The State Library: A Theme Park of History from Ohio and Beyond

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Until recently, I didn’t believe it was possible to hold a letter that George Washington wrote in 1788. Or flip through a 15th-century medieval manuscript. I definitely didn’t think I could do so less than a mile from home. But thanks to a friend, I discovered an endless world of history and possibility at the State Library of Ohio.

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The State Library was founded in Columbus in 1817 and provides a dizzying amount of free services for Ohio residents, libraries, and state employees. Located in the historic Jeffrey Manufacturing Building in Italian Village, it offers a statewide resource sharing service to more than 500 libraries. Its catalog contains more than 800,000 items.

“We can impact just about everyone in Ohio,” said Marsha McDevitt-Stredney, the State Library’s Director of Marketing and Communications.

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The State Library is the only regional federal repository in Ohio. You can access federal government information for free, including congressional records, executive branch documents, census statistics, house and senate journals, topographical maps, atlases, and U.S. patents. On the state level, you can explore rosters of Ohio soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I; Laws of Ohio from 1803; agricultural reports (including history of Ohio State Fairs); Ohio Supreme Court decisions; and election statistics.

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You can also get suggestions from librarians about what to read; access digital audiobooks, eBooks, music, and video; request help with genealogy projects; find jobs and get assistance applying for them; take practice tests and learn workplace skills; foster early childhood literacy; encourage other Ohioans to read; support the works of Ohio writers, artists, and musicians at the Ohioana Library; obtain recorded books, magazines, and playback equipment for blind, visually impaired, physically handicapped, and reading disabled Ohio residents; access a collection of materials related to deafness and American Sign Language; and research thousands of electronic resources and databases.

This place is cool.

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As I explored the 98,000 square feet of history heaven, I found highway maps from 1919, vintage atlases, hundred-year-old New York Times microfiche, and 1916 U.S. soil samples. I also saw old FEMA flood insurance maps and an 1896 U.S. Army guide to drill regulations for light artillery.

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Without question, one of the highlights is the Rare Book Room. It’s lovingly tended by Shannon Kupfer, who’ll be glad to give you a tour if you make an appointment. Among its 7,000 items are the aforementioned Washington letter and medieval manuscript, the complete works of Martin Luther circa 1539 (in German), and the exquisitely illustrated Birds of America collection.  

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“So many people don’t know that we even have a State Library,” said Beverly Cain, State Librarian of Ohio. “It's an incredible treasure trove.” 

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The State Library is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and parking is free. New expanded online resources will be announced on July 1. Sign up for a free library card here

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See you in the stacks.