The community-supported multi-million dollar Adel Public Library children, families and others use today began in the 1880s in the lecture room of the Adel Methodist Church, where it was referred to as the Sunday School Library.
The Adel Women’s Club wanted to make the library more accessible to the public and organized the city’s first public library in 1911 with a few shelves of books in the parlor of the Christian Church in town.
The Women’s Club thought the books would be more accessible to more people if they moved them into the balcony of the local grocery store located on the south side of the city’s square. The library later moved to another building downtown.
Members of the Women’s Club were charged with donating books to the library each year and recruiting their friends to donate some. By 1920, a state law was passed that authorized city officials to collect a tax to maintain a library. As a result, city leaders passed a resolution that on March 29, 1920, there would be a vote on whether to establish a free public library supported by city tax money, according to a written historical provided by the Adel Public Library.
The measure was approved, 192 to 36. The new library was relocated to the former Presbyterian Church, located one block south of the square. The building was purchased in December 1921 for $1,000. Fifteen Adel businessmen came together to contribute the money for the building’s purchase. They included S.M. Leach, the manager of Adel State Bank, who gave $500. George W. Clarke —a lawyer who later served four terms as a Dallas County representative before he served as lieutenant governor and later governor of Iowa — gave $100. The family of Nile Kinnick — who played football for Adel High School and later the University of Iowa, where he won the Heisman trophy — gave $25.
Library services expand as community grows; growth means larger building needed
In 1966, work began on an addition to the former church building. The Kate Macomber Clarke Addition, named in honor of the longtime, respected Adel resident who was a member of the Dallas County Historical Society, was used as a reading room and area for permanent storage of written materials about the history of Adel.
When it was completed, The Catalyst, a publication of the Iowa Library Association, referred to it as “the most beautiful place in Adel.” The room had a slate floor, a beamed cathedral ceiling, built-in bookcases and magazine racks and paneled oak walls.
In 1984, a fundraising drive was under way to raise about $35,000 for an addition to house the library’s growing collection. At the time, some books were stacked so high on bookshelves that patrons could not reach them, according to a Jan. 12, 1984 article in The Dallas County News.
Library officials also were concerned with the weight of the library’s 14,500 paperback and hardbound books in the church building. Built in 1868 and one of the oldest buildings in Adel, it was not designed to accommodate the weight of so many books. The addition would alleviate some of the weight by spreading out books, or allow library officials to expand the children’s area, according to the newspaper article.
Library officials move to the next stage, hire consultant to plan for future library needs
Fast forward 15 years, and library board members were once again looking to the future. They hired a consultant in 1999 to conduct a space needs assessment to determine what a new library would look like to meet the current and expected growth of the city and the type of programming and services it would provide to the community.
A series of public meetings in 1999 gave consultants and board members more information about the details the community wanted in a new library. They wanted it near the bicycle trail and downtown and to offer community rooms that could be used for meetings and small events.
The library, built in 2006, replaced the facility at Prairie and Ninth streets. That building, which had been added onto twice, is now a private business.
The library “had just outgrown it,” says Paula James, director of the library. “There was no place for programming, no place for public access computers.”
The new library was expected to cost about $3 million, of which city council members asked the Adel Public Library Foundation to raise $550,000 to prove the private sector was committed to the project before voters were asked to approve a referendum to be taxed for the remaining amount.
It took about 15 to 18 months for the library foundation to raise the $550,000 it needed. The money came through a grant, private donations, garage sales, mini bake sales and a silent auction.
The 2003 referendum was approved with 70 percent voting in favor of borrowing the $2.4 million toward the new library building.
Library opens in 2006 with upstairs partially unfinished; money raised to complete project
The building officially opened just after the new year in 2006. The library’s design is open, and the exterior was modeled to look similar to the former Adel Manufacturing Co., where city hall is located. It’s centrally located and near the bicycle path for easy access.
The landing that leads to the second floor pays homage to the former library building with two chairs, a small card catalog, a reading table and the plaque for the Kate Macomber Clarke addition.
The original plans called for only the first floor to be finished and usable, while the second floor would be finished in future years as more money was raised. The project came in under budget, and there was enough money to finish half of the second floor.
Library officials had crammed most of their books in the finished half of the second floor onto a hodgepodge of bookshelves that James says she picked up at various garage sales. It was crowded, and the shelving didn’t match. The unfinished half was separated from the library by a wall and was used for garage sales and book storage.
In 2012, library officials — with the help of private donations from the estates of former residents and others and money from bake sales and garage sales — raised enough money to finish the second floor. The project cost about $126,000 minus the shelving to finish. The new space is now home to all of the library’s fiction books. They’re shelved by different genres and separated by hardback, paperback and large print.
Library services expand to serve families, help fill gap between “haves” and “have-nots”
As technology has advanced, so have the services the Adel Public Library has been able to offer residents and the ease at which information can be found.
James chuckles when she receives a reference question today, because oftentimes the information can be found with an Internet search, when in the past reference librarians were tasked with finding the correct book in which the information was located and then helping the patron pull the information.
Assistant library director Laura Hanson says the library works to keep up with trends in technology. Library staff members use Facebook and Twitter to share information about the library and promote its programs.
The community room has a projector and smart TV that is available for rent for presentations by local businesses, nonprofit groups and other community organizations, including a group of women who use one of the rooms to exercise in three times a week. Use of that space and the two conference rooms and study spaces continues to increase, James says.
In 1999, the Adel Library had two public access computers. Today seven are available, including one in the children’s area that has children’s games and learning applications. The library has a large children’s area with a story nook, train table and Legos for children to play with and a large wooden boat where children can play or sit and read. The area is often buzzing with moms and their young children.
Hanson says the availability of public access computers allows those who are unable to afford one or have access to the Internet at home the ability to do so.
“In Adel, we notice there is a big gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’” she says.
This is one reason why library staff started the “stuff shelf” — a bookshelf of random items that can be checked out for a longer period than the traditional book or movie checkout time. The items include a telescope, folding tables, toolbox, American Girl doll, cake pans, a punch bowl and other items individuals might need but not every day.
“It’s kind of expanding the goal and the mission of the library to ‘What do people need?’ ” Hanson says.
Books are now available on audio and electronically through a program called OverDrive, where books can be checked out electronically for free. The library offers interlibrary loan services where patrons can check out materials from other libraries if what they want is not available at the Adel Library.
Library employees also proctor tests and provide one of the few places in town where faxes can be sent, photocopies can be made and items can be laminated.
Regardless of the materials offered by the library, it remains a place where people come to congregate and spend time. The library board recently changed the mission statement to describe the library as a “cultural hub.”
“I think it’s evolving,” Hanson says of the library’s use. “Books are important, and technology is important, but I think it’s becoming a community space.”
“It makes me feel really good to see people in the study rooms and the teens hanging out in the teen area with their laptops,” James adds.
“That’s really our goal: to make it a spot in Adel for everyone,” Hanson finishes.