At the Waterville branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Karen Wiggins helps Alivia Taylor, 7, of Monclova Township find materials. The library has far more to choose from today than at its start.
On a shelf George sits, curious as always.
Next to the mischievous monkey, Corduroy, the missing-a-button teddy bear, stares out into rows of books. In the corner, turtles, rabbits, and Cat in the Hat surround a sky-blue Cookie Monster. A lamb puppet and a perky chicken, orange feet outstretched, welcome youngsters too.
No such cast of characters lined up during the early years of the Waterville library. Back in the day -- the 1920s -- the library barely had enough room to squeeze in its collection of 1,000 books.
It was in January, 1926, when the Waterville Times and Chronicle heralded the news "Prospects Bright for Opening Branch Library," saying that the facility seemed practically assured.
With support of the then-Waterville school board, a room for sick children was converted into the new library for the riverside community. Situated over the main entrance to the Waterville School, the room was deemed suitable for the start of what today is a modern, popular branch library.
On Tuesday, the Waterville library will celebrate its 85th anniversary during a special event that should be one for the books.
Karen Wiggins, branch manager, will share details about the library and its ties to local history through the decades during the activities.
She notes that although the library branch opened in 1926, the first chapter flips back to 1918, when the first loan collection was placed in Waterville from the Lucas County Library, based in Maumee. The books were kept at Starkweather's Store on North Third Street, now the site of Koral Hamburg.
In November, 1925, the Waterville PTA launched a campaign to set up a branch library, and shortly after, the school's sick room was moved to a partitioned area in the first-floor cloak room to open up space for the library's 1,000 books. Circulation that first month, May, 1926, was 659 items.
Clarice Griffin, the first branch librarian, helped library users make their selections and kept track of the materials. In 1929, her sister Ruby (later known as Ruby Wiles) became branch librarian. Mrs. Wiggins said Ruby "had the distinct honor of being the person who in 1930 hired a high school senior named Lois Waffle to be a page for the branch."
That same year, an addition was built on the school and the library shifted into a larger room accessible from the school's front entrance, where it remained until 1964, when a new library with shelf capacity for 22,000 books was built at its current site along Michigan Avenue. The structure cost about $85,000. The village of Waterville leased the lot on Michigan Avenue to the library board for 99 years.
Miss Lois, as she was known, attained full librarian status in 1940, and was there for opening day and many years after. She retired in July, 1983, after 53 years at the library, known as the Lois Waffle Waterville Branch Library.
Mrs. Wiggins said that in 1970, the Toledo and Lucas County Library systems merged into the existing system that includes the main library in downtown Toledo, 18 branches, and a bookmobile service.
Growth at the Waterville library gobbled up chunks of space. Cramped for room, the library obtained permission from Waterville council to expand. A 5,000-square-foot addition opened in 1979, followed by renovation to the older section of the structure.
By 2004, it was the same story ... the branch needed more room, and another addition was built. A $1.26 million renovation project shuttered the library for a few months, and it reopened in early 2005.
Mrs. Wiggins pointed out that Waterville is still at the top of the best-used-branch list. Waterville has the highest percentage of circulations per borrower, a figure that has stayed steady for many years.
The Waterville branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library at 800 Michigan Ave., last renovated in 2004, is one of the busiest branches in the system. Borrowings per patron at the southwestern branch have been the highest in the system for years.
The branch's collection has about 101,000 items, and circulation totaled just more than 338,000 in 2010, compared to 24,000 items in 1935.
The Waterville library has about 11,000 registered borrowers, a hefty jump from 729 in 1955.
Last year, Mrs. Wiggins said, more than 110,000 patrons came through the doors, a noteworthy figure considering hours were cut back because of dwindling revenue.
Library funding from the state fell 23.5 percent from 2008 through 2010. Hours of operation were slashed; staff cuts were made with other reductions. Ohio libraries face a 5 percent cut in state funding for the next two years and will need to trim budgets again, officials said.
Waterville's library draws patrons from Liberty Center, Grand Rapids, Perrysburg, Swanton, Haskins, and other communities, possibly because the branch is farther out into the county than others, Mrs. Wiggins said.
During the day, home-schooled students visit the library, she said.
On this morning, Carrie Schuster of Swanton is there with her children, eighth-grader Joseph and fifth-grader Julia, while daughter Jessica takes a Spanish class elsewhere in Waterville.
Mrs. Schuster described the library as a "wonderful place. We plan on coming here on Wednesdays to do research," adding that her children read history and science books to supplement their school work. "Every book has a different opinion," Mrs. Schuster said.
Using library materials "saves a lot of money. We can borrow and use them. We can check out books and renew them for months. That is something really beneficial for us," Mrs. Schuster said.
In the reading lounge, Marian Bruzda of Waterville Township reads the Wall Street Journal in a comfy chair near the fireplace where flickering flames add to the ambience. "The reading room is real nice. The librarians here are very helpful. … It is nice to come here," she said.
Recent changes include a reorganization of the Friends of the Library, a more active group that conducts such activities as book sales.
Members also are assisting with the 85th anniversary celebration that will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the library, 800 Michigan Ave. It will feature historical re-enactments by the Waterville Historical Society; children's activities; a display of old Waterville photos and archives, and an anniversary cake.