September 12, 2013

Columbus Ohio librarian quietly saved a million dollars for gift back to library


Carol Snowden surprised everyone by leaving $600,000 to the Columbus library branch where she spent her career.

Carol Sue Snowden worked for 30 years in the Whitehall branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. She lived in a condominium on the East Side of Columbus and drove a second-hand Chevrolet. She was the daughter of parents who lived through the Great Depression, and she led a simple and frugal life, content to indulge occasionally on her passion for books.

When she died of ovarian cancer in 2008, friends and library colleagues were stunned to learn that she was a millionaire. “You should have heard the gasp in the room,” recalled Kim Snell, spokeswoman for the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Snowden’s 2008 obituary in the Columbus Dispatch.

According to Snowden’s three sisters, she had asked for her family’s blessing to leave the money to libraries before she died. Through thrifty living and wise investments Snowden had slowly saved more than a million dollars, leaving $530,000 to the Whitehall branch’s children’s section and $70,000 for the libraries of seven Columbus-area schools. For the school gifts, she indicated that she wanted 90% of the money to be used for the print collection, and 10% for computer-related materials.

On Tuesday this week, the Whitehall library branch broke ground on a new building. Snowden’s gift will be “spent on the children-teens area, which will be larger than that in most libraries and will include a small, sound-proof recording studio,” according to library spokesman Ben Zenitzky.

“Carol’s heart was really focused on bringing books and reading to elementary school students. She really wanted to instill the love of reading, said Kathy Shahbodaghi, public services director of youth and teen services for the library. “She worked at a branch that was very busy and small for that community,” said. “She was really looking forward to the rebuilding of that branch. She wanted to showcase more strongly the opportunities to children that occur at the library, a space to welcome youth.”

During her career, Carol Snowden led story time for children at the Whitehall branch, created pre-school programs for Head Start, and visited public schools to read to kids.

Correction: An earlier version of this piece indicated that Snowden had left $1 million to the Columbus Metropolitan Library. She left $600,000, not $1 million.


Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.