This material is used by permission of Ohio University Press,

  • Architects: Albert Randolph Ross, New York, and Wilbur T. Mills, Columbus
  • 1907
  • 96 South Grant Avenue
  • Renovation and Addition: DesignGroup, Columbus, 1991

In contrast to the impressive building you see today, Columbus’s public library began in 1873 as a simple reading room in City Hall, then on State Street. Andrew Carnegie’s $200,000 gift to Columbus allowed the library to build a spacious and elegant building of its own in 1907. Ironically, after City Hall burned in 1921, the library temporarily housed the mayor and other city officials while they waited for completion of the new City Hall in the Civic Center.

Built of white Vermont marble on a gray granite base, the library is a bearing-wall structure. Take a minute to appreciate the library’s lively facade with its carved cherubs, arches, columns, friezes, and projecting cornices. The broad frieze panels contain names, dates, and inscriptions, including a Latin inscription, “Biblioteca Fons Eruditionis,” which translates as “The Library, the Fount of Learning.” A tax levy in the late 1980s paid for an addition that more than tripled the

library’s usable space. An atrium connects the old building and the new. As you enter the building and pass the sweeping staircases of the old, you can see the spacious new circulation area. While in the Carnegie Building, observe the coffered ceilings and barrel vaults of the main corridors. Note the cast plaster rosettes ornamenting the vaults. The dark-green columns and pilasters are done in an imitation marble known as scagliola. To sample the ambiance of the older building, climb the stone stairs to the Gallery, which is now used as an art exhibit area.

The addition at the rear of the original building now houses the library. Its marble exterior and round-arched north entrance echo design features of the original building. While its central atrium serves as an organizing feature for the spaces within, its west wall is the stone exterior wall of the original building. Artwork by central Ohio artists is placed throughout the building. Especially notable are the two commissioned works, Vanitas, by Todd Slaughter, and Life in the Blackberry Patch, 1900–1930, by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, located in the atrium of the Carnegie building and the new library atrium.