Not many people can say they slept in City Hall, but in Klemme, Iowa, in the 1960s, City Hall was in my bedroom. My mom was appointed city clerk somewhere around 1964, and City Hall consisted of one filing cabinet/safe that was moved into the corner of my bedroom. My room was just off the living room in our house, and people would come to the front door to pay their water bills or get dog licenses. So it made sense to locate the cabinet there. That was my first view of city government.
In 1968, Mom's local church circle canvassed the town to collect books to start a library. The local grain elevator offered a room at the end of Main Street to house the books, and the Klemme Public Library was launched. The North Iowa Library Extension, a forerunner of the regional library systems in Iowa, provided a rotating collection of books and art prints that added newer titles to the collection and provided training for my mom, the new librarian. I spent most every afternoon after school at the library. I loved to read, but it was the organization of the library, how all those books were arranged on the shelves, that was more interesting to me.
The library outgrew the elevator space so it moved into the vacant doctor's office building. City Hall also relocated to the building. That building was remodeled twice before being torn down to make room for the existing Library/City Hall/Senior-Community Center. I worked with my mom all through high school, helping with summer reading programs, typing catalog cards and choosing new books.
In 1977, while employed as a work study student at Wartburg College, I had the opportunity to attend training for a new system to create catalog cards on a computer terminal. I spent the rest of my work study hours looking up catalog records in Library of Congress volumes and copying the information for the professional cataloger to use to create the records that I then would type into the computer. About two weeks later we would receive the complete sets of catalog cards that I would then file into the huge card catalog at the library. During this time, I also re-filed most of that card catalog, drawer by drawer.
This work experience helped me obtain a position at Cowles Library, Drake University, as a paraprofessional in the Technical Services Department. After three years at Drake I was encouraged to go back to college and get a master's degree in library and information science from the University of Iowa. I thought I would return to academic libraries and become a professional cataloger, but when I finished school in August 1986, there were no cataloging jobs available. There was, however, a library director position open at the Eagle Grove Memorial Library, so I started my professional library career just 25 miles from Fort Dodge. The library had just received its first computer. It had 64k of RAM, and a 5.25-inch floppy drive. We splurged on a 10MB hard drive, thinking we'd never need anything larger than that in the library. And we weren't sure exactly how this machine would really help patrons.
Fast forward to 2011. The integration of computers into the Fort Dodge Public Library as well as into daily life has made unlimited access to information nearly possible. Library users can search from home on their Internet-connected computers and phones any time of the day or night to reserve items, to download an e-book or an audio book, to search through an extensive magazine index on virtually any subject, and to find a diagram of the electrical system in a 1995 Chevy. It's pretty amazing what all this technology and accessibility can provide to the residents of Fort Dodge.
Sometimes I wonder if we have information overload. With each new service or program or piece of equipment the library offers for the public, we must first train Fort Dodge Public Library staff on how to use it. With the ongoing upgrades to computers, both PCs and Macs, phones, both smart and not-so-smart, e-readers and MP3 players of all shapes and types, it becomes almost impossible to remember how each gadget works with a particular program or how materials download onto all of these players. Just as soon as we have mastered navigating a website, the company decides to create a new homepage, and we have to re-learn and re-train. This middle-aged brain is having a harder time adjusting to this constant state of change. I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way.
And yet, while we are all living in the Information Age, some things do remain the same. The Fort Dodge Public Library is still just as relevant as ever. We see people every day who come to the library to find reading materials for enjoyment or information. They reserve the meeting rooms, attend programs for all ages, use the microfilm readers to search family histories, pick out a movie or two to watch, check email and browse the sale items at the Book Store. If patrons need assistance or aren't sure where to start a search we have staff at the Children's and Adult Reference desks available most hours the library is open to help. We have made some improvements to the circulation desk so that patrons can check out materials faster and more efficiently. We also have a new 3M self-check machine funded by the Friends of the Fort Dodge Public Library that patrons can use to check out their own materials.
So, stop in and meet the new kid on the square. Tell me what's great about the Fort Dodge Public Library, and what's not so great. The library board and I are starting to work on a five -year plan for the Library. Are there services that are of value and should be kept or expanded? Are there databases that would support additional education that we should add? Is the website helpful and easy to navigate? Should we sponsor additional programs for children and adults? Are we open convenient hours? Let me know. Together we can make the Fort Dodge Public Library the best Public Library in Iowa.
Barb Shultz is library director at the Fort Dodge Public Library. She can be reached at 573-8167 or firstname.lastname@example.org