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Posted February 04, 2015 in Perry

Where can a person walk into a building, find a painting to take home, log onto one of 16 computers, attend a children’s event or use the Wi-Fi account — all for free?

Noemi Lopez, 6, says she likes to come to the library to play on the children’s computer station. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers

Noemi Lopez, 6, says she likes to come to the library to play on the children’s computer station. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers

That can all be found at the Perry Public Library.

The library comes about as close to being all things to all people as any place can get, and that’s exactly the way library director Mary Murphy wants it.

“We are still about books, but we are so much more than just books,” she says. “The library is a gathering place, a place to check out a piece of art or painting, teaching modules accessible  from the library’s website, downloadable books to check out, a place to have meetings, fundraisers and be part of community festivals like Art on the Prairie.”

That’s just for starters.

“If we tried to create the idea of a library today, open to everyone with free access, I don’t think we could get it done,” Murphy says. Creation of libraries was pretty amazing, she adds.

Looking back

Libraries have been around in one form or another for centuries in various parts of the world from the time there were papyrus scrolls. But they weren’t accessible by the common person. That all changed when printing presses came into use, and the written word was made more accessible to the public.

Fast-forward to 1879 in Perry. The first library was organized by the circulation of a “subscription paper.” Each of 20 people put their names on the paper and pledged $2 for a membership fee to start the library. They agreed to pay $1 a year after the first year. Then, the library became more formalized in Perry when a committee was formed and money raised to create the first library for the community. The books were kept at the drug store of
Arthur Willis, who was elected as the librarian, according to historical accounts.

In 1884, O.H. Robinson and C.L. Knapp arranged a public library for Perry which was stocked with 150 books that were kept in Dr. Eldridge’s office.

In 1902 the library board of trustees met with P. H. O’Connor of the Carnegie committee.  In 1903, millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie offered the city of Perry $10,000 to construct a Carnegie library building in the triangle. The city had to pledge $1,000 per year to maintain and support the library.

Library Director Mary Murphy, front, works alongside other library staff on duty on a recent weeknight. From left: Murphy, Misty VonBehren, Suzanne Kestel, Kayla Rothmeyer and Alli Conrad. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

Library Director Mary Murphy, front, works alongside other library staff on duty on a recent weeknight. From left: Murphy, Misty VonBehren, Suzanne Kestel, Kayla Rothmeyer and Alli Conrad. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

Named the Free Public Library, it opened on Sept. 19, 1904. Anyone who was a Perry taxpayer could have a borrowers’ card. The Carnegie building was the home of the library until 1994, at which time the current library was opened. Over the years, the library usage was opened up to rural areas surrounding area.

As the library materials and usage grew, major problems developed in 1980s. The library was not handicapped accessible, not energy efficient, it was difficult to move materials up and down the steps and it had old wiring. The air conditioning had to be shut off at night to prevent overheating.

In 1991 the Wiese Foundation offered matching funds for all money raised for a new library by July 1993. Construction started in 1993, and the $1.8 million building in use today opened in late April 1994.

In the last fiscal year, there were 5,947 library card holders and 10,409 check outs from the library.


Perry’s current library is now 21 years old.

The services have grown since the inception of the first library in 1879. Today, the library offers programs and materials, in print and digitally, for children and families, teens and adults.

Services for children and families include a children’s computer station, story time for pre-school children, toddlers and infants, family story time events, spring break activities, summer reading program, accelerated reader books, a play area with Lego table, puppet area and other toys and movies at the library.

On a recent weekday evening, sisters Jetzibe and Noemi Lopez and mother Ayline, were using the computers at the children’s computer station.

“I like to come to the library because I get to play on the computer and play games,” Noemi, 6, says.

Her mother and sister, Jetzibe, 7, worked on the adult computer.

Murphy explains that the station includes one children’s computer and one adult computer so that a parent can be there with his or her child.

Teens can find material such as books, graphic novels and audiobooks on CD in the young adult section. There is also a summer reading program for teens, spring break activities and movies at the library events.

Library employee Alli Conrad shelves books. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

Library employee Alli Conrad shelves books.
Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

Adults can find adult learning opportunities, free adult programs and events, a coffee station provided by the Friends of the Perry Public Library, exam proctoring, book discussions, a study room, a summer reading program and home delivery of library materials.

During fiscal year 2013-2014, there were 315 children’s programs with 6,764 people in attendance. Attendance was up by 7.3 percent from the previous year.

There were 30 teen programs offered with 464 in attendance, up 12 percent, and 36 programs for adults with a total of 3,813 people in attendance.

More electronics and the digital world

On the library website — — a patron can access his or her library account, renew checked out materials online, search the online library catalog, reserve items, book a meeting room, download audiobooks and ebooks from the virtual library branch, email reference questions to staff and request materials through interlibrary loan.

The library’s public access computers provide a fast connection, Microsoft Office programs and the ability to save files to a USB device.

And there’s more. The library has the following data bases: A to Z Maps Online, Learning Express-tutorials; EBSOCOHost Databases, Global Road Warrior and Library of Congress.

Library collections include a new book display area, extensive large print book section, more than 100 magazines and newspapers, audiobooks on CD, a Spanish collection with books, movies and music CDs for adults and children, music CDs displayed by genre, downloadable audiobooks from the virtual branch on the web, downloadable ebooks from the virtual branch on the web, young adult books, tween books, children’s books including board books, easy and juvenile books, children’s magazines, children’s audiobooks on CD, children’s puzzles, art prints and an Iowa section.

The library now offers a program called Learning Express that includes prep tests for ATC, exercises to increase math scores and instruction on how to write a resume and cover letter. The program was given to all public libraries through Work Force Development.

All the material has been better organized through a major space reutilization effort in 2014. There is a shift in library services that prompted the space reutilization effort, Murphy says.

“The modern library has places you can come and sit and do your thing. For example when you come through, there are booths along the left wall where you can plug in laptop, use the Wi-Fi and charge your computers,” she says.

During the effort, quite a few books were weeded out, and there are now fewer books on the shelves. That’s in part due to the ability of library readers to download more books from the website offered through the library and use of digital technology and the Internet.

The restructuring of space also allows better access to computers in the center of the library. There are now 16 public-access computers, which are often in full use.

While the space reutilization means fewer books on the shelves, the access to online and digital material has increased. The connection to the Internet has been strengthened.

Also in 2014, local artist Betsy Peterson remodeled the children’s section with a theme of whimsical art. That was paid for with memorial money.

What does the future hold for the library?

This year will be one of examining how the library will move into the future.

“We want to know what our patrons want,” Murphy says. “What do the citizens want for the future?”

The trend is to offer more digital, computer and online services as they become available. Just how that will look in terms of the library is yet to be determined.

“I believe libraries will always be here in one form or another, and there will continue to be hard copy books for a very long time,” Murphy says.

And, while taxpayers and grants support the library, the Friends of the Perry Public Library pay for nearly all of the programing.

The Friends group is also looking to the future by working on adding new types of fundraising projects. Historically, the group holds several fundraisers each year, including book sales and plant sales. That money is then used to provide additional items for the library, and provides money for programs.

“Book sales are down, and it’s time to look at ways we can bring in more money for programing with different fundraising efforts,” says Julie Scheib, long-time patron of the library and now the president of the Friends group.

“Right before I started with the group, I went in and volunteered. I discovered all of the things it offered — not just checking out a book,” she says. “I was so amazed, and just really wanted to spread the word about all the library had to offer for free. It is also just the kind of a nice place you can go to relax, have a cup of coffee, read the paper or read a book

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