Library system thriving under longtime director Clyde Scoles

Clyde Scoles, Toledo-Lucas County Public Library executive director, is skeptical when people say libraries are dying. He has fought aggressively to keep the local system relevant.
Clyde Scoles, Toledo-Lucas County Public Library executive director, is skeptical when people say libraries are dying. He has fought aggressively to keep the local system relevant.

In the span of three days, Clyde Scoles embarked on two journeys that would redefine his life.

On May 1, 1978, he started his job as the assistant director of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. On May 3, his wife, Diane, called him at work.

“Do you realize you have a son?” she said over the cries of their firstborn. Mrs. Scoles had stayed at their home in Columbus to take an exam and the baby came a bit early.

By the time Mr. Scoles was promoted to director of the library system in 1985, he had two more children and another on the way. They’ve all grown up now, but he is still director. He has held the title longer than anyone else in the library’s 175-year history.

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Mrs. Scoles described her husband as a “born administrator.” Fascinated by American history and rare books, he is a quiet man who leads a quiet life. He has a critical eye and is meticulous in his work.

But he loves talking to the people who pass through the Main Library doors below his office.

“He’s quite knowledgeable about Toledo history,” library board member Dennis Johnson said. “He has acquired it over the years from all the people he’s come to know in our community.”

The Columbus native received a bachelor’s in social science degree from Ohio State University in 1971 and initially thought about business or law school.

While working at the Public Library of Columbus and Franklin County during and after college, he decided to pursue a master's in library sciences. He got his degree from the University of Michigan in a rapid fire 10 months and became director of Zanesville Public Library in 1974, at the age of 24.

“I grew a mustache and smoked cigars to look the part,” Mr. Scoles joked. Despite his youth, the Zanesville Jaycees chose him as one of 12 “Men of the Year” in 1976 for his service.

When Mr. Scoles transitioned to Toledo, the Main Library building was in need of repair, 75 percent of collections were in storage, and the library was about to encounter a new and mysterious animal — the Internet.

Joanne Loolen, who worked as his executive assistant from his first day on the job until 2007, said Mr. Scoles was very patient. She remembered one time when she organized a luncheon for him with the wrong person.

“He didn’t make me feel terrible,” Ms. Loolen said. “He's very good at working with people in the professional community.”

Mr. Scoles, who makes $184,199, annually said funding is the toughest part of his job.

Before the 2012 general election, Mr. Scoles asked an economist from the University of Toledo to conduct an evaluation of the library's economic value. The study determined that for every dollar coming out of the library’s budget, Lucas County residents gained $2.86 worth of benefits.

That November, the library issues passed with the majority of the vote.

“He’s done a remarkable job for this community under tough conditions financially,” said Bob Maxwell, who served as an honorary chairman of a prior library levy campaign.

With that level of support, Mr. Scoles, 64, is skeptical when people say libraries are dying. He said there has been more library construction in the past 20 years than since the era of Andrew Carnegie. And Mr. Scoles has fought aggressively to keep the Toledo-Lucas County library system relevant in the digital age.

He said the demand for print books is not dwindling. Although many library patrons take advantage of the 50,000 e-books the library has available for download, Mr. Scoles said they often check out the print version as well. And they’re now doing it with an electronic self-checkout.

The computer stations at the library give library cardholders access to thousands of databases to conduct research, learn a new language, download music, movies, and more.

“He wants to keep it relevant and applicable to the young and the old,” Mr. Maxwell said.

Last year, nearly 3 million visitors visited the Main Library or one of the 18 branch libraries. They used 6,931,417 circulated items. “There’s no ball game, no amusement park, no organization that can match that,” Mr. Scoles said.

The thought leaves a smile stretched across his face.