Friday, April 14, 2006

Steel Museum library in trouble?

Partnerships weighed to maintain library
Friday, April 14, 2006
The Steel Museum will remain open, a spokeswoman says.


YOUNGSTOWN — Representatives of the Ohio Historical Society, Youngstown State University and Mahoning Valley Historical Society are discussing partnerships that could lead to the transfer of the archives library from Youngstown Center of Industry and Labor, also know as the Steel Museum.

"We're not close to a decision," said Kathy Hoke, manager of communications and media relations for the Ohio Historical Society. "The right amount of discussion needs to take place."

The final decision rests with the Ohio Historical Society's board of trustees, Hoke noted.

There is "absolutely no substance" to rumors that the Steel Museum will close, Hoke said. "We're committed to continuing to operate the museum for the public benefit."

The museum and archives library are separate divisions of the Ohio Historical Society. Both are housed at 151 W. Wood St., across from St. Columba Cathedral. Annual attendance is estimated at 4,000, Hoke said. One-fourth of visitors use the archives library on the second floor, where admission is free. Exhibits are on the lower floors, and admission fees are charged.

Gist of talks

As for consolidation, "We have had discussions over a period of months," said H. William Lawson, director of Mahoning Valley Historical Society. The gist of those conversations has been, "If they were to pull back on their staffing and close that facility or pare it back drastically, what can we do locally to cooperate to keep services going?"

Ideas range from keeping the Steel Museum's archives library open with help from a "consortium of organizations with similar missions" to distributing the collection to local institutions if the Ohio Historical Society closes the space, Lawson said.

It's the Ohio Historical Society's decision to make, but "They aren't going to do anything that doesn't have local support," Lawson said. "The ultimate goal is to keep the collections in [the Steel Museum] available to the public. We have a large part to play about that."

Lawson doubts that Mahoning Valley Historical Society would be able to absorb all of the Steel Museum's archives. If the library closes, decisions must be made about which pieces of the collection are best suited for particular institutions, he said.

Martha Bishop, research assistant at the Steel Museum's archives library, said the collection contains records from Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Harrison, Jefferson and Carroll counties. That's because it's the only branch of the Ohio Historical Society's archives outside the main division in Columbus.

What's in archives

The archives library's holdings are largely related to steel but also concern labor, industrial and local history, Bishop said. Items include oral histories on videotape by steelworkers and their families; various newspapers on microfilm; maps; and Trumbull County land record ledgers that date back to the early 1800s.

Money will be a factor in the Ohio Historical Society's decision. As a nonprofit organization, it still receives 70 percent of its funding from state government. The overall amount has declined in recent years, however, and employee layoffs have occurred.

The society is no worse off than other cultural institutions that want to do more than their budgets will allow, Hoke said.

The archivist who manages the Steel Museum's collection divides his time between Youngstown and Columbus, where the Ohio Historical Center is located. "We have some critical staffing needs in state archives," Hoke said.

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