Happy 120th Birthday, Dear ICPL. The Iowa City Public Library first opened it’s doors on January 21, 1897. The effort to establish a public library in Iowa City started in 1896 so we get confused about whether the institution’s “real” birthday started with the egg (the organizational efforts) or the chicken (opening the door). I think opening the doors is a good thing to celebrate. The first library location was two rooms measuring 100 X 30 feet over the newly constructed brick building at 211-213 Iowa Ave. The ground floor was occupied by the C.O.D. Steam Laundry.
The directors hired a librarian (a bookkeeper who received a annual salary of $600), and three committees were appointed to select books and periodicals. They also purchased bookcases, newspaper racks, tables, chairs, a desk for the librarian, five hundred sheets of letterhead, blank library cards, thirteen 16-candle power lamps with porcelain shades, board games (crokinale, archrena, checkers, chess and Parcheesi) as well as some basics like a wastebasket, ink stand, stamp pad, broom and dustpan.
The first library was open ten hours a day six days a week and four hours on Sunday to anyone age ten or older. People could borrow one book at a time with a five cents a day fine on books past due. One hundred and twenty years later we serve people of all ages and are open eleven hours four days a week (M-Th), ten hours one day (Fri), eight hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday (3 total hours more than in 1897) and our fines are 25 cents a day for most things — well under the inflation rate.
At the opening ceremony the words of speech written by president of the Iowa City Public Library Association still remind us 120 years later of the core mission of the public library. “…this library is and will be public in the fullest sense of the word. It belongs to no person nor class of persons. It is to be under the control of no particular race nor creed. … Parents may feel that their children in coming here for books, whether they be rich or poor are placing themselves under obligation to no one. They are simply exercising a right… Every person in the city shall feel perfectly free to seek the advantages of this library.”
If you want to learn more about the history of ICPL look for Lolly Eggers’ book, A Century of Stories: the History of the Iowa City Public Library, 1896-1997. where I found this historical information.
Public libraries have transformed my life and I hear stories every day of the impact this library has had on others’ lives. Happy Birthday, ICPL! May you prosper for another 120 years.