State of the Cleveland Public Library

After the Ministers’ Breakfast wrapped up, we hurried over to the City Club of Cleveland to attend the State of Library address presented by Mr. Felton Thomas, Jr., Executive Director and CEO of the Cleveland Public Library (CPL), now the 3rd largest public research library in the United States.

It was a packed-to-capacity crowd at the City Club; among those present were our own Ms. Margaret W. Wong and Mr. Gordon Landefeld. We also recognized and said hello to Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson, Mr. Joe Cimperman of Global Cleveland, Mr. Parkash Sinha of “India International”, and Ms. Marina Marquez of the Cleveland Public Library, whom we had met a week earlier at the CPL’s host committee breakfast in honor of its 150th anniversary. Library officials from areas outside of the city of Cleveland were also present, including Ms. Nancy Levin (Cleveland Heights-University Heights), Mr. Andrew Mangels (Westlake), Mr. James Crawford (Lakewood), and Ms. Aurora Martinez (Morley Library in Painesville).

Ms. Adora Ezepue, a sophomore at Campus International High School, set the tone for the evening when she introduced Mr. Thomas. In the course of her introduction, she shared her own experience with the CPL as follows:

“Last year, I had the opportunity to read several novels, but the one that stood out was The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. It was monumental, as it shared the story of people who often go overlooked and unheard. The Cleveland Public Library gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to meet Angie Thomas by offering a panel discussion and a private reading of her most recent novel. During her workshop, there were multiple scholars who discussed their take on the book. Cleveland Public Library has been the root cause of my love for literature. I remember going to the library after school and over the weekend to indulge in new pieces of literature. The array of books did and still does fascinate me.”

Ms. Ezepue went on to say that “This year, the Cleveland Public Library celebrates 150 years of service to the city of Cleveland as The People’s University. The library has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1869 from a single room with fewer than six thousand books to a Main Library campus with 27 branches, millions of books, and countless other resources….”

During his own presentation, Mr. Thomas talked about how the CPL pursues its mission to be an all-inclusive entity in which diversity is welcomed, honest discussion is promoted, and services are provided to community members so that their lives can be enriched. Along these lines, he talked about how the library’s after-school lunch program has benefited education; when properly fed with nourishing food, children are in a better position to master their studies. He also spoke of how people have used the CPL’s various resources to master a craft and/or learn procedures which has led to them starting their own businesses.

As for the future, Mr. Thomas reported that construction should begin by the end of 2019 on the the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch of the CPL to be located in University Circle and plans are underway to interview patrons of all its branches to see how conditions could be bettered at each one of them. He said that the response that he usually gets is that citizens love their local library and largely want it left just as it is except for achievable improvements to certain facets. Just as he did in his earlier address on February 20th which we attended, Mr. Thomas discussed plans for celebrating the CPL’s 150th anniversary including a “World of Puppetry” exhibition featuring modern puppets from all over the world.

In the course of his talk, Mr. Thomas talked about how the CPL has, throughout its history, been a resource center for people who have immigrated to the United States in terms of learning English and mastering the knowledge to pass their citizenship tests. What’s more, it has also introduced the people of Cleveland to different cultures and fostered appreciation of them.

At this time, we asked him about the programs now provided to aid the foreign-born and he replied the previously cited services have indeed continued but recently he has been working with Mr. Joe Cimperman of Global Cleveland on a program to help refugees learn about Cleveland and the United States as a whole in a comfortable, “non-threatening” environment. Plus, in the summer of 2018, a naturalization ceremony was conducted on the premises of the Main Library.

While we enjoyed our lunch, we shared a table with several members of the CPL staff who said that they were all there to show support for their “boss,” whom they greatly admired. One of the the staffers said that Mr. Thomas was “a good idea guy” which means that his suggestions and plans are respected and “if he can last for ten years, then he’s doing something right!”