The Cleveland Public Library inspires awe. If not from the Main Library’s murals, original 1925 architecture and vast collections, then it’s the free meals and hangouts offered to teens, collaborative spaces for immigrants and refugees and Renaissance-inspired art. Established in February 1869, the system’s 28 branches plan to celebrate its 150th anniversary in July with a street festival, a panel on popular media and more. “People aren’t coming for books the same way they were,” says John Skrtic, director of Main Library and research. “Our public tells us, ‘We want collaborative spaces where we can do things.’ ” From maker spaces to historical treasures, here are five reasons to still love the library.
1. Legends and Oddities
The Special Collections on the Main Library’s third floor houses the world’s largest chess library, including works by Claude F. Bloodgood, the controversial chess pro who murdered his mother. These archives also feature other peculiar artifacts, such as centuries-old cuneiform engravings and an Abraham Lincoln-signed Civil War commission. “Our mission is to get the world’s great treasures,” says Skrtic. “If we see something out there that we don’t have, we will purchase it for Cleveland.”
2. Neighborhood Revival
The South Branch’s octagonal skylight once again towers over CPL patrons. Constructed in 1911, the facility closed and relocated to Clark Avenue in 2013. But in December, the Tremont structure reopened after $4.5 million in renovations. With a restored skylight, wooden shelving and fireplace, the 8,350-square-foot space adds a sound studio, computer bar and more. “People wanted to retain the building’s integrity and still make it more modern,” Skrtic says. CPL also updated nine other branches.
3. Going Digital
On the Main Library’s third floor, a 36-square-foot touch screen displays a time-lapse of the building’s 1925 construction. In a darkroom nearby, the Cleveland Digital Public Library uses specialized scanners to carefully digitize its pre-1924 research collections and historic materials from the Cleveland Orchestra, local universities and more. “Artists from as far as Akron bring canvas, prints and paintings to scan them,” says Rachel Senese, coordinator of the Cleveland Digital Public Library.
4. Moments Captured
With 1.3 million images, the Photo Collection on the fourth floor of the Louis Stokes Wing preserves bygone sights such as a 19th-century stereoscope of Public Square with a pond and fountain. “The postcards and the stereoscopes often have views that we don’t have in our regular photograph collection,” says Olivia Hoge, Center for Local and Global History manager. “These smaller collections have actually become very useful for researchers and people who are interested in Cleveland.”
5. Creative Spaces
In the TechCentral MakerSpace, board game designer Eliot Aretskin-Hariton uses laser engravers strong enough to cut marble to create massive wooden tiles for tower defense game Obelisk. With two 3-D printers, music recording equipment and graphic design software, this space in the Louis Stokes Wing puts tools for innovation in the hands of every creative library cardholder. “People were like, ‘Holy crap, how did you do that?’ ” Aretskin-Hariton says. “I’m like, ‘Go. To. The. Library.’ ”