Ohioana Library: Connecting Readers and Ohio Writers for 90 Years

Martha Kinney Cooper standing with the original Ohioana collection in December 1930, when it was housed in the Governor’s Mansion. All images courtesy of the Ohioana Library Digital Collection on Ohio Memory.

October 5th, 2019, marked 90 years since the establishment of the Ohioana Library Association. Today, we commemorate this occasion by looking back at some memories from Ohioana’s founding and early years.

Some of Ohioana’s early supporters, ca. 1950. Seated L to R: Mrs. Howard L. Bevis, Former Governor Myers Y. Cooper, Martha Kinney Cooper. Standing L to R: Miss Pearl Mace, Reed Masses, Mrs. Depew Head, Dr. John S. Still, Mr. Depew Head, Mr. Eugene Rigney.

In 1929, Myers Y. Cooper was sworn in as the fifty-first Governor of Ohio. His wife, Martha Kinney Cooper, was an avid reader and lover of literature, music and art. Very soon into the Coopers’ tenure as Governor and Ohio First Lady, Martha had set forth plans to create a library that would collect and celebrate the works of Ohio authors. From a young age she had learned to appreciate the value of good books and the joy they bring into readers’ lives and she believed that for many years the writers of Ohio had been unable to get the recognition they needed and deserved.

In October of 1929, Martha had moved forward with her goal and successfully established what would become the Ohioana Library Association, then known as the Martha Kinney Cooper Ohioana Library. In creating the name for the library, Martha had settled on combining the name of the state with the suffix “ana,” which when added to the end of a word denotes a collection of objects, stories, etc., connected with the mentioned subject.

Ohioana’s collection in the Ohio Departments Building.

The first home of the Ohioana Library was in the Governor’s Mansion itself. Bookcases were built along the walls of the Solarium to house the collection, which started modestly–Martha was informed early on that, though her husband and his advisers were in support of her project, there were no state funds that could be dedicated to it. Martha did not let this discourage her, but instead took it upon herself to begin spreading the word about her collection to authors, publishers and interested parties. Very soon the collection had obtained its first of many donated books, History of the Western Reserve given by its author Harriet Taylor Upton.

Martha also found early support from Mrs. Florence Head, who was a field representative at the State Library of Ohio. Mrs. Head helped to establish Ohioana and solidify its purpose, and would go on to become the Ohioana Library Chairman and eventually Ohioana’s first library director.

Cover of the first volume of the Ohioana Quarterly, published in spring of 1958.

By 1930, Ohioana had 600 books in its collection, and in 1935, the library had outgrown the Governor’s Mansion and was moved to the newly-built Ohio Departments Building. It would remain there, alongside the State Library of Ohio, until both moved into their new housing at the Jeffrey Manufacturing Building in 2000.

In the past 90 years, Ohioana has enjoyed a series of landmarks, and today holds a collection of over 45,000 books by Ohioans or about Ohio, 10,000 pieces of sheet music, biographical files on notable Ohioans and personal papers of Ohio authors and artists. In 1942, the first Ohioana Awards were given to recognize exceptional Ohio authors and their work. These awards are still given today, and now include seven categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, About Ohio or an Ohioan, Poetry, Middle Grade/Young Adult, Juvenile Literature, and an audience-picked Readers’ Choice Award.

In 1958, Ohioana began producing its own publication, known as the Ohioana Quarterly. The Quarterly includes book reviews, special articles, notice of new books added to Ohioana’s collection, and more. The Quarterly is still published four times per year.

Since 2007, Ohioana has hosted an annual event known as the Ohioana Book Festival. The festival celebrates books from Ohio authors published within the past year and features a book fair, panels, and children’s events.

Ohioana will hold its 78th annual Ohioana Awards on October 17th, at the Ohio Statehouse. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.ohioana.org.


Thank you to Morgan Peters, Program Coordinator at the Ohioana Library, for this week’s post! 

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