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Celebrating 130 Years

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In 1884, a group of young people, called the Enterprise Club, recognized the need for a public library. They lobbied citizens for passage of a tax levy to support a free public library. On June 27, 1884, the Indianola Public Library opened on what was then the third floor of the “hardware store on the northwest corner of the square.”

That third floor no longer exists. Neither does the hardware store.

But 130 years later, the Indianola Public Library is still here. And it is the ninth oldest public library in the state of Iowa.

I often marvel at the foresight and dedication of that group of people. How could they know then how important the Library would be to the community? How did they even know it would survive this long?

The history of the Library mirrors the history of the community and the country. Measures were taken during both wars to keep the Library open and provide service, even as janitor after janitor went off to serve. Hitching posts, sewer lines, records, even video discs were added as the need arose. Dutch elm disease was discussed at Library Board meetings.

In recent years public computers, DVDs, ebooks and online databases have been added in order to keep the Library responsive to customer needs.

The Library has faced challenges, too. Keeping aging buildings functional is one of them. The “old building” (now the home of the Des Moines Metro Opera) became a nightmare to heat and cool and keep running. The “new building” (now 30 years old) faces similar heating and cooling issues. Space and how to use it were frequent themes 40 years ago as they are today.

Hours and staff are also ongoing themes. Finding them, keeping them, replacing them.

But funding was then, and remains today, perhaps the biggest issue. The Library has always been funded primarily by tax dollars and finding those dollars is always a problem.

I often have people ask me if public libraries will still be around in 20 years because, you know, everything is electronic now. For those people, no answer I can give them will convince them of the need both now and in the future.

So I’ll leave it to Hannah Babb who was library director from 1884 to 1915. In a program she gave to the Women’s Club in 1913 she answered this question: What should a public library be and what is its mission?

“A public library is the broadest of teachers; it is the most liberal of schools; it is the people’s college; it tells the whole story. It begins with the youngest child and when the man is old it is still ready to help and interest him…It should afford inspiration to all the community, broaden the horizon, develop character and add to the contentment of the people.”

We aren’t planning any grand parties this year to celebrate being 130-years-old. But I hope you’ll join me in thanking those people from 1884 who had the foresight and dedication to work to improve the lives of the people in this community. And then I hope you’ll join me in thanking the people who continue to make it possible. Be sure to thank yourself, too, since your tax dollars are what continue to allow us to provide the best services we can for the residents of this community.