical elements to educating the next generation of our children for the new economy in front of us.

What are your memories of trips to the library? How do you use libraries today?


6 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Libraries

  1. Sure do remember what seemed to be the most gigantic building I’d ever been in, the Youngstown Main Branch of the Library on Wick Avenue… in Smoky Hollow afforded me the opportunity to walk there almost whenever I wanted….after all, what parent would say “no, you can’t go to the library” when their child asked? That library was so impressive and I can still smell the smell as though I’m standing there. That place, too, though some years later from having to ask….was where I sat on a wooden bench in front of a stack and pulled the Course Catalog, green to be exact, for the College of Pharmacy at THE Ohio State University, flipped through it, took it home and read it and made the decision to tell, yes, tell my dad that that was where I was going to go to school after graduating high school. Not sure how we were going to pull that off, exactly, but many, many college aid forms later, a few classic rants from my dad, like “how the hell do you expect me to do this” and “goddangit to hell Ammmrie, get my glasses” followed by their tireless work and support WE did it! It all started, years before “at the library!” Thanks for pulling that memory out of me.

    • Guy, thanks for sharing these great memories. It is amazing how many have commented about the smell of the books. You are right–as a kid the main library seemed huge! Glad the post reminded you of all the great things you shared.

  2. I loved the Brownlee Woods library. It was a refuge and an escape to other worlds. I would walk through the doors and take a big whiff of the scent of books and feel immediately at peace. Coming from a he where my father was a heavy smoker and a very loud and boisterous speaker, the library was a welcome refuge.

    • Susan, it is amazing how many have shared things like this, including the smell of the books. Libraries could be places of wonder–I had not thought of them as places of refuge. Thank you for sharing your memories! Bob

  3. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Review Part Two « Bob on Books

  4. My first library was also the Main…my mom went to college at Youngstown University (not state yet) to get a teaching degree after my dad died at age 42 leaving her with two youngs kids. When I was old enough she would take me downtown with her and I would go to the children’s room at the library while she was in class. Loved the hours I spent there and when she came to get me she would check the books out on her card so I could get more than the limit on a children’s card!

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