A library existed in Ravenna as early as 1854. In that year, the Library Association of Ravenna established a private subscription library. The drawback was that it was only available to members who paid a large annual fee. A subscription library existed in Ravenna through the 1880's. The shortcomings of the subscription library were addressed in an anonymous letter to the editor in 1886.
The need for a library that was free and open to the public was demonstrated at a public meeting in 1895. The meeting was well attended and generated much support. D. M. Clewell, a local Ravenna merchant who attended the meeting, said that a library and reading room would greatly benefit all ages and classes of the people. The sentiment in favor of it, he said, was all settled. He did not believe anyone could be found who would think unfavorably of the plan. The only question was "how to get at it."
In 1903, philanthropist and industrialist Andrew Carnegie offered Ravenna a gift of $10,000 to start a new library, as long as the then village would help support the cause. The town council declined his offer, and it would be a dozen years before the library project got off the ground.
On January 4th, 1915, the Tuesday Club of Ravenna held a meeting and suggested the creation of a Portage County Library. A "Book Shower" for individuals wishing to donate books was held on Saturday, January 16th, 1915. The library opened to the public on Monday, January 25th, 1915, in a rented room. The original collection contained 750 books. The Portage County Library Association was incorporated March 2nd, 1915, with the help of the Tuesday Club of Ravenna. They served as volunteer librarians until the first librarian was hired, at a salary of $10 per month. By the end of the year the collection contained 2,500 books.
In the early days the library occupied many locations in downtown Ravenna. The first library was established in the Alcorn property at the corner of W. Main and Meridian Streets- the current location of Chase Bank. On September 1st, 1916, the library moved into a room of the Second National Bank at the corner of Main and N. Chestnut Street, and later was located on West Main Street’s Dietrich Block and in a basement room at the former City Hall on Spruce Street.
|This sketch shows the house that stood on the lot before Reed Memorial Library was built. Many details of the library structure were taken from this home, which was originally owned by the Riddle family. The home was moved to a new location in Ravenna.|
A permanent location for the library was needed. In 1921, Judge Cornelius Reed offered $25,000 for a new building if a site could be found. The H.W. Riddle heirs agreed to sell the present site of the library if a building could be constructed within two years. They donated one half of the price of the site and 22 members of the community agreed to pay the rest. Clubs and individuals met the rest of the construction expenses. A competition was held for the building design. The winner of the contest was Paul L. Wood, an architecture student at Ohio State University. His distinctive design was modified by Engineer J.S. Mallette and accepted by the building committee. The Ravenna Public Library was dedicated June 2nd, 1924 as a school district public library. It severed all its ties with 16 county branches and kept only the branch at the local high school.
The library has always been a busy place. During the depression, the staff survived salary cuts, but the library was so busy, additional staff had to be hired. Volunteers helped out during World War II because of staff and money shortages. The first summer reading club for children was held in 1944. In 1949, the library began to lend phonograph records. Also in 1949, the library began supplying materials for a book cart at Robinson Memorial Hospital, which was later staffed by hospital volunteers.
By 1947 the library had outgrown its facilities so the board began a fund raising campaign. It wasn't until 1954 when Mae Reed Waller, the daughter of Judge Cornelius Reed, gave $100,000 to the campaign, that the library was able to begin building. The building doubled in size and was renamed Reed Memorial Library when it was dedicated in 1956.
|Library after completion of 1956 addition.|
In the early 70's, the Children's Room added story times, movie shows and crafts. Filmstrips, 8mm, and 16mm films were added. Homebound delivery services to the elderly and disabled began in 1973. Large print books were added at this time. Book sales began in 1974. At first, they were run by the library with the help of retired senior volunteers.
Space again was at a premium. When Mrs. Mae Reed Waller passed away in 1961, she named the library as one of the beneficiaries of her estate. With the proceeds from her estate trust, gifts from the community in excess of $80,000, and several small endowments, the library began building for the third time in October 1978. The new construction added to the north and east sides of the building and featured an outdoor amphitheater. This addition was dedicated November 18, 1979.
|"After a Spring Trip to the Library" by Bill Lewis shows how the building looked after the 1979 addition.|
The library began public screenings of movies in 1981, and began loaning VHS tapes in 1986. In 1985, the library received $190,500 from the Jane Jenkins Estate. As soon as the money became available to the library, the trustees purchased the Marathon Gas Station at 307 E Main for parking. With the remaining funds and the Haymaker Trust, the library was able to completely remodel the gas station into a meeting facility resembling a carriage house. The Jenkins Building was dedicated June 14, 1987.
Library automation began in 1988. Security was added in 1989, initially staffed by off-duty police officers. Barcoding library materials began in 1990. The library began publishing a newsletter in 1996 with the help of Record Courier staff. Internet access for the public was first offered in 1997. In 1999 Ravenna celebrated its Bicentennial. The current Friends of the library group was organized February 6, 2000.
By 2001, the growing collection of books and materials necessitated another addition. The official groundbreaking ceremony to signal the start of the renovations and improvements took place on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004 at 6:00 p.m.
Left to right: Eric Hummel (General Contractor), Phyllis Cettomai (Library Director), Kevin Poland (Mayor of Ravenna), Lou Dudek (Library Board Member), Kevin Dreyfus-Wells (Architect), Paul Jones (State Representative), Bob Cherry (Township Trustee), Jim Wichman (President of Friends of the Library)
Library Board Members left to right: Chuck Matuk, Lou Dudek, Dorothy Poland, Frank Cimino, Tom Griffiths, Ann Polichene, Dee Chechak
While construction took place, the library was temporarily located at 705 Oakwood Street, in the former Ohio Department of Transportation building.
A one story addition designed by architect Duane VanDyke was connected to the east side of the building, while the original 1924 structure and the 1956 and 1979 additions were refurbished and rehabilitated. This addition expanded the amount of floor space from 13,600 to nearly 35,000 square feet. A 98 car parking lot was added, as well as a drive-up window. A meeting room that seats up to 150 people was added on the lower level, and the number of public computers was tripled.
The $7.5 million project was made possible by a $4.3 million levy approved by city and township voters on May 6, 2003. Donations, savings, and bequests added $2.5 million to the construction fund. This major renovation project was completed January 21st, 2006. Reed Memorial Library received the Raven award from the Ravenna Area Chamber of Commerce for New Construction and Historic Preservation for this project.
In 2011, Ravenna voters approved a 1.5 mil, 5 year operating levy. The local funding is important because library funding is at about the same level as it was in 1996, with a large cut in state funding in recent years.
Reed Memorial Library serves a population of over 20,000 people (Ravenna City and Township) and is in the top ten percent of highest rated libraries nationwide according to Library Journal. The library owns over 130,000 items, including books, movies, audiobooks, and music, and circulates over 350,000 items annually.
Head Librarians from 1916 to present have been: Sarah Lawrence (1916-1924), Mary Jane Johnston (1924-1926), Blanche Watts (1926-1927), Lucy Alverson (1927-1937), Charlotte Bilkey (1937-1941), Dorothy Foutts (1941-1944), Estrilla Daniels (1944-1974), Phyllis Cettomai (1974-2007), Cass Owens (2007- 2015), Brian Hare (2015-Present).