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As the world becomes increasingly digitally-oriented it is important for public libraries to reexamine their history as they formulate strategies to secure their place as an irreplaceable community institution. The situation today is similar to the beginnings of the public library movement when libraries had to create their place in society and market that idea so that citizens and towns would support that effort. The ‘golden age’ of Iowa’s public library movement was from 1900-1920. During that period the work of Iowa’s Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Iowa Library Association, the Iowa Library Commission, and Andrew Carnegie’s library grants made it possible for Iowa towns to establish permanent free public libraries. Iowa was awarded 99 Carnegie library grants totaling $1,495,706 for 101 buildings.

A case study of thirteen different Iowa towns, who applied for and received Carnegie library grants, helped to identify the common challenges that communities faced such as the location of the library, population size, tax requirements, and the final grant amount. It also highlighted the importance of community involvement and the support of political figures to overcome the challenges that towns faced. It was only through the requirements of the Carnegie library grants, and the community-driven nature of the grants, that permanent free public libraries were established throughout Iowa cementing the place of the free public library as a community institution.


Copyright © 2017 Abigail Weaver

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