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Author Archive for Susan Craig

Food and the Midwestern landscape

by Susan Craig on July 28th, 2015

Years ago, as I got too busy with work and children to maintain a large vegetable garden and be able to pick that perfect tomato exactly when it was perfect, I put my gardening efforts into flowers (they do have that perfect moment too, but you don’t have to pick them and, hopefully, others will enjoy them if you can’t!) and started buying vegetables at Farmers’ Market. Over time I came not only to appreciate the fresh local produce, but the people who grow it. Many with a ready smile, some more taciturn, all with a connection to the Iowa

I recently checked out a book at the Library that made me think of these local farmers. New Prairie Kitchen by Summer (Honest!) Miller, photographs by Dana Damewood. The subtitle of the book is, “Stories and seasonal recipes from chefs, farmers, and artisans of the Great Plains.”

The recipes are great, but the book is far more than a collection of recipes. The author has visited the people and places where the food is grown and where it is prepared, and she tells their stories. She is from Nebraska and there are more Nebraska stories than elsewhere, but Iowa is represented. The photographs — of the people, the food, and the landscape, are simply marvelous.

This is a book to savor in many ways. I can see some of my regular Farmers’ Market vendors in the next edition.

What’s Hot, What’s Not

by Susan Craig on July 22nd, 2015

Librarians do love their statistics, and one thing we watch is what areas of the collection are seeing more use, and which are seeing less.  Our fiscal year ended June 30, so the numbers are coming in.  Some things are up, some things are down.  Are you checking out the trending things, or are you hanging in there with collections whose use is going down?

Downloadable books and audio books are definitely hot, with audio growing at a faster rate then ebooks.  I speculate that this is happening as people are replacing older cars that just had CD players with newer cars that allow you to easily connect your device to the car audio system.  Over 40% of all adult spoken word books checked out are now electronic.  Adult audio downloads are up 38%, ebooks up 16%.  Also in the electronic collection category, our Zinio magazine service saw a 9% increase in use.  Overall downloads still account for less than 10% of our “checkouts.”

Print fiction use is down about 5%, with mysteries down the most (Hey, I’m doing my part, what’s happening here!?).  These collections are probably most affected by the ebook downloads and if you added them together, overall use would be up.  In nonfiction the hot area is biography (up 17%), but declines are seen in the social sciences (300s) and the applied technology (600s).

I was surprised to see that DVD use is up — movies, TV, nonfiction.  I expected a drop because streaming services are getting easier to use and cheaper.  Use of music on CD, however, continues a declining trend.

If you combine Children’s print and electronic book use, circulation is up with the largest increases seen in books for beginning readers.  Using media and electronics in the library is very popular, but less media was checked out from the Children’s Room last year, including DVD and CD formats.

With almost 1.4 million items borrowed last year reading. listening, watching, and playing are all hot!


History in the Making

by Susan Craig on June 5th, 2015

Our month long celebration of local history is over for another year.  In May, National Historical Preservation month, we highlight local history during a series of programs we call WOW—Weber on Wednesday.  The programs honor Iowa City’s unofficial historian, the late Irving B. Weber.lemme

This year we heard about historical gardens, beer caves, food history (oyster bars galore, who knew!), corner grocery stores, downtown Iowa City, and early Coralville.  We also hope to encourage interest in local history and get people involved in preserving and researching.  We offered special scanning days to allow people to use professional grade scanners to digitize documents and solicit items for our Digital History Project.

Of all the programs this year the one that most imbodies the spirit of Irving Weber was a presentation by the 6th grade girls of Helen Lemme school who visited the University of Iowa Women’s Archives, the State Historical Society Library and the Iowa City Public Library to research their school’s namesake, Helen Lemme.  They presented their finding at a WOW program and also shared it with the governor this week.  Their research and work reflects that our history is for everyone – not just scholars.

Many people are concerned about access to the records that make this and future research possible.  The Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs which oversees all the state’s arts and cultural programs, including state historical libraries in Des Moines and Iowa City, has reduced hours at both facilities to just three days a week.  The Iowa City State Historical Society of Iowa had a staff of 20 in 2000, as of July 1, they will have two.

University of Iowa associate professor of history and geography, Tyler Priest, has focused well deserved attention on concerns regarding access to the historical documents housed in the Iowa City Centennial Building.  His perspective is as teacher and a scholar.   The issues he raises affect all Iowans.  We are all “citizen historians,” just like Irving Weber.  All of us who care about the history of our state need to educate ourselves about the situation and follow up on the consultants’ report due out in about a month that the DCA has commissioned.

Currently, the DCA is gathering feedback on how historical collections in Des Moines and Iowa City are used.  If you are interested please complete the survey:

<>  now through Tuesday, June 30.  It will take approximately 10 minutes or less to complete.

Irving B Weber would thank you for your interest!

Thank you! Thank you!

by Susan Craig on April 30th, 2015

Nine thousand one hundred and forty hours contributed by Library volunteers in one year.  The average American working full time works 1,700 hours in one year.  The more than 9,000 hours contributed to the Library in 2014 by our 292 volunteers is the equivalent of more than five full time people.  WOW

Tonight we will be thanking the many dedicated people who volunteer to help the Library.  Hour by hour they provide support in a variety of ways and also inspire others to give back as well.  In 2014 volunteers performed a variety of tasks, including checking in books; sorting gifts, staffing The Book End and maintaining the free shelf; helping with book discussions and reading programs at local care centers; and providing children’s programming.

This year is a special because we are celebrating the program’s 35th anniversary.  Although people had been contributing time before then, the official beginning of the volunteer program occurred in 1979 when the first volunteer policy was adopted by the Library Board, just in time for the hundreds of volunteers who formed the human assembly line that moved library materials from the Carnegie building across the street to 123 S Linn in 1981.

Our wonderful volunteers reflect a great community of involved people who support many local efforts.  Our Children’s Services Coordinator who came to Iowa City three years ago has told me more than once that she is amazed at the support that children’s programming receives on a volunteer basis.  A library director who has invested in an automated materials handling system to check in library materials marvels that we are able to accomplish that task with volunteers – ICPL has successfully recruited check in volunteers for more than thirty years.

I can’t list everyone’s name here, but want to call out the people who will be recognized tonight for contributing 1,000 and 1,500 hours to the Library.  We are thanking Kerry Evans, Mary Lou Matheson, Margaret Nelson, and William Pontarelli for 1,000 hours of support, and Jeanette Carter and Richard Dobson for 1,500 hours.

Couldn’t do it without you!

Setting records

by Susan Craig on March 31st, 2015

It’s March madness and since my Hawkeye Women’s Basketball team is out of the tournament that takes the pressure off and I can enjoy the final four with no personal involvement.  Athletic events are a big draw in Iowa City.  As reported by the Corridor Business Journal recently, average annual attendance at Kinnick Stadium for Iowa Hawkeye Football is 472,000 and Carver-Hawkeye Arena averages 330,000.  Those two venues together have an attendance of 802,000.

The Iowa City Public Library is the most visited public library building in the State of Iowa, and this year we are on track to match attendance at Kinnick Stadium and Carver-Hawkeye arena!  Busiest time of the year?  Summer.  Busiest day of the week?  Sunday  & Saturday average just over 300 people an hour; for weekdays Mondays and Fridays are the busiest.

With some people choosing to download collections from home and so much information readily available online why are people still coming to the library?  Years ago when the community was debating the need for an expanded library building some people asked the question, “Why will we need a larger library, no one will come?”  People are still coming, and in growing numbers.

Physical books are a preference for many area readers.  A survey has shown that Iowa City residents read as many ebooks as their counterparts nationally, but they read twice as many print books!  Programming also brings many people to the Library — whether it’s children at storytimes,  a teen or adult program, or attending one of the thousands of meetings held each year in our meeting rooms, people come to the library to meet face to face with others, to learn and to engage.  In the first six months this year we have had 564 library programs in the building attended by 17,678 people. People without internet access come to use our public access computers (over 50,000 in six months), make a copy, scan or print, or get technology assistance.

Our “March Madness” season is in June when school is out and all our summer programming at full swing — we will have more than 20,000 a week in the building during our peak season.  We’re already preparing!

Thanks a Million, Friends Foundation Supporters!

by Susan Craig on February 10th, 2015

As part of Love your Library Month, I want to send a little love out to everyone who has made a contribution to the Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation.

In the last five years the Foundation has contributed over $1 million to support library services. Funding has been provided for:

  • Building improvements (recent remodeling including the Koza Family Teen Center & Children’s Room improvements)
  • New technology (scanner for the Digital History Project, AWE computers for children, upgraded self-checks)
  • Collections (by my estimate the equivalent of 17,000 books!)
  • Adult, teen and children’s programming (chess tournament, puppet festival, local history programs)
  • Summer reading programs for all ages (book prizes, printed materials, program presenters)

We are currently highlighting what private contributions to the Foundation have made possible with “Thanks a Million” posters and balloons. Next time you’re in, pause and read the banner over the book return slots just inside the front door.

Thank you if you’re already a donor. If you’re not, take the opportunity to be one by dropping your contribution in the box or make a gift online at

Thanks a Million!


Ripple Effects

by Susan Craig on January 29th, 2015

I was listening to a radio story this morning about the consequences of the steep drop in gasoline prices.  One hundred dollars a month, on the average, opened up many opportunities for people.  It got me thinking of the ripple effects spread out from this library.  Often when we seek outside funding in the form of grants the granting bodies ask what our outcomes are expected to be.  This is understandable, but we sometimes struggle with the “measurement” of our services.

We value confidentiality.  We serve all county residents as well as many people outside the immediate area.  We cannot measure what you knew or how you felt when you came in, and then measure those same things again when you leave to see if we had a positive impact.  It would be intrusive and very time consuming.  From time to time we conduct surveys, but they tend to be more general and do not measure specific outcomes.

There have been national studies that confirm that children who participate in summer reading programs are more likely to maintain their reading proficiency over the summer.  The importance of early childhood education has been proven time and time again.  Children’s services public librarians have known this decades longer than the researchers.

I accept that the ripple effects of great library service are largely unknowable.  Anecdotally, I know people who have gotten jobs, started businesses, improved their health (mental and physical), enriched their lives, begun friendships, decided to accept a job offer in Iowa City, learned to use a computer, and found their ancestors at the Iowa City Public Library.  All these things changed their lives.

I was reminded of the ripple effect earlier this week when I received an email from a former board member.  A move took her to Missouri where she also served on the library board.  She recently moved to another state and wrote to say she couldn’t believe that they didn’t read and talk about books the way we did in Iowa and Missouri!  Maybe she’ll start a one community one book program in her new location.

Where have your library ripples taken you?  I’d love to hear.

Resolution: Visit ICPL more often

by Susan Craig on December 29th, 2014

It’s that time of year when we make resolutions for the new year.   I’d like to challenge you to increase your visits to the Iowa City Public Library in 2015.  In the age of instant internet access on smart phones, e-books, and online-databases many of the reasons for visiting the Library are not as urgent as in the past.  But, you may be missing out.

Top Ten Reasons to Visit the Iowa City Public Library

10.  It’s good exercise  (one of my personal perennial New Year’s resolutions involves more exercise).  Depending on where you live and the weather make it the destination of a walk or bike ride.  This is one time lack of immediate parking is good — park two blocks away and get a little walk.  When you’re here, take a stroll around the 2nd floor — it’s a block long you know!  Twice around and you’ve walked four blocks.

9.  Buy a used book or DVD at The Book End. While walking on the second floor stop in The Book End and pick up a gently used book for yourself or someone else.

8.  Become a volunteer.  Last year over 300 people volunteered time at the Library.

7.  Meet people you know.  ICPL is better than the grocery store for running in to someone you know and taking a few minutes to catch up.  Several hundred people an hour come through the doors.  I don’t think anyone who’s lived in town for at least year could sit in the lobby for more than hour and not see someone they know.

6. Do research.  One of our most popular databases,, (the world’s largest online resource for family history with billions of genealogical and historical records) can only be used in the building.  There are many other resources that are only available in the Library, and reference librarians are here to help you all the hours the library is open.

5. Learn about and use technology.  Many people don’t have internet access, or they lose their connections temporarily.  The Library provides public access internet computers that also have basic programs such as word processing on them.  Print, scan, fax.  Attend a class or stop by drop-in tech time for help with a perplexing problem.

4.  Attend a meeting or program.  Thousands of meetings and programs occur every year in our meetings rooms.  Check out the schedule on our web site.  You will find something that interests you.

3.  Checkout a physical book, DVD, magazine, piece of art or toy.  Better yet take several (more exercise!).

2.  Bring a child to the Children’s Room for story time, play time, book time, fun time.

1.  Discover something.  Wander around the building — look at the art, check out the recently returned shelves to see what others have been reading or the NEW book shelves to see what’s recently published, walk through the Children’s Room even if you don’t have children, explore the second floor,  read all the postings on the community bulletin board in the lobby.  I try to do it every day.

There’s my top ten list.  What’s yours?  I hope to see you often at ICPL in 2015.


Support Your LIbrary

by Susan Craig on November 24th, 2014

It’s that time of year. Every day your mailboxes (physical and virtual) have new appeals for worthy causes, and the Library is asking for your support as well. If you haven’t seen the annual report of the Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation, please look it over. The Library receives good tax funding, but the Foundation gifts allow us to move from great to fantastic which is what we want you to think your library is.

Last year Foundation gifts to the Library paid more than half the cost of our building renovations, purchased library materials for all ages, supported huge growth in our Summer Reading Program (allowing us to continue to provide books to participants — see p. 8 of the annual report for a heartwarming story), supported programs, and improved technology.

You can give online or by mail (make checks payable to the Iowa City Public Library Friends Foundation). You also support the Library through your purchases at the Arts & Crafts Bazaar (Saturday, December 6, 10-3) at special book sales (same day) or at The Book End.

At this time of year I am thankful for a great public library.  What would our community be without it?  Please consider a gift today.

Protecting Your Freedom to Read

by Susan Craig on September 24th, 2014

Protecting Your Freedom to Read

During Banned Book Week we have many interesting programs and displays to offer (, but it’s also a good time to think about the role public libraries play in supporting the full range of first amendment rights.

It’s easy for us to take for granted that materials expressing many viewpoints and opinions are available in our public library, and that we can use those materials without fear that we will be monitored, chastised or punished. Many people have fought bitter and sometimes dangerous battles to protect the right to say and read what you want. Librarians have lost jobs for purchasing and circulating information that someone didn’t approve.

The very form of “government” of most municipal libraries in Iowa, a semi-autonomous library board, was designed to create a barrier between the politicians (city councils) who are more likely to be swayed by public opinion or current political trends and the information providers (library staff) who work to represent all points of view through collections and hold confidential who uses what (a confidentiality that is also protected by state law in Iowa). The Library Board sets policies, has budget authority to spend money as they approve, and hires a library director. Typically other city departments’ budgets, policies and hiring/firing of executives are under the authority of the City Council and/or City Manager. The primary reason for an independent library board is to ensure that an enraged phone call from a constituent to a City Council member, or a demand from law enforcement does not result in a book being removed from the collection, or records being turned over without a subpoena.

Over the years we have had a variety of complaints about materials people did not think were appropriate – and that they should be kept from some group of people, usually children. Staff who select library materials continue to work to ensure all points of view are represented.

So, look at the books you take home and consider that there is someone who probably thinks some of them shouldn’t even be in the library. It’s not hypothetical.