WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes University Professors John Hepp IV and Mark Stine thought they were making just a historical documentary when they started their project on the Osterhout Free Library last year.
But they also found out something interesting about the library’s present — its dedicated, helpful staff members, several of whom have worked at the library for decades. A few have been there for more than 40 years.
The documentary, titled, “The Osterhout Free Library: A 125 Year Legacy of Public Service,” premiered Friday night at the library.
“I truly loved making this documentary,” said Hepp, Ph.D., associate professor of history and co-chair of Wilkes’ Division of Global History & Languages. “It’s not often I get to do something that is truly important to the community.”
While the 35-minute video traces the library’s beginnings and history, it also shows the library’s importance to the community today. Hepp a shift in the documentary’s tone occurred during interviews for the video, when patrons were asked what each saw as the most important thing about the library.
“Almost to a person, they said the library staff,” Hepp said.
Library patrons told of how helpful and knowledgeable the staff is and how dedicated staff members are.
“Definitely the heart and soul of the library is the staff,” said Osterhout Development Director Chris Kelly, a five-year employee who terms himself a newby. “We have a lot of long-term employees who know the inner workings of the library, help people get the information they need.”
But there also are several other interesting aspects of the library, beginning with its building on South Franklin, which formerly housed the First Presbyterian Church.
“This one was built in 1849,” Hepp said.
The library only was supposed to occupy the building temporarily. Melvil Dewey, who created the Dewey Decimal system of library classification and served as a consultant to the Osterhout, said the old church would be great temporary building for 10 years, Hepp said.
But the building was well constructed and, “By the time they decided maybe we should tear it down and build new, all the available land was gone,” he added.
An addition was built in 1908, a two-story addition added in 1966 and the children’s addition was built in 1982.
Stine, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Wilkes University Communications Studies Department, said they started the project almost a year ago, after talking with people from the library at the Wyoming Valley History Project conference, which the professors started.
The movie starts by covering the history of the library, how it came about after the death of the library’s namesake, Isaac Osterhout, who willed a large portion of his estate to establish a free public library to be available to people from every walk of life. The library’s board of directors hired Dewey as an adviser and he recommended hiring Hannah Packard James as the first head librarian. Stine said it was unusual at the time to hire a woman as head librarian.
The documentary also shows the impact the Osterhout has on the community and what the future holds.
Patrons of the invitation-only premiere on Friday night received free copies of the Osterhout Library 125th anniversary booklet that details the library’s history. With 5,000 copies printed, they are available to the public for free at the library and the DVD will be for sale at the downtown Barnes & Noble.