Website and Writers Series


Backstory: My Childhood and Youth in the Library 

Living as I do between Massillon and Canton, I have the great fortune to live nearly equidistant between two very good local libraries, the Massillon Public Library and the Stark District Library, with the added advantage of being just one-half mile from the branch library that I walk to most days, the Perry Sippo Branch.

When I was in third grade, I did well on the verbal part of the Iowa Tests, and my mother began her lifelong campaign to take my siblings and me to the Massillon Library every two weeks. There was no Sippo branch then, and the Massillon Library had the best children's librarians (we LOVED Mrs. Binns). This past week, the writer Francine Prose in the New York Times has said, "The age at which I fell most pasionately in love with reading, at around 9 or 10, roughly coincided with the time when I somehow sensed that the reality-fantasy border was about to tighten." Like Prose, I loved the Edgar Eager books that I found at the library, a series on four siblings who always managed to find a coin or charm that transported them to magic places. Being the oldest of four, I held hope that the Kendig Kids would stumble on similar adventures. I read all the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Cherry Ames books twice and all the Louisa May Alcott three times. I owe nearly all my rich life in childhood reading to my parents and to the Massillon Library, which today I mine for its movie collection.

Still by the time I got to college, the Stark District Library had more of the primary materials that I needed when I was home studying, and I spent a lot of weekends there in the old library with the glass floors that put me so in awe as a child. I still miss that space. But I love the new space, with its airiness and openness and bright colors. Upfront is one of the 10 best library gift shops in the world. (I rank the NYPL and the London Library among those ten, too.) The Friends of the Library Gift Shop has Lady MacBeth Soap and literary socks and cards with writers quotes, used books and snacks. It is separate from the library itself, which is "The Smart Store, Where Everything Is Free." (The library's current branding.) 

And I love the Sippo branch, with its reading room facing the little lake I was raised on and have returned to and the nature center that shares the space and has a naturey gift shop.

But my theme today is the main library of the Stark County District Library and two of its special connections to local writers.

Local Authors: A website and a reading series

Fifteen years ago, I had been teaching two courses on literature and the internet and my students were teaching me how much they appreciated literature on the web. I had both traditional students (18--22 on campus) in face to face classes and non-trad students (adults, mostly in business and hazardous waste engineering) in online classes. They especially liked how they could find photos, videos, sounds files, bio, and other information on the living writers we studied that made the writers and by extension, their writing, more immediate. Once I left teaching, I was looking for a way to use that conection, and the Cuyahoga County Public Library enabled me to curate a 30-day site on local poets which was very popular.

Marianna DiGiacomo
Looking to bring it home two years ago, I met with librarian Marianna DiGiacomo, to pitch an idea. I asked her if the library would try a 7-day blog on its website for National Library week that would feature local writers. For the library's benefit, I would ask local writers if they would be willing to write a passage on what libraries had meant to them. For the writer's benefit, we would publish that passage, along with a passage of their work, a bio, and a photo, on the library's site. The library offered to provide the online link to check out the authors'  books from its collection, too. I began looking for passages related to libraries, reading, or books, and found seven local writers who had such passages: Vance Voyles, Robert Miltner, Bonnie Jacobson, Richard McElroy, Charita Goshay, John Estes, and Tom Barlow. Among them were fiction writers, poets, a local newspaper columnist, and a college historian. When contacted, all of them responded quickly, graciously, and generously with permission to reprint their passage and with their beautiful new passages on the importance of libraries. Clearly, most writers had found the library as important to their childhoods as it was to mine. The project was quite a success, and you can find it still up here.

This year, Marianna came to me and asked if we could tweak it in a slightly different direction. The library wanted to pull several events together, including a new event, a writer's series, to create a "Local Authors Week," and they wondered if we could curate a weekly blog around local authors for that week. The week would end with an event at Canton's gorgeous, historic Palace Theater with first-time novelist Lisa Beazley, who has Canton ties. We chose the theme of "Place," and I went reading for passages by local authors that dealt with places, real and imagined, in poetry and prose. Beazley's novel Keep Me Posted had plenty of setting to choose from, as did Audrey Lavin's detective series. I also found apt passages in the poetry of Theresa Gottl Brightman, Molly Fuller and David McCoy, and local color in an essay by  local journalist Gary Brown's. This time the writers didn't have to write anything new, and as before, they all responded quickly and generously with permission to publish. The library's very new web designer got with the program immediately, and the whole online publication went smoothly and helped to produce an audience for the live event. The six author passages are still up for reading here.

Probably because of my own early positive experience with libraries, which provided me with the only connection to living writers I had until I got to college and met some writers in person, I really enjoy making connections between libraries and living writers, in person and on the web. It is a service libraries and writers can provide to their communities, and the service comes back to them in traffic to their sites. I'd like to see more libraries and writers using the world wide web to bring local authors closer to their neighbors and readers. 


  1. Thanks for this, Geoff, and for everything else you do for writers.

  2. Going to check out some of the other links now, but you weren't kidding about that Gift Shop, were you? I just went there and the first thing I saw was a photo of "Lady MacBeth" soap. Wow.

    I haven't had the pleasure of going to the Perry-Sippo or the other Canton library you mentioned, though I visit Canal Fulton, Jackson Township, and Massillon frequently, and also go once a month to the Cleveland Main Library for a poetry workshop. I know I have found the libraries here in Ohio to be exceptional. There isn't a week that goes by without at least two or three trips to the library for a program or materials.

    I'm not sure if you are aware of it, but most libraries in this area allow you to check out digital materials (books, graphic novels, audiobooks, and movies) through their websites using the (free downloadable) Overdrive app. A lot of them expand their collection with additional access to Hoopla (additional downloadable books, movies, etc). Cuyahoga Library system also subscribes to Freegal which allows you to download and KEEP free music from the Freegal library; not a complete collection but still a nice resource).

    It's nice to know that even when I can't physically make it to the library, I can still check things out at home. My son's practically grown up at the library, even met his girlfriend there, and I'm grateful that we have access to such a wonderful, literary community.