A History of the Martins Ferry Public Library System
Public library service began in Martins Ferry, Ohio, in October of 1930, after three years of planning and organizing. In 1927 the Martins Ferry Public Library was established as a school district public library. As such, the Martins Ferry City School District is the library’s taxing authority (ORC 3375.17 and ORC 3375.43), and has the authority to appoint trustees to the Martins Ferry Public Library Board (ORC 3375.15). The leaders who planned and gathered resources and materials became the first Board of Trustees of the Martins Ferry Public Library. These early library advocates included Board presidents S.T. Kerr, Martha Carlile and Board secretary Sarah Dixon May.
The first location was a storefront at Fifth and Walnut Streets, a building from which during more recent years pizzas were dispensed. This and two successively larger storefront locations served as the library until 1968, when the current building was funded through a bond issue. During these years extension services in the form of branch libraries and bookmobiles were provided by the Martins Ferry Board. Branches were opened in Bethesda in 1936; Shadyside, Neffs and Flushing in 1937; St. Clairsville (since 1942 an independent library) in 1938; and Bridgeport in 1939. The last branch to be opened was Powhatan Point, in 1950. The Neffs Branch closed in 2002.
Branch development and service to the rural portions of Belmont County was of major importance to the Board and library directors from the beginning. In furtherance of this, the State Library Board in the late 1930s designated the Martins Ferry Public Library to be the County Extension Center Library for Belmont County. This recognition of responsibility for service to the county in turn led to the establishment of county-wide bookmobile service in 1938. Beginning with a single vehicle, and then expanding to two full-time bookmobiles, and back to one when fuel prices soared in the mid 1970s, the Martins Ferry/Belmont County bookmobile has served rural areas and small villages and hamlets in Belmont County continuously since 1938. The Bookmobile was discontinued in 2012 due to reduced funding. Three days a month outreach service is offered to those patrons who lack other options of using library services.
In 1967 a federal Library Services and Construction Act grant was awarded to the Martins Ferry Public Library for the construction of a new main building, augmented by a bond issue passed the previous year by voters in the Martins Ferry School District. On property acquired earlier, the present main library building was constructed in 1967-68. Opened for service on May 7, 1968, the building contains 31,000 sq. ft. of public and staff space and serves as a public library for the city and county, and a central resource library for five branch libraries.
All five branch libraries have moved into larger and more serviceable quarters over the years, but three dramatic improvements in branch service have occurred. In March of 1985, the Flushing Branch Library became the Victoria Read Public Library, a transformation marked by the opening of a new 4,500 sq. ft. building funded through a major private donation, numerous smaller donations and another LSCA Title II grant. The opportunity provided by this increased extension capability and by the nearly concurrent beginning of improved funding for libraries like Martins Ferry, through the Library and Local Government Support Fund (LLGSF) in 1986, marked a visible renewal and reaffirmation of the county extension commitment of this library. Secondly, in 1991 our Shadyside Branch, which had long shared facilities with the Shadyside School Library, moved to a full-service, 7,400 sq. ft. building constructed with an anonymous donation, (later to be revealed as Mr. Russell), community giving, and yet another LSCA Title II grant. This project enabled the Shadyside Branch to increase staff by 300% and hours of operation from 30 to 60 per week.
November 1st, 2000 marked the date of the opening of the new Bridgeport Branch Library. This was made possible by local donations, community fund-raising, a generous donation from Mr. Louis Bingel, and the last LSCA Title II grant given by the State Library of Ohio. This branch contains 4,200 square feet and increased staff by over 300% and hours of operation from 30 to 60 hours per week. The official grand opening was held November 12th and the State Librarian spoke at this occasion.
In addition to major efforts at collection development, made possible by the LLGSF, the Martins Ferry Public Library system has given increased attention to the automation of library and information resources. Beginning with CD ROM technology in 1985, the library has automated its bookkeeping and accounting procedures, its catalog and circulation systems through a regional SirsiDynix-based system, and was one of the first Ohio libraries to provide full public access to the Internet through the Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN). Automation has moved from main library to branches, and all locations have upgraded to Symphony offered by SirsiDynix in June 2012. We are part of the SEO Library Center located in Caldwell, Ohio. SEO supports a consortium of 92 library systems at over 220 physical locations throughout 47 counties across Ohio using the OPLIN network. The centralized shared catalog database includes over 8 million items with a patron database of over 930,000 borrowers.
Martins Ferry librarians see their future, as well as that of other Ohio public libraries, closely tied to cooperative efforts among libraries and skilled use of new and old technologies. According to John Storck, retired Director of the Martins Ferry Public Library, “Libraries must be the public’s access to information superhighways, roadways, country roads and any other sources of useful information. Our mission, and the need for our services, can only grow.” Yvonne O. Myers became director September 1, 2000 and wants to continue the progress made with the Martins Ferry Library System in Belmont County. Despite a shrinking population, residents demand more services from the public library to enhance their quality of life in the rust belt.
In 2001 the library purchased a building on Route 7 in Powhatan Point to be used for that branch. The building was renovated and opened in 2002. In 2005, the Bethesda American Legion Building was offered to the Martins Ferry Public Library to be used as the new Bethesda Library Branch. The library received a grant through ConnectOhio in 2010 and was able to create a computer lab with 16 laptops to teach various classes. The Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley awarded a grant to the library in 2012 to teach a variety of classes beyond the beginning ones offered through ConnectOhio. Unfortunately, decreases in library funding have caused problems for the library system. Staffing and hours of service have been decreased. Collection development has been hampered due to an inadequate budget for library materials. The library is unable to plan effectively due to lack of funding and an uncertain future. Currently funding is provided by the PLF or Public Library Fund, and is 1.66% of the General Revenue Fund.
During 2012, Senate Bill 321 passed which eliminated County Extension Libraries. We were advised to notify the State Library of Ohio to change our service area and taxing boundaries, and become a County District Library to include all our branches scattered through the county. The State Library of Ohio is approving boundaries and service areas for libraries throughout the state through December 2014. This process intends to eliminate double taxation between overlapping library districts. The library did submit a resolution to the State Library of Ohio and became the Belmont County District Library, effective July 25, 2013. This change meant that the taxing authority changed from the Martins Ferry School District to the Board of County Commissioners in Belmont County. Four board members would be appointed by the County Commissioners and three by the Common Pleas Court Judges.
The Belmont County District Library ran a successful one-mill levy in November 2013. The main library opened February 2014 with restored hours. On March 1, 2014, the branches restored hours. More materials were purchased for all locations, and a new color copier was installed at each location. Effective in July 2015, funding for the Public Library Fund has been increased to 1.7% of the General Revenue Fund.