Ames Public Library

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The first library association in Ames was formed in 1892.  Membership in this association cost interested residents one dollar per year.  C.W. Dudgeon, a jeweler, allowed people to run an exchange library on some shelves in part of his store at 213 Onondaga in 1898.  This is thought to be the first attempt at an exchange library in Ames.  Other businesses also mentioned as housing book collections were The Ames Drug company, the YMC League, and the Kooser News Depot.

In 1902 money was voted for a public library, followed by a gift of $10,000 by the Andrew Carnegie foundation.  Land for the library was donated by Wallace and Mrs. Greeley, and books were solicited by donations and gifts of money.  Dr. Cessna, an ISC faculty member and also a member of the first library board, was a leader in the fundraising.  Other members of the first library board were Mrs. Wallace Greeley, Mrs. M.K. Smith, Myrtle Lanning, Mrs. George Hultz, Mrs. Edgar Stanton, George Judisch, J.J. Grove, Galen Tilden, and John Judge.  Book and Basket club members Mrs. M.K. Smith and Mrs. George Hultz had adopted the library as their pet project, so in 1904, that social club held a "Tour of the World" to raise money for the library.  Lorena Webber was the first librarian of the Ames Public Library, succeeded by Kitty B. Freed, who served from 1905 until 1924.


Ames Times, October 14, 1897

To the people of Ames: For some years Ames has endeavored to support a library and reading room.  Once the question of support by taxation was voted down.  Last year fifteen citizens pledged $10 each to support the library and keep open a public reading room for one year.  During the year the "Black 400" donated $100 toward the securing of books.  When the year was drawing to a close there was a consultation held by the trustees, as to methods to be used by them to secure funds for the next year.  Several plans were presented.

One factor that was undesirable, in the opinion of the committee, under the plan heretofore followed, was the fact that December first of each year, the organization ceased and had to be reorganized.  The committee further realized that as long as such a condition existed the association could not hope to lay out plans for future development.  Finally the plan, since adopted, was suggested.  After several meetings of the committee and much discussion, it was presented to the association and by the persons who now hold membership rights, adopted, to take effect August 1, 1897.  But it was fully decided to recognize the persons who had become members under the previous arrangement, with full rights to Dec. 1, 1897.  The committee now wishes you to understand the plan of the organization in order that you may give us your support.

Papers of incorporation have been prepared giving the organization perpetual legal existence for fifty years, with the privilege to close up the affairs sooner if need be.  This organization to be conducted without any money profits for the stock holders.  Shares of stock are to cost $3 each, and certificates of stock will be issued to each subscriber who pays $3.  Each share shall have a vote in the meetings of the Association if represented.  Each share shall entitle the owner to the circulation privileges for one year; that is, each person holding a share of stock may take books from the library without further expense, for one year from date of certificate of stock.  After the first year this same privilege may continue by the member paying 25 cents for each quarter of a year or fraction thereof, in which books are taken.  Persons not stock holders have no voice in the management of the library; but by paying $1 in advance and 25 cents semi-annually any person may take books from the library to read, and have privileges like unto the others in all respects, except in matter of management.

Whenever the Association shall be able, it will support a reading room in connection with the library, and have such magazines and periodicals as it can afford and its friends may see fit to donate; this shall be free for all who may come to use it.  It now has several of the leading magazines and a few dailies upon its reading tables.

The members of the present board are as follows: Dr. A. Richmond, Pres. of the Board; Rev. A.C. Blackman, Sec'y; Mrs. Bigelow; Mrs. Cairns; Henry Wilson; Rev. H.E. Slattery; E.D.Y. Culbertson, Pres. of the Association.  Galen Tilden is treasurer of the association.

Bear in mind that the association has not been organized to shut anybody away; but to make such things a success requires money, and money comes best to those who give something to show for it.  Very few of those who have interested themselves in this enterprise have done so for personal advantages; but rather that Ames may have a library.  The organization is weak and needs your help.  Decide that you can afford to take one or more shares, and when some member of the committee solicits you, do not hesitate but subscribe and thus insure the success of the undertaking.  Respectfully, E.D.Y. Culbertson, Pres. of Association.

The following account was accepted by the Ames City Council from a 1968 proclamation of Mayor Stuart Smith as the True and Factual History of the City of Ames, Iowa:

The first library association was formed in 1892. In 1894 the residents were asked to vote a mill levy to establish a municipal library. The first members were entitles to circulating privileges of the library for one year and thereafter on the payment of $1. 00 per year. Non-members were charged $1.00 a year. The association maintained a contract with a library bureau in Chicago for its books. With no permanent home for the library, it appeared to be a step-child of the City. It was variously housed in a drug store, a jewelry store and in a new depot. The first part of the present library building was acquired through the City and the Carnegie Foundation.  The building was started in 1903 and completed in 1904. The Carnegie plan provided for an outright gift of $1, 000 for each $1, 000 of annual maintenance pledged by the community. Tax levies
producing $1, 000 a year were approved at the polls, so $10, 000 was given by the Foundation.

The library was so popular that it was soon apparent that the building was too small. Voters again went to the polls and approved a further levy of $600 annually and the Carnegie Foundation promptly added $6, 000 to the original gift.  An addition in 1938 increased the library size by two-thirds.  This is the library as it stands today. Part of the land upon which it stands was a gift of Mary Greeley. Additional land was purchased to complete the addition.

The following article was written by Mrs. Clinton J. Adams on the occasion of the Ames Public Library's 50th anniversary.  It was published in the Ames Daily Tribune on Wednesday, November 17, 1954.

LIBRARY'S WELL-RUN INSTITUTION - The Ames public library has become a well-run institution since Letha M. Davidson became librarian in the fall of 1929.  She has been ably assisted by a group of civic-minded persons serving as board and staff members.  In June, 1930 we note in the minutes book of the library board that a drinking fountain has been installed at the library.  In February, 1931, a new winding stairway to the basement was added, and all during that year many small but needed things were done to improve the library in every way.  In March, 1932, the Ames Woman's Club gave a contribution for the improvement of the children's room.

In the minutes of September, 1932 the following recognition was made: "The Librarian's special training and intense interest in children's reading is claiming national recognition, and the board was happy to permit her to write some reviews of children's books and to become a member of a committee in the children's section of the American Association.  This committee has as its object, among other things, the preservation and circulation of the best among the older children's books and the maintenance of a high standard of workmanship and material in the making of children's books.  The books reviewed become the property of the Ames Library.  The first "Evening with Books" project was well attended on March 16, 1936.  A committee from the American Association of University Women planned the meetings and furnished the speakers from 1936 to 1938.

When the Ames Library celebrated its 30th birthday in 1934, the statistics proved that the organization was no longer a fledgling one.  The population of Ames had increased to 10,261, and the circulation of the library for the same year was 90,207.  The library picture was considerably busier than in 1904 when a few over 2,000 books were borrowed in the one quarter of operation.

In truth, the library was outgrowing the building.  Ames citizens began to think about an addition.  It was in 1937 that a campaign was started for the addition.  On Aug. 8, the library board purchased the lot west of the library.  A bond election to provide $85,000 for the purpose was held on Feb. 14, 1938, under the city administration of W.L. Allan, mayor, and Councilmen Claud Coykendall, J.S. Dodd, A.J. Loyd, G.B. McDonald, G.J. Palmer, George Richardson and City Manager John Ames.

During the construction period the board decided to use space above Moore Brothers Dairy for storing books.  Rent was $7.50 per month.  At the time when the library board was looking for a place or places to store books, the old Episcopalian church, Fifth and Burnett, was being used for a music building by the schools.  The school board consented now to let the library use it without charge.  In fact they let it stand longer than they had planned to help out with the library situation.  Within the walls of this church the library functioned, though on a limited basis since they could take care of only 8,000 books. (We wonder just how many of you know that this old church was cut in two and that these "duplexes" are at present located on East Sixth Street?)

Construction of the library building was begun on May 1, 1939, when Frank D. Paine was mayor and Bert Myers was chairman of the building committee of the library board.  Kimball and Bowers were the architects, C.C. McCarthy was city inspector.  Contractors were Ben Cole and Son, general contractors; Best Electric Company, wiring; and George Puffett, heating and plumbing.

In the minutes of the Sept. 12, 1939 meeting of the library board, tribute is paid to Lee W. Forman, who died on Sept. 9 of that year, while president of the Board.  We quote a few passages of a resolution concerning his death, a copy of which was sent to his family.  "We recognize and appreciate the faithful, unselfish and devoted service rendered by Lee W. Forman during the entire time of his membership on this board.  We knew him to be an upright, honest and sincere man.  A leader in college, civic and church affairs, he was ever ready to do all in his power for the welfare of the library.  We wish that so find a man could have lived to see the dream of a more complete library become a reality, for he served on the board for nearly 17 years.

Much could be written about each one on the long roster of library trustees who so faithfully served on the library board through the years but time for research will not permit us to go much beyond December, 1941.  A few additional names should be mentioned, however.  We refer to Mrs. Florence Nichols, Mrs. W.B. Acheson, Clay Stafford, Mrs. W.H. Stevenson, Henry Martin and Mrs. Susan Norman.

Now back to the final fulfillment of a dream for an addition to the library of 1904.  Past 1940 Ames residents would be amazed at how much the addition, eight times the cost of the original building, added to the library.  The part of the building that now faces on Douglas avenue and includes the reading room and magazine racks plus the basement underneath it, was all that constituted the old library.

With the addition we find a regular staff room, librarian's office, children's room and young people's room added on the first floor and a large stack room, exhibit room and auditorium to seat 300 with a stage and kitchen room added in the basement.  The formal opening of this new addition took place on March 31, 1940.  Increase in volumes and circulation statistics has kept pace with the physical development of the library.  Below is a comparison of figures of those for the year 1934 (the 30th Anniversary year), and the year 1953.  During 1934 a total of 90,526 was spent while in 1953 the total was more than three times that much - $32,658.

Other figures jumped during the 20-year period also.  Number of volumes in 1934 were 18,204.  In 1954 they reached a total of 33,960.  Newspapers and magazines currently received number 185 while 20 years ago the figure was 82.  Circulation is, of course, much greater.  In 1934 the circulation of books for the year was 90,207, and last year it was 122,532.

In spite of ever-increasing outside distractions it would seem that the same desire to read that motivated the planners of that first modest library building back in 1904 exists today.  As Miss Davidson commented in June to the representative groups of all the organizations meeting to help plan the golden anniversary celebration "the average Ames citizen doesn't realize just how much goes on in the library."  We quite agree.  Do you?

We list a partial summary of the many services given to "the average Ames citizen" by our Ames Public library of today.  Do you know the Ames library...  

  1.   Services 2500 books to the Ames Public schools.
  2.   Ames citizens borrow 122,898 books a year from the Library.
  3.   The Library has a "story hour" for children.
  4.   Many college students and faculty members use the library facilities.
  5.   You can ask the library staff members for "gift book" selections.
  6.   There are files on pictures, bulletins and magazines.
  7.   The library staff members will be glad to explain the use of the card index files at any time.
  8.   There is a "bookworm club" for upper Elementary grades.
  9.   There is a "book report program" for junior and senior high students.
  10.   Summer Activity programs are arranged.
  11.   Special help is given to parents of younger children.

Anniversaries are times for reminiscing.  The Golden Anniversary of the Ames public library this year seems a very good time to reminisce about this building and the influence it has exercised over both young and old in its first half century.

Older people who remember the library "back when" may wonder what has become of the old library furniture, etc.  We found it of great interest to see most of it still in use at the present day.

Do you remember the sun dial that once graced the front lawn?  It was given to the library by our Ames D.A.R. chapter in 1914.  We are told that it is a replica of the original Elder Brewster sun dial.  It is still "marking time" but now stands just south of the library.

When we toured the library we noticed a fine picture of Andrew Carnegie near the Main Desk.  We have told you about the history connected with the P.E.O. Alcove.  Those of you who are interested in seeing it will find it in the large stack room in the basement.

Many of you will recall the "Westward" picture depicting a covered wagon scene, a copy of one at our Iowa State Capital Building.  The Ames Woman's club gave it to the library.  It has been preserved through the years.  We are wondering how many of you recall that the wide oak frame of this picture was made from wood taken from the staircase of the Noah Webster home which was located on the site of the Adams Mortuary of today?  This home is reported to have been the first house built in Ames.

The original book stacks are still being used in the basement rooms, as well as the original bulletin board.  We have been told that the old pendulum clock which still keeps busily ticking away on a wall in the basement rooms is one that C.W. Dudgeon gave to the library and it is of interest to us that Mr. Dudgeon's son Grant is the person who has taken on the responsibility of keeping it in good running order.

All the old tables and chairs from the library furnished in 1904 are still being used in the basement library rooms at the present day, and the davenport and child's rocker of the old rest room may be seen down there in the old auditorium rooms.

Persons who have spent nearly half a century or more in Ames may recall the days when they could read the St. Nicholas, Youth's Companion, Little Folks, Harper's Weekly, Literary Digest, Review of Reviews, The Des Moines Leader, Chicago Times-Herald and the Marshalltown Times-Republican -- all on file at the Ames public library in the "way back when" period.

View Adele Figura's Ames Public Library Little Theater displays