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Locke Library Life in the 1930s

Posted 7 months ago by Angela B

Locke Branch Library staff found a old stash of annual reports dating all the way back to when the library first opened over 100 years ago in 1917. They were so interesting we decided to include them in a series of blog posts. The first post highlighted reports from the 1920's. Now let's examine the 1930-1939 reports to get a look into the past.

Reflections on Library History

Working in a public library is more than being book finders, we are also fixers. I have been asked to fix headphones, flipflops, backpack zippers, and baby dolls when their limbs pop off. So, I can relate to the following request from 1939.

Excerpt from a 1939 annual report (Locke Branch Library): A little girl came in with a torn playing card and said that her daddy had sent her to have us mend it with the stuff we used in books.

(That “stuff” we use to mend books really does work miracles.)


In 1933, Locke may not have had puzzles for customers, but we sure do now!

Excerpt from a 1933 annual report (Locke Branch Library): Another prospective patron, after going thru all the formalities for a card, was very much disappointed because we had no jig saw puzzles and said that we would have no use for the card.

This customer would also be surprised to hear that the Library now offers much more, such as GoPros, telescopes, crafting tools, cameras and beyond!


Libraries are always there for you in times of trouble. Many turned to Locke Library during the Great Depression looking for distractions from the hardships. The following snippet is from 1932.

Excerpt from a 1932 annual report (Locke Branch Library): Reading trends have both become more serious due to the problems of the day and the fact that people have more leisure to study them and again lighter with people who have become so discouraged that they want entertaining fiction to take their minds off their troubles.

While reading through the reports, I noticed the Locke Staff had quite a few innovative ideas for the time, like this suggestion from 1930 of creating a Marketing Department for publicity. By the way, our current Marketing Department rocks!

Excerpt from a 1930s annual report (Locke Branch Library): A department for publicity where all poster work could be taken care of by a trained person would save much time.

In 1932, Langston Hughes published an article in Children's Library Services titled, “Books and the Negro Child.” He noted only 5 books that were appropriate for African American children. Most other books that portrayed African American characters were stereotypical.

In 1935, the Locke librarians also gathered a list of children’s books that featured African American characters. Their efforts of trying to find viable materials were considerate because, at the time, it was difficult to find good literature featuring African Americans that were not stereotypical. One of the librarians, Miss Wright, was mentioned by name in the 1935 annual report for her efforts ...

The book list compiled by Miss Wright proved useful. Several teachers have sent for books for programs.

The first non-stereotypical African American main character in a children’s picture book wasn’t published until 1962 with Jack Ezra Keat’s “The Snowy Day.”


The Library is very fortunate for all of the times the news outlets highlighted Library programs, going back decades. Most recently, Locke was featured on WTOL for Deontre, our “Junior Librarian.”

Deontre, Junior Librarian at the Locke Branch Library.
Excerpt from a 1930s annual report (Locke Branch Library): Publicity outside. We are very grateful to the Toledo Blade, the Toledo News Bee, the Times and to the East Side Sun for the many articles of publicity throughout the year.

This next snippet from 1931 is amusing to me because of how innocent it sounds today, but I bet it wasn’t so humorous at the time.

On May 9th the building was again entered, evidently by children. A few cents were taken, book cards for four volumes of "Modern Shop Practice" were scattered over the desk and stamped with a seven day stamp. On the following Monday the same person came back, although everything was thoroughly locked. Pencils were tampered with, two books which had formerly been taken, were returned and placed on the book truck and two volumes ...

A few cents may not seem like a big deal, but back in 1931 $0.25 would be the equivalent to $4.13 in 2018.


I was surprised to read that the Library required references when applying for a library card. And, in 1934, a customer had the same reaction.

Excerpt from 1934 annual report (Locke Branch Library): A lady who started to sign an application was very reluctant to give information and said "This is too much sugar for a dime." She was in a hurry and could not be persuaded to give references.

Below is an example of the letter sent to the references.

Letter sent to references from a public library in the 1930s.

We are always grateful when library customers appreciate the Library, but we cannot accept tips even though many people have tried. However, we do have a Friends of the Library nonprofit organization that you can support. All the money goes back to supporting the Library and gives you perks at the same time!

Excerpt from a 1930s annual report (Locke Branch Library): Gifts - Several bouquets were sent to the library during the summer. A gift of $1 was received from a borrower for our book fund. She said she wanted to give it because she had had such good service.

People might think that libraries are dying, but this snippet from 1940 sounds like it could have been written today (except replace reference books with computers)!

Snippet from the 1940s (Locke Branch Library): Circulation figures, alone, cannot give a fair estimate of all the work and help that is given to the public in a large busy branch. Much information is given over the telephone and the room is crowded with students and adults daily, who are consulting reference books, periodicals and pamphlet files, and spending time browsing among the books.

History sure does repeat itself! Once again in 2019, the children’s librarian of Locke is creating a flower and vegetable garden for the children and teen to tend.

Excerpt from a 1930s annual report (Locke Branch Library): gave both seeds and roots. A Garden Club was organized by the Children's Librarian for the boys and girls of the upper grades. Meetings were held throughout the winter. In the early spring, seeds were planted and put in the windows of the auditorium. A small group of girls from the upper grades and High school took care of them.

Back in 1939, the Locke librarians had the privilege to see the finishing touches of the new Main Library completed. And now, 80 years later, the Locke staff will be able to see the renovations of Main Library completed in 2019.

Excerpt from 1939 annual report (Locke Branch Library): Miss Blackrs Durham and Miss Kesler attended the laying of the corner stone of the new Main Library.
Image of the Main Library in 1940 in downtown Toledo, Ohio

If you enjoyed this post, check out our previous post entitled Locke Library Life in the 1920s and be on the lookout for the next post, Locke Library Life in the 1940’s.

Suggested Library Materials

Langston Hughes : poet / Rebecca Rohan
The 1930s by William H. Young with Nancy K. Young
Decades of the 20th Century: 1930s edited by Milan Bobek
The Great Depression (History Kids) - DVD

Featured Image Credit: Image by Devanath from Pixabay.

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