Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Michael Kusalaba Library

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Michael Kusalaba Library, Photo courtesy Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County. Used with permission.

Those of you who have followed this blog know that I grew up on Youngstown’s West side, and that I am a bookish sort of person. Some of this was due to a mom who was a reader and to inspiring teachers. A good part of this was also due to the hours I spent at the West Side Library as a kid. I wrote recently that when I think of going to a happy place in my mind, the most likely place I would go is a library.

One of the rites of passage in my life was getting my own library card. When I was growing up, the card was printed on cardboard, with your name typed on it by the librarian after completing a handwritten application. I felt a little more grown up when I received that card! It had to be renewed periodically, if you had no overdue books. Having overdue books felt like a sin. I wonder if my Catholic friends ever brought that up at confession!

It was a wonder, though, to walk up Mahoning Avenue the half mile or so from my home on N.Portland and go to my favorite sections, which tended to be sports, science and science fiction, and military history. It was the era of the space program and many of us were fascinated by rockets and space. I’d pick out as many books as you were allowed to check out (I think the number was six) and walk up to the check out desk, present my card, and the librarian would use this photo device and scan my library card and the book’s card, stamp the due date in the book, and I had an armload of books to read!

Later on, we learned how to use card catalogues, and how the Dewey Decimal system worked, and other reference resources so we could find information for reports and papers we needed to write for school. It was another rite of passage when you were allowed to use the “adult” part of the library.

So much for library memories. On trips back to Youngstown, we’d drive past the West Side Library, and apart from new signs, it looked the same from the outside. That is no longer the case. The old West Side Library served its last patrons on April 30, 2016 and was torn down to make way for a sparkling new, larger library on the same site.

A West side neighbor, Michael Kusalaba, and his family helped make that possible. Kusalaba grew up nearby on N. Maryland Avenue (I never knew him) and like me spent many hours at the library growing up, and throughout his life. He had a successful career with Ohio Edison and served as a trustee with the CASTLO Community Improvement Corporation. Before he passed in 2009, he established The Michael Kusalaba Fund with the Youngstown Foundation. On October 9, 2015, the Youngstown Foundation announced its largest gift to date, a $1.68 million gift for the construction of a new West Side library from The Michael Kusalaba Fund. Fittingly, it was decided that the new library would bear his name. The total project was budgeted at $3.775 million, the remainder coming from funding set aside for this purpose. The library operates debt-free.

The new library will open next week on February 14, a Valentine’s Day gift to the West side, and all of Youngstown. A formal dedication will follow on February 24. The new library is larger, at 11,514 square feet. It includes children’s, teen and adult areas, a casual Community Living Room area,  public meeting room, multimedia collections, a Technology Hub, with public access computers and other digital technology. There are self check-out and patron assistance kiosks. It also sounds like there will be an outdoor reading area and a courtyard for public events. A recent gift from the Slanina family sponsored the Community Foyer. Sponsorships of other areas of the library are still available.

The library will be open 10 am to 8 pm Monday through Thursday and 10 am to 6 pm on Friday and Saturday. It will also serve as the base for the library’s “Pop Up” mobile outreach throughout the county.

Michael Kusalaba was a leader in community development and a lover of the library. This facility, which bears his name, will hopefully inspire more new development on the West side. It will also be a place where a new generation of West side children might discover the joys of reading and discovery, and residents of all ages can gather for community events and pursue lifelong learning. I can’t wait to see it myself.

7 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Michael Kusalaba Library

  1. When I head our Westside Library was to be torn down my heart broke. In my mind that library opened the world for me. I now live on the West Coast. Talked to Youngstown friends and they informed me of the new construction. Truly pleased with the building and many thanks to the benefactors. Look forward to my next Yo visit

  2. The town where I reside in Massachusetts has just voted in funding for a new and improved Library to serve as both Library and Community center. So thrilled to see this happening both here and in Y-Town.
    I have very fond memories of Library use from my youth and my daughters younger days. She was also a reader and we headed home weekly with stacks as tall as she was. Nothing compares to the feel of a hard copy book in the hand ! Thanks for sharing……will visit one of these days when home.

  3. I too have fond memories of the West Side Library. I used to walk there from S. Dunlap Avenue or S. Bonaire Ave ( We moved from one to the other while I was in elementary school at St. Brendan’s.) The librarians were very helpful and I too was proud of my library card. I remember also using their encyclopedias to help do school reports. Happy to hear about the new library on the west side.

  4. So pleased to read about the library reopening date. I loved the library as a west side kid. My family would shop at the A&P store every Friday night and I would visit the library and take out many, many books. The library inspired my love of reading and learning!! Will visit on my next visit to Y-Town. Thanks Bob.
    Michelle Humans White

  5. I saw the West side library go through two transformations. As a young girl in the ’50’s my mother introduced me to the library, and the wonderful selection of books. It was heaven for me, a reader. It was then remodeled decades later, and in the late ’70’s as a librarian, I had the wonderful experience to serve on the staff of SOS, Special Outgoing Services. We selected books and talking books for the homebound, and those in nursing homes. Everyone participated driving one of the vans and delivering books all over Mahoning County. I met many interesting readers along the way. Retired now, I look forward to this new, modern, state- of- the – art library, which will include a “Makers Space” for 3-d printing….

  6. My mom went to the library every week. She read a book every day. When she passed we got a beautiful card from the library, saying they were going to miss seeing her in the library. Still makes me smile.
    She would love this new library.
    So many books so little time.

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