It keeps raining. Running with our hands over our heads, hiding at the bus stop or under the nearest tree, the new Mott Library is the perfect shelter from the rain with its remarkable architectural canopy overhanging transparent glass walls; we are safe from the rain but not cut off from the community around us. Located in Smith Park in front of the historic Roosevelt neighborhood off of Dorr Street, the library had its reopening on June 7, just across the street from where the library was originally built in 1918. While much has changed since then, the namesake of the Mott branch remains as one Anna Caroline “Cannie” Mott (“Cannie” being her own creation), a woman whose relatively unknown legacy speaks to the forward-thinking and ever-changing nature of libraries in our community today—in rain or shine.
The reopening of the Mott branch comes over a century after the Toledo philanthropist, activist and abolitionist’s death in 1902, before which she had dedicatedly served Toledo in its nascent years. At her funeral, the question was raised: “what noble trait did she not possess?” Today, the answer to that question may simply be a Wikipedia page, which you will not be able to find even with the new library’s 21st-century advanced technology. The irony is not lost on us that while her memory is kept in a place of readily available information, information on her is not—history is forgetting about this all-around amazing woman.
The name “Mott” is no stranger to our history books: Anna has been overshadowed by her famous family members including her aunt, suffragist Lucretia Mott, and her father Richard Mott, Toledo’s sixth mayor (and later U.S. Congressman). Anna Mott, however, was a quiet champion; she donated heavily and frequently to social programs such as the Toledo Public Library, the Humane Society (which she helped to found), public parks (now the Metroparks) and programs that benefited children. (Speaking of benefiting children, the library’s new location is safer for students as it doesn’t require them to cross Dorr.) While most probably don’t remember Anna Mott, her forward-thinking mentality for our community is still present in the changing state of what libraries mean for communities. That is to say: it’s not just about books anymore.
Perhaps Mott knew that this would be the case, as she certainly seemed to recognize that building a better future in Toledo would involve looking ahead and adapting to changing times. In fact, her largest philanthropic contribution was the result of her forward-thinking attitude: the Century Gift, bestowed in her will to be released 100 years after her death, originally granted $1,000 and accrued to $213,000 for Toledo Metroparks by the time the trust was available in 2002. Today, the new Mott library branch is indeed forward-thinking—part of a national conversation on the changing functions libraries serve in communities. While the library certainly doesn’t lack books, it also has 44 internet-capable devices (computers, laptops, iPads) and free public wifi, providing the surrounding community with internet access, job resources, entertainment and more.
All of these resources help make the library a community hub that, fitting in line with Mott’s own legacy, serves as a gathering place for young minds looking ahead to an ever-changing future. In Mott’s time, that place was in her own home. In the first half of the 1800s, Mott found herself growing with Toledo in a political landscape that sprouted ideas of abolition, women’s suffrage and a bettering of her town. The Mott household’s atmosphere drew in people who could best be described as thought leaders of the day: Mott herself co-founded the Toledo Women’s Suffrage Association in 1869 and pushed for equal employment at various institutions in the city, and the original Mott home on the corner of Monroe and 19th often hosted guests such as Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for social and activist events. The house may have also been a stop on the Underground Railroad— a refuge for those in need.
Today, while that Old West End house is no longer standing, the “front porch” atmosphere of the library’s new location invites the community to discuss ideas and relax together. The new Mott Library’s placement in Roosevelt, near Martin Luther King Academy, keeps Mott’s philanthropic, forward-thinking attitude alive through its linking of education and parks and its providing of improved resources to the educationally underserved community.[efn_note]
22.9% of the adult population have not graduated high school, compared to 14.3% in the city as a whole. Furthermore, while 27.7% of Toledoans have college degrees, only 15.2% of Roosevelt’s population have graduated from postsecondary institutions. [/efn_note] Architectural features such as a roof inspired by the shapes of tree canopies and floor-to-ceiling windows incorporate the natural exterior into the interior library space. The location’s dedication to education is bolstered through the inclusion of an audio/video recording studio and a lab for all-age education on the latest technology, as well as study rooms and a cafe. Its larger size will serve more community members at once—bringing together the community under one canopy for collaboration and progress.
Libraries across the nation are evolving as the surrounding communities’ needs change, and the Toledo Lucas County Public Library system is no exception. The new Mott library is a refuge filled with new-age resources and community-centered spaces, fulfilling the vision Anna Mott had in bestowing her gifts to Toledo. Mott is remembered as being “like sunshine in all the shadows and dark hours of this world; always ready to lighten the burden of others,” much like the opening of the Mott branch amidst the rainy and dreary spring weather. While she couldn’t have known the extent to which libraries would change over the past century, Mott did recognize the importance of investing in the future of education and community. And for that, we remember her not just as the name of a library, but as a major part of Toledo’s history and a shaper of its present and future—as Cannie Mott.