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A Brief History of the State Librarian of Ohio Position

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Ashlee Clark, Executive Secretary to the State Librarian

Since the establishment of the State Library of Ohio 192 years ago, 36 people have served as the State Librarian. In the early years of the State Library the leadership position served as a political reward given by the Governor or Legislature. Those appointed as librarians came from varied professions but many were in the newspaper industry. The first professional librarian was not appointed as State Librarian until 1921, over a hundred years after the library’s inception. Now, the State Librarian is a professionally trained librarian appointed by the State Library Board and serving as the executive officer of the agency. Jo Budler became the State Librarian in 2004. [update: Jo Budler served 2004-2010]

Here is a look back at the evolution of the State Librarian position.

The State Library of Ohio was created by Governor Thomas Worthington in 1817 when he purchased 509 books for use by the Legislature. Governor Worthington appointed John Harper the librarian, who received $2.00 a day each day the General Assembly was in session.
 
On December 21, 1820 the responsibility of appointing a librarian was taken from the Governor when Senator John Matthews appointed John McElvain as the 2nd State Librarian. In 1823 the Legislature passed a law outlining the librarian’s term as three years with a salary of $200 per year. From 1824-1845, the librarian was primarily a custodian and the position was regarded as a political plum. The first five State Librarians were active politicians.
 
At the 1851 Constitutional Convention, the power to appoint the librarian was returned to the Governor. In 1853, the Governor’s appointment of the librarian was made subject to the consent of the Senate. The librarian’s term changed to two years and was bonded for $10,000.
 
The 53rd General Assembly in 1858 created the Board of Library Commissioners comprised of the Governor, Secretary of State, and the librarian. The librarian position was still seen as a political position and would change 17 times in the next 50 years.
 
In 1896, the Board of Library Commissioners changed to no longer include the Governor and the Secretary of State. The Board was composed of three citizens of Ohio appointed by the Governor with the consent of the Senate. Board members served six years without compensation.
 
The position of State Librarian changed twice between two men from 1896 to 1921, indicating just how political the position was. John Newman led when there was a Democratic Governor and Charles Galbreath was in charge when there was a Republican Governor.
 
In 1921 laws were enacted to make the State Library function as a division of the Department of Education with an independent Board of five members responsible for the policies of the institution and the appointment of the State Librarian, who also served as secretary of the Board. Four Board members would be appointed by the Governor and the Director of Education would serve as the Chairman of the Board and fifth member.
 
In 1927, Governor A. Victor Donahey vetoed the appropriation bill for the State Library, forcing it to close for 18 months. During this time, former State Librarian Charles Galbreath kept the travelling libraries in circulation with a few other volunteers.
 
The library opened again in 1929 and George McCormick was appointed State Librarian. McCormick was not a trained librarian and his staff was made up of political appointees. Still, McCormick worked to re-establish library service, instituting the first bookmobile service in Ohio in 1930. He appointed Mrs. Depew as chairman of the Ohioana Library. McCormick also wrote Governor Myers Cooper’s speeches.
 
Paul Noon became the second professionally trained State Librarian inheriting a disorganized library with no books having been purchased in three years and not one periodical subscription. Noon worked to restore and improve library service including $100,000 in state aid for public libraries, which prevented the closing of many libraries during the Great Depression as well as creating new ones. Additionally, the State Library sponsored a statewide WPA library project beginning in 1937.
 
In 1955 the General Assembly enacted legislation setting up the State Library Board as an agency separate and distinct from the Department of Education. Five Board members would be appointed to the State Library Board by the State Board of Education. The State Librarian position would still be appointed by the Board.
 
Walter Brahm’s tenure as State Librarian lasted for 21 years and cemented the position as one based on professional qualifications not subject to the political party of the Governor. When Brahm resigned, Ruth Hess was appointed Acting State Librarian, a position lasting three years until Joseph Schubert was hired.
 
Over the years the State Librarian position has evolved from being a custodian of a collection into a dual role of leading the State Library and administering and developing statewide programs. This evolution mirrors the change in the library’s mission and areas of service.
 

 State Librarians of Note


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James Wickes Taylor served as State Librarian from 1854-1856. He organized and bound the 1850 census, recommending all census figures be preserved in the same manner by each state. Taylor made considerable efforts to preserve important state documents and manuscripts, a precedent continued by many of his successors. He also initiated the exchange of documents between the State Librarian and other states and countries.
 
Rodney Metcalf Stimson, 1877-1879. In 1900, Stimson gave the State Library a 19,000 volume collection of books and newspapers specializing in the history of the Northwest Territory and Ohio. Before his tenure as State Librarian, Stimson was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1869 and 1871. Stimson was the first State Librarian to continue in the field of librarianship after his appointment, serving as the Librarian and Treasurer at Marietta College and then as the Librarian Emeritus.
  Charles Burleigh Galbreath, 1896-1911, 1915-1918. Galbreath established the system of traveling libraries in Ohio. He was the first president of the National Association of State Librarians in 1900. Even after his tenure as State Librarian, Galbreath continued to influence the State Library, volunteering to keep the traveling libraries in circulation when the State Library was closed in 1927. 
 
Herbert Simon Hirshberg, 1921-1927. Hirshberg was the first professionally trained librarian appointed as State Librarian and he in turn staffed the library with trained personnel. During his time as State Librarian, the State Library worked to develop county libraries, simplified library laws, worked with school libraries, and expanded traveling libraries and direct mail services. Hirshberg also helped found the Grandview Heights Library, serving as President of the Board of Trustees for three years.
  Paul Aloysius Thomas Noon, 1933-1942. Noon became the second professionally trained State Librarian and under his leadership the State Library was to become one of the premier state libraries in the country. However, the State Library Board was pressured by Governor John Bricker to dismiss Noon because he was a Democrat.
  Walter Thomas Brahm, 1942-1963. Brahm studied and worked under Herbert Hirshberg at Western Reserve University. He is currently the longest serving State Librarian with a 21 year tenure. Brahm was president of the National Association of State Libraries from 1959-1960 and was awarded the Ohio Library Association’s Librarian of the Year award in 1959.
 
Joseph Shubert, 1966 – 1977. Shubert was instrumental in the legislation for governance of the State Library, regional library legislation in 1969 and 1975, and shift in financial support of State Library operations. He encouraged automation and technology for providing library service and also inspired cooperation among all types of libraries in Ohio to develop long-range statewide goals in the Ohio Library Development Plan. Shubert’s leadership brought national recognition to Ohio for the development of the State Library and innovative programs throughout the state.
 
Richard Cheski, 1978 – 1995. With Cheski in charge, although it experienced several budget cuts, the State Library took the reigns as Ohio’s distributor of talking book machines from the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission and automated the inventory, moved to an automated card catalog, saw the expansion of the SEO Library Center and the automation consortium, and became a founding member of OhioLINK.
 
Michael Lucas, 1996 – 2004. Under Lucas’ leadership, the State Library transitioned from the Library Services and Construction Act to the Library Services and Technology Act, created a successful LSTA grant program and process, made advancements in statewide resource sharing, and moved from the Ohio Departments Building to its current facility.
LINKS
State Librarians of Ohio
 
Ohio Revised Code 3375.02 Appointment of state librarian – duties
 
SOURCES
This article relied heavily on the information supplied by Sidney Cohen’s 1961 thesis, Biographical Data on the Librarians of the Ohio State Library, 1817-1960, as well as State Library Board minutes and several annual reports of the State Library of Ohio.