June 17, 2008

A Tribute to Iowa Libraries

During the two years I lived in Iowa, I probably spent half my waking hours at one of three local libraries: the main library on the east campus of the University of Iowa, the downtown Iowa City Public Library, and the Coralville Public Library, which was three blocks from my house. Both the campus and the community are blessed to have a very strong library system with competent, caring people behind the reference desk.

At the campus library, I spent hours in the east wing of the 4th floor, near the P118s and such...tracking down books for the professor I served as a research assistant. When you are that high up in the library, especially on the far east side near the windows overlooking the education building, the Iowa wind can be so strong, whipping as it does on the old campus buildings, that you can barely concentrate. Rows of study carrels give way to doctoral students' cubicles (a little nicer, with cabinets), and at the end of the wing you'll find small offices with closing doors for visiting scholars. Near the central corridor of the 3rd floor are the bound theses and dissertations that always greeted me with a rather foreboding presence as I made my way toward the serials starting with "J."

At the Iowa City Public Library, which opened a completely remodeled branch while I lived there, I attended a City forum in which citizens were asked for public comment on proposed redevelopment of the downtown area, specifically looking at mixed-use buildings. The community rooms in this library probably get as much use as the stacks and newspapers. Active civic engagement is a big part of Iowa City life, and the library--located in the center of the pedestrian mall--is a huge part of that lifestyle. From the main reading room you can look out over the ped mall summer concerts, Marco's Grilled Cheese stand, and a group of Hacky Sackers playing and skating in front of the Tobacco Bowl.

The Coralville Public Library is where I tutored an African friend who was learning to read and trying to make it as an immigrant in Southeast Iowa. The librarians always helped us find a quiet corner where we could work together and still be able to talk at normal volume. The video collection and large print chapter books were great literacy aids that were offered to us. We also spent a great deal of time across from the reference desk, learning how to use an atlas one week, an encyclopedia the next, and always looking up a few words in various dictionaries before leaving each time. The reference desk greets you right as you walk in, and they have a great view of the community display case which, in the time I lived there, featured such important community groups as La Leche League, a local cancer support group, and of course, information on the local farmers market, which met just behind the library, often with live music in the summer. My husband started a magazine writing class with the help of the Coralville Public Library, and was still dependent on their assistance and their Internet connection when he had his first short story published. We will forever be indebted to Iowa Libraries!

Hold a good thought for the people, and the libraries, in these communities.

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