Barberton was founded in 1891. It grew quickly as people were attracted to the new homes, schools, and jobs in the many new factories in town. By 1898, nearly four thousand people lived in Barberton, and there was a definite need for a community center or a place for young people to socialize in a safe environment. To meet this need, a group of women, led by Minnie Cassell Johnston, decided to rent a room on Second Street and equip it for a girls’ club. The room included chairs, tables, sewing machine, library, and restroom. The ladies collected donations of books and magazines to include in their clubroom and asked for monetary contributions to cover the expenses of the rent, equipment, and upkeep.
Mrs. Johnston approached O.C. Barber, the town founder, for a donation, and he was greatly
interested in the proposal. However, he had even larger plans than a small girls’ club. He believed the citizens of Barberton would greatly benefit from a public library. In February 1899, he offered to build a library for the town, and donate $1,000 for the equipment of the library, if the citizens of Barberton could raise $1,000 toward the project.
The women went straight to work to raise the money. It was a difficult task, and they often
encountered citizens who expressed doubt about the project. But, the women were not discouraged, and many people and businesses responded generously. Eventually, they collected nearly $1,500 in subscriptions and $500 in cash, which they deposited in the Barberton Savings Bank in the name of “The Barberton Library."
When Mrs. Johnston reported her success to Mr. Barber, he informed her that he was about to leave for an extended trip to Europe, so plans for the library building would have to wait for his return. After Barber returned, and a considerable amount of time passed with no mention of the library, the women informed Mr. Barber that some of the people who had donated cash toward the project had grown impatient and had asked to have their money returned.
Mr. Barber was involved in many other business projects and was too busy to begin plans for the construction of a new library building. Instead, in the summer of 1902, he rented a large room on the second floor of the Whigam-Schubert building on the southeast corner of Fourth Street and Tuscarawas Avenue. It was to be used as a temporary library until the actual building could be constructed. The library was named the Barber Public Library, in honor of its principal donor.
In addition to renting the space, Barber purchased furniture, shelves, and books for the Library. He also hired his personal friend, Mary Seward Taplin, as the first Librarian. Mrs. Taplin had previously been employed in the book department of the M. O’Neil & Company store in Akron, and Barber felt she possessed a comprehensive acquaintance with the books necessary to succeed in a city library. Barber also outfitted a suite of rooms to house the librarian, so she could live in the same building as the Library.
The Barber Public Library was dedicated to the citizens of Barberton on Friday, July 18, 1902. The Library rooms were open for the public to peruse. About 2,000 volumes were arranged on elegant bookshelves around the walls and two cases were located in the middle of the room.
At the dedication, Mr. Barber made a speech and announced that one day he would give the City a Library building. He also stated if he should pass away, his heirs would be obligated to the Library. He said, “It gives me great pleasure to be with you tonight, and to be able to present to the city of Barberton a nucleus of what I hope will grow to be a great and important Library, great in more sense than one, as I hope to increase the number of its volumes from time to time to meet the requirements of what you are, a thinking and reading people, as you indicate by your presence here tonight.”
Barber had agreed to pay the initial costs to set up the temporary library, but he wanted the city to pay for the ongoing operating costs of rent and the salary for the Librarian. In October 1902, the Barberton City Council passed an ordinance to allow the citizens of Barberton to vote on the November ballot on the issue of the sale of bonds to raise the money to operate the Library. The November 1902 Library bond issue was defeated. Charles Ammerman, president of the Library board, appealed to the City Council to take action to get the institution on its feet. He asked Council to hold a special election on the matter of issuing bonds to pay for the support of the Library. Ammerman also spoke of the advantages of the Library to a city like Barberton, and the “good effects it would have on the young folks of the city, if they could be induced to spend their evenings at the Library, instead of parading the streets.” Council agreed to hold a special election in early December 1902.
A special election was held in early December 1902 to determine if the City would issue $3,500 in bonds to open and support the Library. The issue was defeated by 102 votes. As a result of this vote, the city had a fully outfitted library on the second floor of the Whigam-Schubert building in downtown Barberton, but could not open it to the public. Charles Ammerman expressed his frustration in an Akron Beacon Journal article when he stated: “I am surprised and disappointed at the action the people have taken. Why they defeated the measure is more than I can say. The Library is a good thing for the city and is ready to be opened. All we needed was the guarantee that the expenses would be paid. The Board is now at its wits’ end and does not know what steps it can take to open the Library to the public.”
Due to a lack of any records of the events of the next few months from December 1902 through the early spring of 1903, we are not aware of what actions transpired to alter the course of events; however, on April 7, 1903, the Barber Public Library opened to the public. The Library collection included 2,400 volumes donated by O.C. Barber, and an additional 1,000 volumes purchased by the City and donated by friends. The collection included history, biography, travel, poetry, reference books, classical, and popular fiction, and a selection of children’s books. The Library also subscribed to periodicals and newspapers suited to the tastes and requests of the community.
Mary Taplin was hired as the first Librarian. Her salary in 1905 was $400 per year, paid in monthly allocations of $33.33. Mrs. Taplin was the only Library employee, so she had the additional responsibility of janitorial chores. To compensate her for keeping the room clean and presentable, she received an additional $75 per year.
According to the 1903 pamphlet of Library rules and regulations, the Library was open every weekday from 1:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. from September to June. During the summer months, it was open every weekday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
In 1903, any resident of Barberton over the age of ten, could apply for a Library card; however, if the Librarian did not know the resident personally, she required a written letter from a “responsible citizen” vouching for the character of the patron. If the Librarian felt it was necessary, she could require a patron to make a special monetary deposit before checking out Library items. The borrowing period was two weeks, and each user could only check out one book at a time. A fine of two cents per day was imposed for keeping a book longer than its due date. Fines were also imposed for turning down leaves, marking, or in any way injuring or defacing a book, at the discretion of the Librarian. Noise, loud conversation, and the use of tobacco were strictly prohibited in all rooms of the Library.
In the early years, the Barber Public Library was under the jurisdiction of the City Council, who was financially responsible for the upkeep of the Library. By the early 1920s, the Library outgrew the rented rooms on the second floor of the Whigam-Schubert building. O.C. Barber died in 1920, and despite his promise, his final will made no stipulation for the construction of a library building. In 1922, in order to avoid paying rent on a larger facility for the Library, City Council decided to move the Library to several rooms in the former Barberton Inn Annex, which had recently been converted into the new City Hall.
The Library continued to grow, and the increasing number of books quickly resulted in an overly crowded condition in the City building. Therefore, in July 1924, the Library Board of Trustees began to negotiate a five-year lease with the Masonic Temple Company for the use of the ground floor of the Masonic Temple. The Library moved into the Masonic Temple in May 1925.
In 1925, City council requested the Barberton Board of Education take over the management and control of the Barber Public Library. The school Board accepted the proposal and selected a committee to appoint a seven-member Library Board. The Board of Education also appropriated $7,500 for the maintenance of the Library for 1925.
The Great Depression brought financial difficulties to the Barber Public Library during the 1930s. In 1931, the budget was almost $2,000 lower than in 1930. The salaries of the Librarian, staff, and Board Treasurer were cut by ten percent and there were no funds for the purchase of new books. An article in the Barberton Herald in May 1931, announced a plea for donations of used books from private individuals. Throughout the 1930s, the Library budget remained tight, and the Library went three years without receiving any new books.
For many years, the Library contributed a regular column to the Barberton Herald, highlighting the newest books available at the Library. During the World War II years, these columns focused on the new war-related books at the Library, reflecting the Library’s goal to provide books and materials on current and popular topics. The Library also sponsored a program to collect books to be sent to servicemen overseas during the war. In 1942, the Library collected and sent 1,600 books.
On March 3, 1947, the Barber Public Library officially changed its name to the Barberton Public Library by unanimous vote. The exact reason for the name change was undocumented; however, many believe it was the Library’s way of expressing disappointment in Barber for never following through on his promise to build the town a building for its Library.
In the 1950s, the Barberton Public Library remained in the basement of the Masonic Temple. Barberton was the only city of its size in Ohio without its own public library building. In 1955, the Library Board purchased property facing Lake Anna. They paid $24,000 for a house and lot at 606 West Park Avenue (on the corner of Fifth Street NW) and $40,000 for two homes and a lot at 600 West Park Avenue. These purchases totaled a 108 foot by 130 foot tract of land, encompassing half of the block between Fifth Street NW and Sixth Street NW on West Park Avenue.
Roger Buzzard of Barberton was chosen as the architect for the new Library building, and the Ernest Alessio Construction Company was chosen to build it. The construction of the building was delayed due to a steel strike; however, building progressed quickly and was completed by October 1957. All of the materials in the Library collection had to be hand carried from the Masonic Temple across Fifth Street NW to the new building. The move began on October 16, 1957. It took the Library staff members, assisted by six firemen, six days working from dawn to dusk to transfer the 40,000 books.
The dedication and formal opening of the new $285,000 Library building took place on Saturday, November 2, 1957. The new three-floor, brightly lit, air conditioned building was a pleasant change from the basement quarters of the Masonic Temple. The new Library was financed from surplus intangible county taxes, not from property taxes.
Local area residents enjoyed the Barberton Public Library building for many years, but by the
mid-1980s, the Library collection had grown to the point that the building needed a larger and more modern facility. In May 1984, Barberton residents successfully passed a $2.2 million bond issue to remodel and expand the Library. The Library owned the remaining houses on the West Park Avenue block between Fifth Street NW and Sixth Street NW. As a part of the renovation process, these houses were demolished for a twenty-two space parking lot on the corner of West Park Avenue and Sixth Street NW.
The official groundbreaking ceremony for the new addition and remodeling took place on Monday, December 3, 1984. Construction began in May 1985, and by November 1985, the familiar front façade of the Library was covered by its new brick face. The construction was completed by the summer of 1986, and a Rededication and Open House took place on September 7, 1986.
In 2002, the Library entered a partnership with Barberton Citizens Hospital for a Library branch to be located on the first floor of the hospital. This branch offers a wide range of consumer health information, internet access, audiobooks, and videos. The Library joined the CLEVNET consortium in 2009, and through it, Barberton Library cardholders have access to more than 12 million items, in addition to the local collection.
2004 was the first time that Barberton Public Library asked the community for local funding, due to large decreases in the state's Library and Local Government Support Fund. On Nov. 2, 2004, Issue 89,a 1.3 mill five-year property tax levy, was defeated by 312 votes. However, on November 8, 2005, a 1.37 mill five-year property tax for current operating expenses did pass in Barberton by 236 votes. The levy was renewed in 2010 and renewed with increase 2015. The 1.95 mill levy was renewed in 2020, with 61% of voters approving the levy.
The Library purchased the nearby Jacobs building in 2010. Following a feasibility study and several unsuccessful attempts to secure grants to renovate the building, the Board of Trustees decided to demolish the building to increase parking and to address needs in the main building. During the 2014 demolition, the name and date stone and the back garage door were removed and donated to the Barberton Historical Society. The next year, Jenco Construction was contracted to reconstruct the mezzanine with two quiet study rooms. The rooms opened to the public in November 2015.
After many years of service, the Library again needed to grow and adapt to the needs of Library users. In early 2016, a construction project designed by Matthew Ross, architect, began. Millstone Management Group was the general contractor and RFC Construction acted as the owner's agent. The project included enlarging the lobby to include the customer service desk, a business center with copier and fax machine, and more tables and chairs for meeting or studying. The Local History Room was moved from the lower level to the main floor of the Library, enabling it to be open when the Library was open. A drive-up book drop was also added to the west side of the building. An open house and rededication ceremony were held on November 13, 2016.