BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Yep, it’s been that long.
The Fort Madison Library celebrated its 10th anniversary on Thursday with an open house and a reflection of how things used to be, and how they got to where they are.
The library opened in April 2008 under the direction of current director Sarah Clendineng and after serving 11 years at the helm she said things have certainly gone through transitions.
But the biggest transition and the story that brings the biggest smile to her face has nothing to do with technology or services or programming.
“My favorite story is Cattermole had a flight of steps to just get in the front door and then the kids had to go up another flight of stairs to the kids collection. After about two years I was here and someone actually came in in a wheelchair and went through the doors and helped themselves to whatever they needed,” Clendineng said. “That just made my day. We were kind of able to serve them before and the Rashid library was handicap accessible. But for someone to come in on their own and access the books and other things, that was just why we did this.”
The $3 million building was built where the former Valley Medical Clinic was located. Clendineng was hired about a month before the groundbreaking.
“The process of this building started about five years before I came here,” she said. “That was with the board at that time, and they were very active in fundraising, getting the plans, and getting the community support. Specifically Elaine Gray and Barb Pickard were really active in the fundraising. You look at the donor plates and we have 500 donations under $100. We couldn’t have built this without them. So that was really exciting.”
“I was here about a month after they broke ground on the building and was here working with the board throughout that construction process, dealing with any issues and change orders. The other thing we did at the same time was move to an automated catalog. Which, if I had to do over again, I don’t think I would have, because of so much going on at the same time. But the staff did a great job.”
The library currently has a staff of six, four of whom are part-time, two full-time and a page, who’s about 1/4 time. The full-time staff includes Chris Cowles and Deb Albee.
Clendineng said the community room probably is one of the most often used spaces at the library with residents using it for everything from meetings and demonstrations, to one family even using it for their Thanksgiving dinner.
“The biggest asset we added was this community room and the study rooms,” she said. “We did a space study and looked at how we could move some things around. We had people saying they wanted space to work together and we didn’t have it. So we added that and also looked at adding the study rooms that we have now.”
She said the biggest changes over the past 10 years have been technology and looking at programming that fits that technological progress, but also doesn’t leave out those who still like the older systems and ways of doing things.
She said the board was able to save on part of the cost of the building because the former clinic’s foundation was able to be used instead of starting from scratch, but the library does have two small basements for storage. Clendineng said the staff has to be careful of how many books they store over the basement areas because of the weight of the books.
The new location has helped the library provide better programming including the very popular programs like Crafternoons, on early out days and the summer reading program.
“Our summer reading program has blossomed in this location because of the parking. We’re within walking distance of so many people who can now just walk over. When we were building this, everyone we talked to lived within a block,” Clendineng said with a laugh. “Not really sure how that worked out geographically.”
She said the next 10 years is rooted in the technology and services that can be integrated with area schools.
“It’s looking more toward technology and how we can work with the school system. That’s what’s in our 3-to-5-year plan,” she said. “We want to look to help people in this world of new technology, while at the same time not leaving behind the people who aren’t engaged in all that.”
She said she is always looking out for programs of high interest and relevance to the community.
“We need to help people embrace the world’s technology while staying relevant to the needs of the communities. Finding programs that have high interest in the community where people would come out and see it,” she said.
The Community room is being used very frequently, especially on the weekends. She said the room is booked almost three months in advance.
Half of the construction funds were raised through donations and a Community Action and Tourism Grant, and the other was about a $1.5 million referendum approved by city voters.
Clendineng said the cooperation between other libraries in the county is good.
“It’s kind of like our own little support group,” she said., “We meet regularly and talk about issues and we present a united front when it comes to requesting funds from the county.”
She said the biggest new program is the E-magazines.
“E-magazines are our best kept secret. People don’t realize there is no waiting list. It’s yours as long as you want it, you don’t have to read it and get it back in two weeks. You can go at your pace.
For more information on the library and its products and services, those interested can call 319-372-5721.