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Emmetsburg Public Library Celebrates 100 Years

By Staff | Apr 1, 2008

LIBRARY HISTORY -- Mary and Dick Abels and Linda Tienter (left to right) scan through history of Emmetsburg Public Library. The library celebrated 100 years at a program Sunday, March 30. --Jane Whitmore photo

“Exactly a century ago this month, on March 8, 1908, a referendum to establish the Emmetsburg Public Library and to levy a tax was passed with a vote of 358 to 226. Women were allowed to vote in the special election.”

Mary Ellen Leners, retired Librarian, shared this information and other history of Emmetsburg Public Library at a program honoring this institution’s 100 year history.

Leners searched old local newspapers, gleaning items about the first libraries.

• 1898 – Emmetsburg Women’s Civic Association put together a reference collection which was the seed of the forthcoming library.

• 1902 – Library Association of Emmetsburg formed with bylaws and a constitution, with assistance from the Iowa State Library Commission.

• 1905 – Mr. C.F. Curtis made room for the small collection in a room in his studio. He acted as librarian until the books were moved to Mr. Vaughan’s Tailor Shop.

• 1905, October – A heated room over the post office was offered for $10 a month; 12 businessmen funded the first year’s rent.

• 1908, March 8 – Referendum passed to establish a library and levy a tax.

• 1911 – Mrs. H.W. Beebe and Mrs. Thryza Watson successfully petitioned the Andrew Carnegie Foundation for funds to build a new library building. The Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors offered the City of Emmetsburg a 99 year lease to locate the city library on the Courthouse Square.

• 1912, December 13 – The stately new Carnegie Library was dedicated.

“To help furnish the library, the ladies of Friday Club of Emmetsburg sponsored an evening with the diva of the day, Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink,” Mary Ellen told the group. “The proceeds from the concert at the Opera House purchased an impressive grandfather clock which is still very much a part of the library’s ambiance. I consider it the very heartbeat.”

She also noted, “When the library moved here to the new building in August 1997, it seemed all was well when the clock was safely in place clicking tick-tock, striking every 15 minutes and tolling the hours.”

Mary Ellen Leners served Emmetsburg Public Library for 21 years, retiring in 2006. She initiated library service to the homebound and nursing home residents, a courtesy that continues. Mary Ellen talked of technology that allows for storing, sharing and sorting ideas, and Emmetsburg’s unique cooperative arrangement with Iowa Lakes Community College.

“This is a very efficient means of enhancing the availability of the many services to a wide range of users,” she said.

Val Newhouse, Executive Vice President of Iowa Lakes Community College, extended congratulations to the community and staff of the library.

“For the past ten plus years, Iowa Lakes has had the unique opportunity to collaborate with the city’s library in facilities, equipment, staff and of course books and other print materials.This collaboration has been a win/win arrangement for the college an the city alike. The resulting comprehensive library is something that neither of us would be able to accomplish alone, Through the joint arrangement, we are able to offer more resource to more students and patrons more days and more hours than we would otherwise be able to provide.”

The primary purpose of the college library is research oriented and the primary purpose of the public library is intended more for recreation and information. Combined, Newhouse said, everyone has the opportunity to utilize both.

“This arrangement serves as a model to other communities who want to maximize their limited resources, yet want to provide a state of the art facility,” she added.

State Representative Marcie Frevert of Emmetsburg was introduced by Emmetsburg Public Library Director Nathan Clark as “a champion of libraries at the statehouse.” She was named Iowa Reading Teacher of the Year in 1994.

“Libraries are good for the local community and good for Iowa,” Frevert told the group. “Every dollar spent on libraries results in a benefit to our state’s economy and to our quality of life.”

She talked about the services provided by libraries, including computer and internet access; assisting with economic development by helping people attain skills to obtain jobs; support democracy by providing people with the tools to make informed decisions.

How have libraries changed in the past 100 years? Libraries offer more in ways of programs. The library collection has grown from all books to include magazines, audio tapes, CDs and DVDs; the technical expertise librarians have to provide better service; and the internet as a way Americans do business and communicate.

“My prediction is that the library will continue to be a vital part of our community life, far into the future,” Frevert said. She noted that many older books and magazines are not available on the internet; books and magazines that are on the internet are not free; the librarians who help patrons find books want them to read; and, not everyone has internet access at home.

“Libraries will continue to thrive because the library is important as a place,” says Frevert. “A physical symbol of community pride, a gathering place, a community center, a place for meetings and for story time and for book discussions. The heart of the community.”

Rep. Frevert presented Nathan Clark with a certificate acknowledging Emmetsburg Public Library’s 100th Anniversary, signed by herself and the Librarian for the State of Iowa, and Iowa Governor Chet Culver.