I remember spending countless summer breaks riding my bike down North Hawkins St. to Alton Drive where the back entrance to Ayers Branch Library was located. I remember the old house and the display rack where I’d spend hours upon hours deciding how many Boxcar Children and Baby Sitter’s Club books I could read in the two-week checkout period.
And I remember being just a tiny bit sad when the library moved to its new location on 1720 Shatto Avenue and changed its name to Northwest Akron Branch Library. It wasn’t as cozy as the house I had grown to call my second home, but it was impressive, with its large quantity of books that my growing mind could conquer.
It has been 10 years since this move, but this year also marks the 80th anniversary of the branch opening, and to celebrate the Northwest Akron Branch will throw a party Aug. 11 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is free and includes food, drinks and activities for everyone to enjoy and is co-sponsored by the Northwest Family Recreation Center.
“I knew this was our 10th anniversary, and as I was digging through our archives, I also noticed it was the 80th anniversary,” said Ryan Labay, coordinator of the anniversary party. “I started researching everything I could and it all came together to be our one big program of the year, focusing on our history but also a celebration for the future.”
The agenda for the day includes a Trolley Tour of the Fairlawn Sub-branch, Ayers Branch and Forest Lodge locations, a mini-book sale, a concert and performance featuring The Calypso Gypsies, crafts and storytelling times. Even Senator Frank LaRose will visit the branch and present a proclamation from the Ohio Senate commemorating the anniversary.
Labay has also collected shared memories of patrons throughout the years, not only for the Northwest Akron Branch but for all libraries. The letters will hang by the main entrance with some special ones from Laura Bush, Bill Clinton and Joe Biden.
“People have very positive feelings about libraries,” Labay said. “They all want to tell their stories and we got some amazing responses. We’ve connected with people through Twitter to even capture some great memories.”
Gladys Rossi, Northwest Akron Branch’s manager, said her favorite part of working in a library is the people she meets and the diversity of the neighborhood.
“It used to be the books, but now it’s the people,” she said. “We had a young Polish family with two little children and before they moved back to the country, they said the library was their favorite place and the thing they would miss the most.”
Rossi began working for libraries once her kids were off at school, and she is one of the familiar faces I associate with being home in Akron.
“For 10 years, I have watched kids grow up,” she added.
Rossi and Labay said the branch has been busy and they enjoy being part of the important role the library serves. The programs the branch offers provides babies to senior citizens the chance to express a love for books and for reading. There is something for everyone.
“Whatever someone might need or want, we can easily provide it,” Labay said.
“For free!” Rossi chimed in.
80 years of books
(This information was adapted courtesy of Ryan Labay and the Northwest Akron Branch Library blog)
According to the Northwest Akron Branch Library blog, the first location was named the Fairlawn Sub-branch and was located in a tiny old schoolhouse on White Pond and West Market Street. The building was constructed in 1870 and operated as a school until 1929 when classes were transferred to the new Fairlawn Elementary school. At that point, the schoolhouse served as a community center and small library which held 400 books and served 125 registered borrowers.
In 1932, the Akron Public Library took control of the facility and on November 11, the Fairlawn Sub-branch opened to the public. By 1935 the total registered borrowers increased to 426. In 1953, an unexpected gift to the library from a generous man allowed the branch to grow in order to the serve the area more efficiently.
Dr. Floyd Ayres, an old fashioned general practitioner, died leaving $97,000 of his $100,000 estate to the library. His will specified that his home “shall be used and devoted exclusively for library purposes and the establishment of a branch library.” Dr. Ayres also instructed that a small park at the rear of the property be established to promote “a place for persons to rest.”
The will was found stuffed in a chair and in it Dr. Ayres disinherited all of his blood relatives. The disinherited Ayres heirs waged three separate legal battles to contest the will on their belief that Dr. Ayres was insane at the time the will was written. Many of the doctor’s patients and friends, including psychiatrists and prominent local citizens, testified that not only was Dr. Ayres sane, but also “a student of history, the English language and a good conversationalist.” The various lawsuits lasted several years eventually making it to the Ohio Supreme Court who ultimately ruled to uphold the will.
After the legal issues were resolved, the library began remodeling Dr. Ayres home to make it suitable for use as a library. The new Ayres Branch Library opened on January 19, 1958 and Northwest Akron’s population continued to grow along with their dependence on their library. In 1965, the Library added a one story addition to the back of the existing structure which doubled the size of the Ayres Library.
The expansion not only gave Ayres’ patrons a more spacious and welcoming place to browse and enjoy library materials, it also enabled staff to provide more of the community services the Akron Library system was known for (and is still known for today) by having a dedicated space upstairs for library programs and public meetings. The original first floor of the building was devoted to juvenile books and the new section housed the adult materials, a new circulation desk and an entrance that was closer to the parking lot.
Ayres rapidly outgrew its space, and in 1997, Summit County voters approved an $80 million bond issue to pay for the renovation of Main Library and the replacement or renovation of 15 of 17 branches, including Ayres. After a long search, and with the help of Mayor Don Plusquellic and Ward 8 Councilman Bob Keith, Northwest Park was chosen as the site of a joint project between the City and the Library. Ground was broken for the Northwest Akron Branch and the city’s Northwest Family Recreation Center in 2001 with construction completed in 2002.
For more information about the event and to read more about the library’s history, visit http://northwestakronbranch.akronlibrary.org.
Stay tuned for video from the event.