In 1971, a small bungalow filled with mostly donated books became Altoona’s first public library.
Some 44 years later, the Altoona Public Library continues to be an invaluable resource for the community and has evolved into much more than just a repository for books.
Today, it offers a wide variety of services. Patrons can download ebooks, audiobooks and music. Children, teens and adults can attend an assortment of programs, including storytimes, evening activities for teens and even self-defense classes. A computer lab is available for use, and patrons can look at various databases for research and sign up to use meeting and study rooms.
The library also helps support Altoona’s economic development and has increased its partnerships with other city departments on various projects.
Trends, what’s new
The library has seen several big changes within the last several years along with some recent and upcoming additions.
One of those is the growth of its digital inventory, says Kim Kietzman, who has been the library director for five years. For example, the library had 15,681 ebooks at the end of the 2014 fiscal year compared to 10,082 the previous year. That’s a sizable leap from the 2,527 reported for fiscal year 2008.
Amy Turgasen has been the assistant director of the library since 2005. Then, the digital resources available to patrons were more along the lines of encyclopedia sets and nonfiction. Today, people have access to a range of popular materials they download from home.
While Turgasen envisions the library becoming increasingly digital, she says it will continue to be a destination for its variety of programs for all ages.
“Hopefully it’s still a cornerstone of the community and people feel proud to come here and are proud of what we have,” she says.
Use of the building, along with programming, has increased, Kietzman says. Building use is measured by door and meeting room counts, computer lab logins and use of digital materials.
In fiscal year 2014, 10,540 people attended library programs. Of those, 9,825 attended children’s programs, and 430 went to programs for young adults. Both of those numbers are up from six years ago. Then, 8,148 attended children’s programs, while 72 went to young adult programs.
The hiring of a new children’s librarian, Jenny Goulden, two years ago helped boost the popularity of children’s programming, Kietzman says.
Goulden is also giving more attention to fourth- to sixth-graders, which was not a focus in the past, says Turgasen. They hope that offering diverse programming for this age group will keep them coming back to the library into their teens, another demographic that the library has worked hard to attract with fun, new programs.
Their efforts began around 2007 and 2008, doing surveys of the local high school, Turgasen says. The teen area was completed in October of 2011, providing a special space with fun furniture and materials for teenagers.
The library also formed a teen board in 2014. The group helps decide what teen programs are offered and is working with Turgasen on a new teen website.
One of the library’s major changes will be taking place sometime in the spring. Right now, there are about 60,000 items (that physically sit on a shelf) in the building, Kietzman says. Patrons will soon have access to about 60 million items.
Altoona Public Library is joining MOBIUS, a consortium based in Missouri that’s comprised of dozens of libraries. This will enable patrons of the Altoona library to borrow items from libraries in Missouri, Colorado and parts of Oklahoma, Kietzman says. Deliveries will be made five days a week.
“We’d be the first library in Iowa to join this consortium,” she says. The annual cost after the first year will be $11,249.
Currently, Kietzman says, a person has to fill out paperwork for an interlibrary loan, and it can take a few weeks to receive books. With MOBIUS, books can be checked out online and have them within two to three days.
Other changes include:
- A new online service is now available to help patrons find books according to their tastes. People can request a Personalized Reading List at http://www.altoona.lib.ia.us/books-reading/readinglist or click the “Books and Reading” tab on the library’s main page. There they can fill out a form explaining their reading likes and dislikes, and the library will generate a list of authors and titles to try.
- The library is also broadening its reach within the community. That includes sponsoring a free fun zone for kids at the annual Altoona Palooza celebration. In addition, the library has increased its partnerships with city departments and others on various projects, Kietzman says. That includes collaborating with Altoona’s parks department on a grant through Facebook and working with the Southeast Polk Community School District, Iowa State University and the Pleasant Hill Public Library on another grant.
The library’s beginnings
Two Altoona women played critical roles in the creation of the Altoona Public Library. Robert Thompson shared their stories and the evolution of the library in a piece in the Altoona Herald-Mitchellville Index on Oct. 1, 1998.
Zilla Hick (1873-1968) provided the library’s first home. Hick bequeathed property that included a 900-square-foot bungalow, which was to be used as a library. One of her brothers had built it for his bride-to-be, but the wedding never took place. Hick eventually moved into the home.
Faith Kurtzweil (1902-1998) was a charter member of the library board and also volunteered her time as the first librarian, according to the Herald-Index.
Kurtzweil held a master’s degree and was a voracious reader. She was a teacher for 45 years and Iowa’s first certified student counselor.
“When the library opened July 19, 1971, most of the books were donated by individuals and surrounding libraries,” the article says. Its inaugural year, 1,300 library cards were issued, and the library was open 24 hours per week.
Former library board member Diane Burget has lived in Altoona since 1970. She recalls taking their kids, who grew up in the late ’70s through the mid ’80s, to look at the children’s books, which were located in the basement of the original library. Then, they used the card catalog. It was a big deal, she remembers, when the library made the move to the electronic catalog.
In December 1982, a $175,000 bond issue was approved for a new 4,300-square-foot library with space for about 31,000 books. The new building, which opened July 1, 1984, was built around the original library. The bungalow was later moved.
In May 1996, voters approved a $3.7 million bond issue for a new library building and remodel of the existing library to become a police station, according to a Herald-Index article printed that same month.
Back then, Mayor Skip Conkling was on the City Council and had been selected by the mayor to be liason to the library board. A new building was necessary to keep pace with Altoona’s growth, says Conkling. When he was elected to the City Council in 1992, Altoona’s population was about 7,000; today, it is 15,000.
The library plays a crucial role in the economic vitality of Altoona, Conkling says. It’s something that companies interested in bringing their business to the community consider.
To a certain degree, he adds, the “library indicates education level of a city.”
Kietzman says one of the library’s roles is to “support economic development in any way we can,” for businesses big and small. For example, the library last year began making a table available where businesses can set up displays.
The doors to the library’s current home at 700 Eighth St. S.W. opened in September of 1998, with a square footage of 19,300.
Evelyn Cole remembers the excitement of the move and the new opportunities available with the larger space.
A long-time Altoona resident and lover of books, Cole became involved with the Friends of the Library in the 1990s and is currently president of the group. She also served on the library board for about 15 years.
She’s especially happy with the growth of programs for children and teens and the education they provide. But with the increase in programming and limited space, they may have to get creative, Cole says, possibly looking at satellite sites or other locations for heavily-attended events.
“It’s been a great experience to see them build from where they were to where they are today,” she says.
Burget, a former library board member, says the library has evolved over the years to offer a broader scope of information for all ages.
“I think libraries’ mission in communities is to be an information center, and I think that’s how it’s grown, into more of an information center,” she says.
Jeff Nolin, president of the library board, says the library continues to be a resource for people through every phase of life. He got involved with the library board to help preserve that.
“I generally see value in the library, and that everyone has access to resources to research, to learn, to explore and expand their knowledge,” he says. “I think as long as we’re able to adapt and continue to be relevant, we’ll be a very important part of the community.”