From the Past: Our Restless Beginning

The Kenyon and Ham building

During our 125th anniversary celebration, the history of our library will be comemmorated on the 125th anniversary webpage by showing photos and other historical content from each decade since our foundation. Keep an eye out for regular blog posts (like this one) that will explain the images you'll be seeing added throughout the year! 


1896 - 1909

In the first fourteen years of the Iowa City Public Library's history, there was the most amount of movement. The library first resided on the second floor of the Kenyon and Ham building over the C.O.D. Steam Laundry in 1897, but shortly moved to the Cannon & Pratt building in 1901 where a space was rented to house the small collection and staff. This second location overlaps where our current building is located, although the old building itself has long since been removed. Finally, the library received funding from Andrew Carnegie to build one of many Carnegie libraries across the country. That library was finished and occupied in 1904, where it was kept as the library's home until 1981.

Due to the restlessness and construction during this time, the majority of photos we have are the outside of the older buildings and the construction of our Carnegie building. The library was just finding its feet and establishing itself in the community. More recent photos can be seen of the needlepoint work done in 1982 to celebrate the progression of our library buildings. You may be familiar with these, since they've hung in various spots in the library over time. Currently, they reside just inside the staff area next to the second floor Page Station.


1910 - 1919

The following decade was much more quietly spent. In our virtual display for this time period, you will see only newspaper clippings from the time. In the early to mid 20th century there aren't many photographs to be found of the library. Despite this, we can see from the news articles that the library was lively and well-used. It's interesting to see how supportive of the library the local papers were by consistently posting library news in their pages. This was essential for sharing information, considering there wasn't a webpage for the library to post announcements to at the time.

As detailed in some of the articles, the library was inovlved in different aspects of the community during this decade. A need was found in military camps for books to send to military members stationed there. Helen McRaith, the Librarian (or Library Director) at the time, orchestrated the collection of books for this purpose. The library was also involved with local schools by hosting a Story Hour in the Children's Room, loaning books out to schools, and educating parents, children, and teachers about the benefits of using their local library. We still continue some of these services today, such as our Storytimes that are now offered virtually!


The library was first founded in reaction to a shocking crime in the community, with its core purpose to be a safe, educational, and entertaining space for the community to gather. Although our service looks incredibly different than it did in these first few decades, and even in the past year we have had huge changes, we can always look back and remember where we came from and why we began this journey. To read more about the foundation of the library and the events since, take a look at our timeline or check out Lolly Egger's book, A Century of Stories.


Recent News

Add new comment