The People’s Cookbook Collection

Whether you’re a rising chef, a novice home cook, or someone looking to dive into Cleveland’s rich culinary history, the robust collection of cookbooks at the Cleveland Public Library’s Main Library downtown has you covered.

Boasting a selection of more than 25,000 books across the sprawling CLEVNET library consortium, which serves many Northeast Ohio library systems, Cleveland Public Library provides access to written words from chefs near and far, as well as prominent food writers.

The library’s vast selection of cookbooks spans 400 years, according to Rose Mary Hoge, librarian in the science and technology department. “Often, cookbooks were not called cookbooks; they were collections on household advice where one major point was how to prepare food,” says Hoge. “For example, one book in microfilm owned by the Cleveland Public Library is The Family Dictionary: or Household Companion, first published in 1696.”

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These days, the science and technology department sees a more contemporary readership.

“We get a lot of young, local chefs who want to learn more about particular techniques,” says Alison Guerin, a clerk in the Science and Technology department. And she should know, having previously worked at both the Cleveland Public Library and Jonathon Sawyer’s Greenhouse Tavern. Guerin recently committed to the library as her main gig.

Guerin’s work experience makes her uniquely qualified to live among the towering stacks of the cookbook collection, and talking with her is an exercise in exceptional food and industry knowledge, from Cleveland’s East 4th Street to Catalonia.

“[Lately], I’ve pulled books about charcuterie and pâté and terrine,” Guerin says. The selections are for her boyfriend, Jordan Kirk, a cook at Michael Symon’s Lola. Kirk frequently uses the library to expand his interests and, most importantly, to educate himself. Recently, he has been learning about French cooking techniques, and he turns to the library to mine its collection.

“The library is a great, free resource,” Kirk says. “When I lived in Columbus, I was always telling my friends to study at the library.” Kirk has since applied that attitude to his work in Cleveland, and there’s no denying that the city’s diners benefit from chefs like Kirk with an insatiable hunger for knowledge.

Given its unique collection of materials, the library can feel daunting. Guerin says she’s worked with a broad spectrum of visitors.

“I’ve helped people who speak limited English look for cookbooks from their homeland so they could re-create dishes from their childhood in their new home in Cleveland,” Guerin says.

With such a far-reaching collection of works, and given the ethnically diverse spirit of Cleveland, the cookbook collection at the Cleveland Public Library operates as a great leveler for the people who call this city home, and for them, there is always a local slant in Guerin’s department.

For Cleveland Restaurant Week, Guerin’s book display featured Michael Ruhlman’s Egg, Laura Taxel’s Cleveland Ethnic Eats, and Michael Symon’s Carnivore, alongside behemoths of the world food game, including El Bulli by Ferran Adrià, Sean Brock’s Heritage, and the Alice Waters compendium.

The display is effective, marking Cleveland’s relevance in the food world.

Among rising chefs and students at Tri-C’s culinary school, word is getting out about the vast selection of cookbooks, housed in a place that has always fostered knowledge and learning—the local library.

The cookbook collection is located on the third floor of the Main Library downtown, 325 Superior Ave., in the science and technology department. For more information, visit cpl.org.