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.