North Liberty, Iowa

North Liberty, Iowa

1987 population 1800

2013 population 15,000.

No, that is not a typo-in 25 years the population of North Liberty increased over 800%!

Now, imagine you are the library director of this small, Iowa town. How do you prepare for that kind of growth? Over the course of their careers, library directors may get one chance to build a new library. Dee Crowner, director of the North Liberty Community Library planned and built a new library in 1997. She is currently in the construction phase of building her second, new library. But before the second one is completed this year, she is already anticipating the next phase. However, Dee says “I’m going to retire before phase three!”

The city of North Liberty is positioned along the “golden corridor,” just a few miles from two major interstates, connecting several population centers. North Liberty has a small town feel, but is minutes away from major cities. Many residents tell city administrators that they chose the city for the schools and the Community Center.

In 1987 when Dee became the director, the library occupied 1400 square feet in a joint city hall/fire station/community room/public library building. They doubled their staff, going from two to four employees, when they opened a new 6,500 square foot building in 1997, which they outgrew in less than 10 years. Today, they have a staff of 11 and are looking at moving into an 18,000 square foot building next summer. A consultant has suggested they should be considering a 30,000 square foot building in order to be ready for the next phase.

This library is always looking toward the future, the next phase. In anticipation of moving into a new building, Dee and her staff started making plans early. Several years ago, they started the process of “decimating Dewey.” They investigated ways to make their collections more user-friendly and have seen great results since switching to subject based classification last fall. They also decided to integrate their genre collections into one single alphabet in adult fiction. Also, in preparation for the move, they looked at the declining circulation of their music collection and slowly phased it out. As print reference showed signs of disuse, they put more money into databases and did away with much of that collection. All of these changes were made so they could move into a new building with a “clean” collection.

Another step in anticipation of their move, was going with a “one community, one card” idea. The current library is housed in the same community building, which houses the rec center, the aquatic center, a 600 seat Conference Center and telecommunications facility. The library has never required patrons to bring a library card, they have been using a picture on the screen of their ILS. However, they will now be placing barcodes on the back of the rec center card, making it much easier for citizens to use the entire building.

Fundraising was another major part of the preparation for growing the library. They hired the same professional fundraiser to do a feasibility study and help win grants as had been used with the original building and expansion of the rec center. The staff did a lot of the legwork and worked with the community to raise more than 1.7 million dollars in less than one year. The city contributed two million to the effort, a testament to the hard work the library put into building relationships with the city. The City Administrator was responsible for helping the library raise over $200,000 in private funds as well. He was tireless in making connections with business people and even helped film a commercial for the fund-raising committee with another city employee and their Harley motorcyles!

Like many of you, they shifted things around, moved furniture, lost meeting room space and combined staff space. Dee says, “Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment.” Their new building will have no hard wired computers for adults, they have switched to all laptops. Rolling laptop tables can be moved for patrons to use wherever they are comfortable. It will also have a “cake pan gallery” and a DVD room. The library will be going green as much as they can afford. They are going to recycle the gym floor into tables and chairs, they will be re-using furniture and retrofitting shelving and are using recycled materials for flooring.

The library has always used volunteers and that is one reason they have been able to expand as quickly as they have. Last year they had over 6,000 volunteer hours. That is the equivalent of over three FTEs. According to Dee, “our volunteers are not here to dust and sweep. They are here to supplement our staff. We find out what they are good at and let them do it.”

Anticipation, preparation and vision has helped this library plan for the future. This growing community supports and encourages their growing library. Doesn’t it make you wonder, what the next 25 years will bring?

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One Response to “North Liberty, Iowa”

  1. Nancy Salm says:

    Wow! I attended the University of Iowa, graduating in 1989. I lived in Coralville and often went to North Liberty, as I had friends living there. I now live in Califronia, and the next time I go home to Iowa to visit, I am going to visit this library. Of course, I don’t think I’ll recognize anything! It was certainly interesting seeing this story, and brought back memories for me.