Two Hundred Years of Service: The State Library of Ohio

Ohio state officials using the State Library of Ohio ca. 1850, via Ohio Memory.

Two hundred years ago, the United States was forty-one years old, and much of the territory that comprises our nation was still held by other countries. Ohio was just fourteen, and Columbus had only been our state capital for a year, the capital having been previously located in Chillicothe and Zanesville. Many of our state government agencies were either in their infancies or not yet formed. It was in this year that the State Library of Ohio was established, making 2017 our bicentennial year.

Bookmobile operated by the State Library visiting rural parts of southeastern Ohio, seen here in Noble County around 1966. Via Ohio Memory.

Governor Thomas Worthington purchased the first collection of 509 books for the State Library from the Philadelphia bookseller Matthew Carey, using money from a contingency fund provided by the Ohio General Assembly in 1816. In early 1817, the General Assembly issued a resolution, giving their thanks to the Governor “for his attention in commencing a state Library for the use of the members.”

By the end of the 19th century, the library had expanded access to all Ohioans, adding the Traveling Library in 1896 in order to serve those who were far from Columbus. Twenty-five to thirty books were packed into crates built by students at the School for the Deaf and then were carried to granges, reading clubs, schools, and other organizations with members who could not easily access the holdings of the State Library. The Traveling Library provided books to thousands of Ohioans until the program ceased in 1972.

Myriad programs have been established since 1896, and countless Ohioans have utilized those services. The State Library continues to provide remote access to materials via inter-library loan and electronic resources. Through the administration of federal grant funds, through training, and through additional services, we help make it possible for Ohio’s cultural heritage organizations to provide services to Ohio’s varying communities. Some of what we do today would have been unimaginable to State Library staff 200 years ago, but now, like then, we base our services on the needs of our constituents, and we look forward to carrying on in that tradition for another 200 years, or more.

Accession book created by Thomas Harper, the first state librarian, in 1817. Via Ohio Memory.

On Ohio Memory, you can view a select number of items related to the State Library’s history. We have, for example, weather journals that were kept by three separate State Librarians in the 19th-century. A portion of our first accession register (think library catalog, or inventory of titles), which was begun on December 25, 1817, by our first State Librarian, Jonathan Harper, can be viewed here as well.

We’ve also archived our special online exhibit, developed in celebration of our bicentennial, in an effort to provide access to it well into the future; the resolution mentioned above can be found there. Archiving the websites of government agencies in Ohio Memory has been one of our standard practices for the past few years, since government websites are themselves documents produced by government agencies and are the kinds of information sources that have long been one of our primary focuses. This archived version is recent as of this writing, but for an updated view you can visit the exhibit at bicentennial.library.ohio.gov (this link will take you to a site separate from Ohio Memory).

Finally, you can read the book we have published in celebration of our bicentennial, which is loaded with photographs and contains a far more comprehensive history than what can easily be shared in a blog format. We hope you enjoy it!


Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital Initiatives Librarian at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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