Changes, versatility keep Warren library viable as it hails centennial

Librarian Robert Neuenschwander (left) and Assistant Susan Mills make up the whole of the staff of the Warren Public Library, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this weekend.
Librarian Robert Neuenschwander (left) and Assistant Susan Mills make up the whole of the staff of the Warren Public Library, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this weekend. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published June 13, 2016.

The Warren Public Library is the place to be — for movies, for a WiFi signal and, yes, for books.

Movies and WiFi were far from the minds of the small group of people who organized on June 16, 1916, to lay the groundwork for the Warren Free Public Library.

Now, it’s one of the selling points.

“We have the strongest signal in town,” says the library’s director, Robert Neuenschwander. “People sit outside when we’re closed just to use the WiFi. And that’s OK.”

And, with the exception of a Redbox kiosk on the other side of town, the library is the only place in Warren to get a movie on DVD.

“They’re free, and they can keep them as long as a week,” Neuenschwander says.

The 711 cardholders in Warren and Salamonie Township can avail themselves of, at last count, 2,035 videos, 631 audio books and music recordings and 19,873 traditional books.

That’s grown from the original collection of 100 books in 1918, when the Warren library opened its first physical location on the second floor of a downtown jewelry store with a librarian who made $300 a year.

The Warren library is marking that 1916 organizational meeting as its beginning, and is celebrating its 100th anniversary this Friday and Saturday, June 17 and 18, with special displays and author appearances.

The celebration starts Friday at 4 p.m. with an open house and a book signing by Dawn Crandall, author of a series of Christian historical romances, “The Everstone Chronicles.” Friday’s events will take place at the library, located at 123 E. 3rd St., in Warren.

The library opens Saturday at 10 a.m. with a display of library history and a slideshow of noteworthy events from the library’s first 100 years. John David Anderson, author of young adult novels including “Standard Hero Behavior” and “Minion,” will present a family-oriented program on writing and superheroes at 1 p.m. His program will take place at the Warren Church of Christ, and Anderson will return to the library after the program for a book signing.

The library’s current building has remained essentially unchanged, with the exception of a couple of bump-outs for an entrance and an elevator, since its construction in 1920 with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. By that time, the library’s inventory was up to 1,534 books.

It takes a constant weeding-out to keep the library’s collection from outgrowing the building’s four walls, Neuenschwander says.

VHS cassettes don’t see much check-out action, he says, so they’ll probably be phased out. And the library’s microfilm reader is also likely on its way out, as Neuenschwander’s goal this year is to digitize the library’s collection of the Warren Weekly, the Warren-based newspaper. Again, because of space and because library patrons can access other publications at nearby libraries, the Warren newspaper is the only publication on file at the library.

“Since this library’s so small, we have to be very conscious of our storage space,” he says.

The Friends of the Library coordinates a sale room in the library’s lower level, where donated books as well as books phased out of the library’s collection are offered for sale. A major book sale is held during the Salamonie Summer Festival.

“If it’s not been checked out in five years, it’s going to the sale room,” Neuenschwander says.

Patrons can access e-books through a consortium of libraries that includes the Warren facility. Libraries in Andrews and Roanoke are also part of the network of small libraries, and Warren cardholders can check out materials from both of those libraries, he notes.

But the stacks and stacks of books inside the Warren Public Library are still, and are likely to remain, a main attraction. Adult favorites include mysteries and Amish romance, says Susan Mills, the assistant librarian.

“The ladies love their Amish fiction,” she says.

For the teens, it’s the popular young adult series including Harry Potter and Wings of Fire, Neuenschwander says.

Neuenschwander, a Bluffton resident, has served as librarian for the past three years. He and Mills, a 13-year veteran, make up the whole of the Warren library staff.

“Luckily, we’ve never both been sick at the same time,” he says.

Mills handles most of the library’s special programming, overseeing three book clubs — one focusing on mysteries, another on old favorites, and a third meeting at Heritage Pointe.

This fall, Mills is planning a program on arm and finger knitting as well as adult coloring sessions.

A summer reading program is underway, and story hours are offered as schedules allow.
In the summer, Neuenschwander says, people come in just to enjoy the library’s air conditioning and use the free wireless access to the internet.

“It’s just great to have them here pursuing their interests,” he says.