In the early 1880s, a local millionaire named Thomas Struthers erected a multipurpose building which included meeting rooms, stores, and a theater. He hoped that rental income would support a free library for Warren residents. Over the years, the Warren post office, Blair (then known as the New Process Company), and many other organizations used the Struthers Library Building's spaces. As it turned out, rents never fully covered the library's operating costs. Nonetheless, the Struthers Library, which was located on the 2nd floor, served customers continuously from 1884 to 1916.
|Struthers Library Building in Warren, PA. |
The Library was on the 2nd floor.
|Interior of the Struthers Library, as it would |
have been seen by its early customers.
|Me at the top of the closed stacks, Struthers Library.|
Today, I have been scrolling through dozens of images from my visit, fascinated details that escaped notice during my previous excitement. Call me "Debbie Downer," but I am reminded how difficult library work must have been back then.
In the early years, librarian Mary Weiss routinely worked 12-hour days, shutting the library for an hour at lunch and an hour at dinner so she could have some kind of break. Because the bookshelves were off-limits to customers, she (and/or her assistants) had to climb dozens of steps whenever customers wanted materials. It was challenging enough for me to do it once wearing roomy cotton pants and lightweight sneakers. I would never want to do it repeatedly in a long, full shirt and heeled shoes.
Closely examining the stack's construction, it appears there were few safety considerations. Given the combination of oak stacks, stuffed with paper materials, lit by gaslight, with "cozy" fireplaces nearby, it's a wonder the place didn't burn down. There are no railings on the steep back stairs to the top stack, and only a 1 or 2-inch oak dowel at waist-height to keep people from plummeting to the floor below. It is not for mere aesthetic reasons that I am kneeling and gripping the rail in the picture above -- I am terribly afraid of heights and climbed up there on my hands and knees.
|Stairs leading to the top tier of the stack|
|Mary Weiss. Photo courtesy of the Warren Library Association.|
As fun as it may be to visit a 19th-century library, and as content as early librarians like Weiss appeared to be, I am thankful of the many regulations that protect us today, as well as common customs (like a 5-day workweek) that are now ubiquitous in many workplaces. Even if someone gifted me a luxury timepiece in return, I don't think I'd want be expected to routinely work 12-hour days, or repeatedly climb stairs without sturdy railings!