In June of 1981 a committee led by then-mayor Lawrence Hopper met to discuss creating library services for the town. Until that date, residents had been using services out of Des Moines, but the cost of those services were increasing, and the city determined it was time to make their own library.
“Also, I think they (the city) felt it was advantageous and would add to their own sense of identity,” Library Director John Lerdal says.
By July, the ball was rolling. With many donations, 21 applications for the librarian position and a trailer selected as a possible location, the city was moving forward with plans to provide a library for residents. Ultimately, Ms. Pat Rehder was selected as the city’s first librarian and began work in September of that year.
The first meeting of the Pleasant Hill Library Board of Trustees was held in the trailer, located behind the then-city hall on Oakwood Drive. Board members had only boxes and donated materials to sit on during the meeting. During this meeting, the official opening date for the library was set for Jan. 2, 1982.
By September, the trailer-housed library was outgrowing its first home. With a reported 24,500 circulation, it was time to start looking for a larger place to do business. In October of 1983, a proposal for a commercial facility being built on Maple Drive was presented. The board voted to accept the proposed location on Dec. 21.
“That’s where it was when I came,” Lerdal says. “It was about 2,000 square feet.”
In April 1984, Rehder left her position as town librarian, and Suzanne Larson stepped into the position. Under Larson’s guidance, the library moved into its new home in August. The library continued to grow through the late 1980s, extending services and hours as more residents became dependent on the institution for reading and research materials.
By the 1990s, the library, which now had almost 2,500 patrons, had once again outgrown its home. In 1991, the library appointed Lerdal as director, a position he still maintains.
“This is the first and only library job I’ve ever had,” he says.
As the library celebrated its 10th year in business, it was proposed that a new building be constructed at 4450 Oakwood. Unfortunately, the proposed bond was not approved by voters. However, a second bond proposal was approved in December of 1993, allowing a single structure for several government services, including 6,500 square feet for the library. The groundbreaking ceremony was held in July of 1994.
With the help of Scout Troops and elementary students, the library materials were moved, and the new facility officially opened at 10 a.m. on May 22, 1995.
In 2000, a mural using local children as models was added to The Book Tower, the children’s area of the library. In 2001, 543 children participated in the library’s Summer Reading Program, and by 2002, circulation had grown to over 75,000. The Bringing Education and Seniors Together (B.E.S.T.) program started in 2003 and more than 700 people participated in the Summer Reading Program.
The library was renovated in 2005 offering approximately 50 percent more operation space. In 2006, a new teen area titled “My Space” was added to the library.
Through the years, the library continued to grow and improve, adding the most up-to-date computer programs, literature and offering multiple community programs. There are now 10 staff members at the library — three full-time — to keep things running. More than 6,000 people have library cards to the Pleasant Hill Library, which includes patrons from other areas in the county, and offers about 10,000 square feet, including meeting and program rooms, and approximately 50,000 items available to borrow.
Lerdal and his staff do more than check materials in and out. They monitor trends, keep up with what books in a series are available and make sure computers and programs are up to date.
“We rely a lot of on demand,” Lerdal says. “We certainly want to have the materials our patrons want and need.”
Staffers also look in magazines and online to determine what will work best for the community. All the materials are purchased, so the budget is closely monitored, and the staff has to determine the best use of its money.
Sue McMillen oversees the process of accepting new materials, which they rely heavily on Friends of the Library volunteers to assist in.
“They do the covering, bar codes and all inside work,” she says.
The next step is getting all the new material logged into the computer and on the shelves.
Not only are items added to the shelves, but some things have to be retired. The condition of the material, as well as the frequency it is used, plays a role in when it is taken off the shelf.
“Some things a library should just have,” Lerdal says. “You want to have a well-rounded collection and have all points of view represented.”
Some of the more heavily-used materials include children’s books and audio books. The library now has access to e-books, audio and magazines online, greatly expanding materials for the patrons.
“At this point, the amount of usage of those compared to our physical items in the library is pretty small,” Lerdal says. “But it’s growing a lot.”
The library now has 18 computers for use and offers wireless Internet. Two computers are programmed for preschool-aged children, with games and educational options.
Krista Smith works diligently to keep multiple story times and crafts going each week.
“Sometimes I plan something based on some big movie that is out,” Smith says. “I like to come up with original things.”
One of the upcoming events is a Penguin Party for the kids to have a winter fun.
Lerdal says the Summer Reading Program is now open to adults and teens as well as younger readers, which has jumped the involvement numbers up to more than 1,000. Participants keep track of the number of hours read, and they can sign up for prizes.
“In the first part of April, we’re going to have programs through the Humanities of Iowa Program and will have speakers coming in,” Lerdal says. The best way to find out what is going on with the library is to find them on Facebook or check their website at www.pleasanthilliowa.org.
Activities aren’t just limited to the library.
The B.E.S.T. program has continued to expand over the years and now includes bus trips for senior citizens to go to various locations around the state. The staff holds story time at Four Mile Elementary and shares books with the students. They also have story time for the preschool at Pleasant Hill Elementary and with several daycares in the area.
“I think it’s good that we are out in the community and doing those types of things,” Lerdal says.
Every year, in conjunction with the Hill of Lights, the library sets up a Giving Tree. People bring canned goods, hats, gloves, scarves and other items that are then donated to a women’s shelter in downtown Des Moines.
The library holds an annual Halloween party in conjunction with the Park and Rec Department. The party is held on the Friday before Halloween at the Youth Center at Doanes Park. Last year, Lerdal estimates about 300 people attended the event, which consists of multiple activities for kids to participate in, including carnival games and a cakewalk.
“Lots and lots of candy,” he laughs.
Library staff plan to have two notaries on staff and offer the service for free. They also lend out cake pans. Yes, cake pans — nearly 50 of them adorn a rack in the library and vary in subject matter from Darth Vader to carousel horses.
Future plans are to continue to expand into online materials brainstorming ideas for programming. They are also working on an archive of Pleasant Hill’s history and welcome any donations of documentation and photos of historical significance.
The library has applied for grant money to expand on some of their educational services, likely aimed more toward junior high students.
“We want to remain relevant,” he says of their continued expansion.
While many people presume the availability of online information has hurt libraries, Lerdal feels it has helped.
“The important thing is, no matter what the format, to continue to proved information and access for people for free,” Lerdal says. “That’s a great contribution to our community.”