Library celebrates its 150th birthday

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library
The Columbus Metropolitan Library’s 150th birthday celebration featured a birthday “cake” made of books.

Little did the organizers of the first Columbus Public Library—housed in a single room in city hall in 1873—know their efforts would blossom into the multi-branch, multi-programming Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) system of today.

On March 4, CML celebrated its 150th birthday from the Main Library to the Hilltop, Canal Winchester, and beyond.

The architecturally rich Main Library, located at 96 S. Grant Avenue in Columbus, was built in 1907 through a $200,000 gift from Andrew Carnegie and expanded throughout the years, evolving into the modern complex of today with a newly renovated east plaza opened last year.

In 1928, the Columbus City Council appropriated $30,000 for the library to build its first branches—Hilltop, Parsons, Linden, and Clintonville. The South High branch opened in 1992, followed by Southeast in 2000 and Canal Winchester in 2016.

“Our Hilltop branch just reopened in 2021 after a major transformation,” said CML Library Media Specialist Ben Zenitsky.

Today there are 22 branches, with the newest one in Gahanna opening on March 4. In 1950, bookmobile services started throughout the central Ohio area and the Martin Luther King branch was the first in the nation in 1968 to be named after the civil rights leader.
Computers were first put into service in 1977 and First Lady Barbara Bush helped dedicate a Main Library expansion in 1991. The library system stopped charging fines for overdue books and materials in 2017 to remove access barriers.

“We’re planning to build a new standalone library branch at 123 Groveport Road,” said Zenitsky. “We held a virtual community meeting with Canal Winchester residents on Jan. 10 to get a better sense of what they’d like to see in their new branch. Now we’re working closely with the architects to design a 21st century library tailor-made for Canal Winchester – one we’re confident will serve its residents for decades to come. We hope to cut the ribbon in 2025.”

The 150 year celebration did not begin and end on March 4. It continues throughout the year at the Main Library and all its branches, along with Partner Days with free or discounted admission to events, museums and musical events.

The Sesquicentennial Passport program enables customers of all ages to pick up a booklet at any CML location and complete activities around the city to earn stamps and prizes.

A new Columbus Book Festival takes place at the Main Library and Topiary Park July 15-16 and features national and local authors, vendors and programs.

CML also offers a Culture Pass program where cardholders can check out passes for admission to Columbus Clippers Sunday games, Museum of Art, Ballet Met, Columbus Children’s Theatre, Symphony Masterworks performances, Franklin Park Conservatory, Ohio History Center and Ohio Village, and the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.

The library provides K-12 students with free homework help through a live chat feature on its website, CML staff members are available to directly respond to students’ questions and refer them to many free resources. The digital service is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m.

“From our humble beginnings in one room to the profound gift from Andrew Carnegie to build the main library, from civic support that formed our first branches to community support that builds 21st century libraries, we owe much of our present to the work of so many in our past,” said CML CEO Patrick Losinski. “Today we stand on the shoulders of dedicated staff and community members who have come before us—trailblazers who have forged pathways for us to become the library we are today, and the library we aspire to be in the future.”

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