CONNEAUT LAKE — Archie, a 7-year-old schnauzer-poodle mix, lies on the floor and listens to library Director Amber Pouliot read to him and children during story hour at the Margaret Shontz Memorial Library.
Story hour includes children doing a craft and enjoying snacks.
Archie, a rescue dog from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and the local Paws Hand Delivered, is just one of the therapy dogs that attends story hour at the library.
Archie’s handler, Candy Brann of Conneaut Lake, said the children really like Archie.
“They all want to share snacks with him, which I don’t let them do,” she said. “The dogs are calm with the children.”
Story hour is just one of the many programs offered at the library, also known as Conneaut Lake Public Library, 145 S. Second St.
“We have offered, for a long time, story hours for Serena Klink’s [life skills] class at Conneaut Lake Middle School, and for preschool children to promote early literacy,” Pouliot said. “I contacted Candy because I thought it would be nice for children to engage with a therapy dog.”
This year, Brann and Archie are helping the library recognize a milestone.
Library staff, the board of directors and patrons are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Margaret Shontz Memorial Library.
Heloise Brown served as Conneaut Lake’s first librarian from 1976 to 1980. She previously had served as the children’s librarian at Meadville Public Library.
Betty Ecklund then served as the library director for 31 years, from 1980 to 2011.
From 1976 until 1980, when Ecklund took over as director, she was part of a group of five who composed the board of directors.
When asked if she missed being director, Ecklund replied, “I do very much, but I consider myself one of their best patrons.”
After Ecklund retired, the late Diane Rhoades served as library director before Pouliot.
Another longtime patron of the library is Kathe McKay of Atlantic. She is the longest-standing board member, having served in that position for 48 or 49 years.
McKay emphasized the importance of the library's growth that has been maintained and the hiring the library has done since Rhoades’ passing.
“Judi Haylett, the assistant to Diane, has remained on and works with Amber,” McKay said. “Our growth has been phenomenal. Since we get new books, people love knowing they can get them quickly.”
PJ Holabaugh is another library employee; she is a part-time desk clerk.
McKay believes the library is the “gem of the community.”
“We were really blessed in the fact the Legion donated this building to us,” she said. “It’s neat and well organized, and we can do a lot for the community.”
McKay said the library board used to ask surrounding municipalities within Conneaut School District for financial help in order to pay bills and buy books.
The library is now partially funded by the Crawford County Federated Library System, which was established in 1978.
In addition to McKay, board members are Julia Catalano, Debbie Martin, Tricia Deemer, Leslie Conlin, Mark Ruttenberg, Susan Loomis and William Gregg.
McKay said operating a library nowadays is much more involved than it was 40 years ago.
“I think it is an asset to the community. The people who come here feel so comfortable and welcomed,” she said.
Pouliot agrees with McKay and loves her job as director.
“This is a very warm, welcoming community, and our patrons are very supportive of the library,” she said.
Last year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the library was able to open up the summer reading program virtually to young adults and adults.
“This year, we will have outdoor live programming,” Pouliot said. “The theme is 'Tails and Tales.'”
The library will be working with Allegheny College to develop its summer reading program and will have an intern from the college.
The library has also offered adult computer classes, candle-making workshops, and a teen Bullet Journal workshop.
“I think we are continually striving to meet the needs of our patrons and those needs are continually evolving,” Pouliot said. “We now have a wider array of access to digital resources, including The Meadville Tribune and digital magazines.
“We’re trying to get digital service to patrons, and we also have Wi-Fi hot spots.”
One of the ways the library is reaching out to the community for the 50th anniversary is to hand out postcards to patrons, asking why they like the library.
“Because it’s our 50th anniversary, we thought it would be important to have records, so when we write to officials about library funding, we would have evidence to support our claims that libraries are vital to communities,” Pouliot said.
The responses have all been positive.
“They mention the politeness of the staff, good service, and being able to have access to books during the pandemic,” Pouliot said.
History of the Conneaut Lake library
The Margaret Shontz Memorial Library is said to have started with a committee under the leadership of two determined women and just a few books.
“In 1971, Phyllis Martin and Kathryn Gates started the library with two baskets of books,” said former library Director Betty Ecklund, who was also a member of an early committee that worked on the library.
On June 12, 1961, Emily McClintock bequeathed $649.80 to the Women’s Association of the Fifth Street Presbyterian Church in Conneaut Lake. The money was given in memory of McClintock’s sister, Margaret McClintock Shontz, who was originally from Scotland. Shontz was a devoted and faithful Sunday school teacher at the church for many years.
In 1971, the Women’s Association decided on a library as a project and wanted to use the money for the library. The library was located in the church’s annex and was named in memory of Margaret Shontz.
In 1976, a committee sought funds from governing bodies in the Conneaut Lake-Sadsbury areas. The funds were available if, with the exception of Conneaut Lake Borough, the library did not have any direct affiliation with any religious organization. The Articles of Association, which would make the Library Association an independent association, were drawn up, according to a 1976 document.
“We thought we had to move because it would be considered a church library,” Ecklund said.
In 1978, the library moved to the American Legion Post 587 building at 145 S. Second St.
“The Legion charged the library one dollar a year,” Ecklund said. “Then, in 2005, the Legion gave us, as a gift, the building.”
The GI Joe Association of Conneaut Lake deeded the property to the Margaret Shontz Memorial Library board on May 18, 2005, and presented the deed to the board on June 1of that year.
The building has undergone several renovations.
The Conneaut Lake Odd Fellows Lodge built the building in 1938 and leased it to local fur trader William Jackson. In 1950, Foulks rented the building and operated it as a bakery until the GI Joe Association of Conneaut Lake purchased the building in 1954 for American Legion Post 587.
— Mary Ann Mook
Editor's note: This article was updated April 7 to correct the spelling of Kathe McKay.