A Day in the Life of Way: Honoring Perrysburg’s Way Public Library
by Mindy Rice Withrow
It’s 1881. Clara Barton is organizing the American Red Cross. Booker T. Washington is founding the Tuskegee Institute. President James A. Garfield is assassinated, vaulting Chester A. Arthur into office. A gunfight breaks out near the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, fatally wounding Doc Holliday. And in the village of Perrysburg, Ohio, an attorney named Willard V. Way grants $15,000 to open a lending library, to be housed in the home of Miss Harriet Hulburd of 118 Louisiana.
Thirteen decades later, the whole world recognizes the American Red Cross, Tombstone is a pizza, and the nation is led by our first African American president. The Way Library has grown into a thriving cultural center with circulating collections, film showings and art exhibits, a repository of local history, a technological training center, and a community meeting place for groups of all kinds. That small collection in Miss Hulburd’s parlor has been moved, first to a sandstone building at the corner of Louisiana and Indiana in 1892, and then again in 1959 to a new facility at the same location designed by local architects Harold H. and Harold C. Munger. That building was expanded in 1981, and then again in 2001. Now the collection includes audiobooks, ebooks, and DVDs, and patrons can access their accounts via the internet. Times have changed.
Last year, in the midst of the library’s year-long celebration of their 130th anniversary, library administrators invited me—as a local author and library patron—to go behind the scenes. I was privileged to hang out “backstage” and meet the people that make our library so successful, and I invite you to meet them too. Come along with me as we explore a day in the life of Way Library.
Circulation and Cargo
On the day of my tour, I stopped first at the ever-busy circulation desk, where I was met by clerk Rose Mills and Lisa Richard, administrator of the Way Foundation. As we walked through the circulation office, they explained that two circulation clerks are always on duty at the desk, “discharging” or scanning in returned books in between checking out patrons. Last year this busy team—including my hostess Rose, Moe Ibarra, Randi Rehard, Linda Fatica, Bobbie Quinlan, Meg Atkinson, and Marjory Rice, led by Lynn Fleure, Circulation Supervisor—assisted 300,720 patrons with 694,699 circulated items. Each shift, two pages re-shelve these items and empty the overflowing book drops. The numbers average out to almost 900 patrons served each day the library is open. The circulation clerks also welcome all the new patrons, handing out over 3,000 new library cards each year.
Linda Rutz, Head of Technical Services, and Peggy Fuller catalog and process new acquisitions, preparing them for patron use. In 2011, they added 15,070 new items. But that’s not enough for the well-read patrons of Way, who requested 99,117 additional titles via interlibrary loan last year. Nearly 9,000 items are unpacked every month and then shipped out again once they are returned by patrons. One of the cargo clerks explained, as she unpacked a shipment, that these materials arrive every day in truckloads of heavy canvas bags. They are sorted downstairs and labeled for patrons before going upstairs to wait on the hold shelves. I gave her a personal thank you, since a chunk of her work comes from me—more than half of the books I checkout are shipped in for me from other Ohio libraries, and that service alone is enough to make me adore the library staff!
Most of the items in the Way’s collection are books, but they also have substantial numbers of audiobooks, periodicals, music CDs, and DVDs of movies and television series. A more recent addition is a growing collection of “PlayAways,” a single book loaded on a digital reader; plug in your own earbuds and listen while you work out, clean the house, or weed the garden.
Some patrons still stop in or call the library to reserve books, but most now use the convenient online account access to request items in the collection or available at another library, and to request renewals. There is nothing more convenient than an email notifying me that a book I requested is now on hold for me. And the self-checkout kiosk makes the process of stopping in after work to pick up a book so easy—though I always say hello to the circulation clerks behind the desk.
Karen Rothman, Reference Librarian, oversees the reference collection. She and her knowledgeable colleagues answer approximately 12,000 reference questions. They are the ones keeping a watchful eye on the public computers, where patrons log on nearly 48,000 times a year.
Each of the reference librarians has a specialty. Richard Baranowski, Local History Librarian, oversees the Local History Collection (more on that later). Wendie Kiskaddon, Outreach Librarian, manages the intergenerational programs and book buddy program. She also supervises over 100 volunteers (from junior high students on up) who assist in almost every area and activity.
The youth services department is a huge part of the Way’s daily rhythm. It expresses itself in a variety of storytimes, programs, services, and special events throughout the year, led by Pat Maust, director, with Kathy Kahl and Martha Johns. Adria Pugh, the Way’s Young Adult Librarian, leads an active group of 11 to 15 year olds.
In addition to a broad range of materials from board books to young adult novels, the youth services staff maintain the Kidz Way website and several special collections including Pick up and Go, Fun Reads, Larimer and Preschool Theme Kits.
The children’s area includes a carousel of computers loaded with educational games. When I took a few of my nieces there for a visit one Saturday, they were especially thrilled by the puppet theatre and train set that make it obvious to kids that a library is a fun place indeed. The children’s area is always supervised by one or more of the youth services librarians. They lead activities, help kids and parents locate books, teach kids how to play the computer games, and keep any good-natured roughhousing to a minimum.
A special feature of the children’s area is the collection of framed prints of children’s book illustrations, together with those books. These framed artworks are purchased from the Art Fund administered by the Way Library Foundation or are donated directly by parents and grandparents. My hosts proudly introduced me to one of the library’s recent print acquisitions, an illustration from A Fire Engine for Ruthie by Newman and Moore, placed by family and friends in honor of longtime patron Dorothy Gravett.
You’re probably already familiar with the film series and book discussion groups held every month. But in addition to these, the Way offers a number of special programs every year. Among these is the Summer Reading Program, arguably one of the library’s most important and direct contributions to education. Last year’s summer program for children, “One World, Many Stories,” presented a number of international-themed activities. A similar program for young adults featured the theme “You are Here.” Way served more than 2,300 children and young adults through those summer services, with 195 children applying for a library card. What a privilege it is for Perrysburg residents to have a library that is as active in the summer as the pool! Watch for this year’s summer program, “Dream Big,” which will kickoff in June.
Another unique feature of Way is the Local History Collection, a repository for all things unique to the history of Perrysburg and the surrounding area. Patrons have access to many resources, including the Library of Congress Veterans Oral History project, newspaper and magazine archives, local church records and family histories, National Register of Historic Places files, maps and atlases, and historic photographs. My tour guides pointed out that the librarians are available to assist patrons with genealogical research and that patrons can volunteer to participate in a videotaped oral history project.
The librarians are also involved in a major digitization project of local photos. While touring all the fun corners of the basement, I got to peek into the local history “clean” room, where materials are temporarily stored and processed in conditions to stabilize their deterioration before joining other historical records.
Computer services are one of many resources the library offers to the community. Public computers with internet access and popular software are open to all patrons. Folks come in to apply for jobs, write research papers, check email, or just surf the internet. Also available is the excellent technology lab, where Travis McAfee, Systems Administrator, holds a number of technology classes. The night before I toured his lab, Travis had taught a class on how to download audiobooks and ebooks to various digital devices.
The library also maintains a number of research databases, including: a genealogical database with census, birth, marriage, death, military, and probate records;
an Ohio legal services site, with information on bankruptcy, divorce, foreclosure, living wills and estates; legal forms and links to low-income legal help; and the U.S. Government portal to the IRS, the Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration, and Healthfinder.
Despite the number of library events scheduled for any given week, meeting rooms are used more often by community groups, especially non-profits. The Way hosts more than 500 programs per year, making it a major hub of community discussion and involvement. A popular service this time of year is the AARP’s tax prep for seniors and low income families, for which the library offers scheduling and tech support in addition to space.
With so many people in and out, the hard work of Thomas Apel, Building and Grounds Supervisor, and Robbin Click, Housekeeping, is obvious. They keep all the public and private areas of the library in top condition.
When it comes to the facilities, two things particularly stand out to me. I love the sculpture of children just outside the main entrance, because it represents to me the library’s dual commitments to the arts and to community. And there is no better place to sit and read a few chapters of the books that have garnered my attention than the windowseats around the perimeter of the building. They bring a level of comfort not typically found in shared spaces.
Library Director Janel Haas has been at the helm for just over a year now but has been with the library for twenty plus years, including five years as assistant to former director Nancy Kelley. She recalls her early years as a clerk, heeding Nancy’s encouragement to pursue education in library science. “It’s wonderful to be a servant to a community that loves their library so much,” Janel says. “And a delightful challenge to stay ahead of such savvy patrons!”
Janel works closely with Karen Brigode, Fiscal Officer, to keep the library in the black. Much of the every day communications are handled by Mary Meyer, Programming/Public Relations, and Rose Mills, Visual and Graphic Design. The staff create and update the many program brochures patrons find in the lobby, and they circulate more than 6,000 newsletters every year.
The staff also work closely with the Board, the Friends of Way Library, the Way Library Foundation, and many volunteers. My tour guides took me into the Friends room where boxes and boxes of donated books were being sorted for the next book sale. These book sales are just one of several fundraising activities staff and volunteers organize every year.
It takes a lot of hands to keep a vibrant library, and I was pleased to shake many of them in gratitude for providing such a gracious behind the scenes tour.
The Perrysburg community has seen an enormous amount of change over the last 130 years, but the Way Library has remained a source of information, support and community involvement. As a writer and reader, I am grateful to have such exceptional collections and staff right in my own backyard, especially in this era of economic challenge, when so many libraries have seen cutbacks and closings.
I encourage my fellow Perrysburgers to take action to honor the rare resource we have in the Way Library. Round up your family for a weekly library outing. Register your Kroger card. Dedicate a book in memory of a loved one. However you choose to honor our library, be sure to stop in and say thank you to the hard-working men and women who make our library a great Way to spend a day.
Mindy Rice Withrow is author of the History Lives series for young adults. She is a creative copywriter and content strategist for Hanson Inc., a digital agency, and Fiction Reviews Editor for the website TheDiscardedImage.com. Visit her on the web at MindyWithrow.com.