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The Council Bluffs Public Library has been a cultural, educational and entertainment leader in Council Bluffs since 1866. In March of that year, the first attempt to establish a Library was made by a newly organized group known as the Young Men's Library Association. D. C. Bloomer was its Chair. (See Documents: Early Libraries in Council Bluffs: Young Men's Association)

Located in the Empire Building, which stood on the south side of Broadway between Main and Pearl Streets, it had only one room and was open only to men who paid a membership fee. Several hundred books had been donated for this library and Frank L. Streamer was the Librarian. Unfortunately, this Library, the building, as well as the entire Empire block, was destroyed by fire 1867.

Renewed efforts began two years later in 1869 when Professor Allen Armstrong, Superintendent of Schools, Horace Everett, and a few other citizens formed the High School Library Association. Again books were donated with Horace Everett contributing several hundred volumes from his private library. In 1871 this organization was incorporated under the name, Public School Library. (See Documents: Early Libraries in Council Bluffs: Societies and Associations)

In 1873 the Public School Library was consolidated with the YMCA and Mr. W. T. Robinson was named as Librarian. The Library was moved from the High School building to the YMCA located in the Woodbury Building on Pearl Street. It was well supplied with papers, periodicals and new additions, but remained a Subscription Library, which limited its use to those who paid a membership fee of $2.00 per year plus $.14 per loan.

But, despite the formation of the Council Bluffs Library Association in 1878, the Library was faltering; and, in a Board meeting in November of that year, all but two members resigned. Women were elected to replace the resigning members, prominent among them Mrs. Grenville Dodge and Mrs. Nathan P. Dodge, and they took action. They enlarged the subscription list, solicited donations, held fundraisers, which included oyster suppers, lectures and a most successful endeavor, Dickens party, which netted them $370. In addition, they persuaded the City Council to allow the Library $15 a month for rent. Since Horace Everett provided the space rent free, the money was used to purchase books.

In spite of these efforts, the Board realized that another means of financial support was needed. In 1875 an attempt was made to have a tax levied for the support of the Library, but it failed. In 1882 the women members petitioned the City Council to place a library tax levy on the ballot. After a spirited campaign, the question carried and the Free Public Library of Council Bluffs became a permanent institution. On February 8, 1882, the women turned over to the city of Council Bluffs all of the books and effects of the Council Bluffs Library Association.

On April 24, 1882, the Free Public Library, the first in the state--was opened in a rented space on the second floor at 12 Pearl Street at a cost of $200 per year. Marcia Davenport was the librarian (1878-1894).(See Documents: Early Libraries in Council Bluffs: Council Bluffs Was First)

The first order of business for the Board was the adoption of rules for library users:
Library users were limited to those 12 years of age and older.
Borrowers were limited to taking one book at a time.
A fine of $.05 per day was charged for keeping a book beyond two weeks without renewal.
A written guarantee, signed by some responsible resident of the city, must be filed by all persons applying for books before receiving same.
No person who has borrowed a book shall lend it to anyone not a member of the family.
There shall be no loud conversation or smoking in the library.
The first registered borrower was Maria Phillips. The third and fourth to register were Dexter and Amelia Bloomer. Library hours were 2:00-6:00 and 7:00-9:00 daily except Sunday. The Library collection consisted of two to three thousand volumes, which rapidly increased.

In 1883 Horace Everett agreed to extend the rented quarter to include 14 Pearl Street. In 1889 the Library was moved to the northwest corner of the third floor of the new Merriam building, which was located at the site of the present City Hall. (See Documents: Early Libraries in Council Bluffs: New Public Library) (See Documents: Early Libraries in Council Bluffs: Our Free Public Library)

The operation of this Library would be unfamiliar to a library user of today. First, no one was allowed access to the books. Anyone wishing to borrow a book was required to search the Finding List. These printed lists of available titles could be used in the Library or they could be purchased for between $.15 to $.50 a copy. The borrower would select a list of ten books from Finding List and the librarian would then go down the list of selected titles until he/she came to one that happened to be on the shelf. In 1898 the Finding List was replaced by the innovative card catalog, which was used primarily by children, who had a better understanding of it than some of the adult readers.

Elizabeth Peterson was the Librarian during these years (1894-1897).


The first request to Andrew Carnegie from Dexter Bloomer to fund a Library building was denied, but on January 11, 1901, the City Council approved a tax levy of 3 mills for the purchase of a building site. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/Planning and Construction: Library Levy Is Allowed)

In 1903, Trustee W. S. Baird wrote to Andrew Carnegie concerning the construction of a permanent library building. Mr. Carnegie answered that he was willing to give $50,000 provided the city would guarantee to raise an annual tax of $5,000 and furnish a site for the building. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/Planning and Construction: Ordinance #252)

After the intercession of General Dodge, Mr. Carnegie was induced to raise his offer $70,000 and the city agreed to raise a yearly sum of $7,000 and furnish a suitable site. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/Planning and Construction: Ordinance #253) (See Documents: Carnegie Library/Planning and Construction: Dodge Letter to James Bertram)

In 1903 the Pusey property on Willow Avenue and the Pinney property on Pearl Street were purchased as the Library site for $14,201. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/Planning and Construction: Plans For Library Pt.1, Pt.2)Patton & Miller of Chicago, builders of most of the Carnegie libraries, was selected as general architect and J.C. and W. Woodward of Council Bluffs were selected as local architects. The design of the building was to have three floors and two entrances, one on Pearl Street and the main entrance on Willow Avenue facing Bayliss Park. The total cost including grounds, grading and clearing of the grounds, building and furniture was $88,160.55. The address of the Library was 200 Pearl Street. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/Planning and Construction: Carnegie Library Construction)


In 1904 ground breaking and cornerstone laying ceremonies were held. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/Dedication and Description: Cornerstone Is Set Pt.1, Pt.2)(See Images: Carnegie Library/Dedication and Description: Laying of the Cornerstone 1,2,3)On September 12, 1905, the Library was dedicated. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/Dedication and Description: Invitation to the Public Library Dedication)(See Documents: Carnegie Library/Dedication and Description: The Public Library Pt. 1,2,3,4)(See Images: Carnegie Library/Dedication and Description: Circulation Desk)(See Images: Carnegie Library/Dedication and Description: Carnegie Library1,2) (See Images: Carnegie Library/Dedication and Description: Periodicals Room) (See Images: Carnegie Library/Dedication and Description: Childrens Room 1,2)


The next few years saw many innovations, beginning, in the new Library, with open stacks, where borrowers could actually browse and find a book themselves rather have a librarian retrieve it from a public restricted area. In 1906 a new circulation system of borrower's cards and dating slips was also introduced and in 1912 the first telephone was installed. Nine branch depositories were placed in the public schools in 1914 (and continued until 1961) and in the following year collections of books were placed in stores for public circulation. That same year saw Red Cross meetings and citizenship classes held at the Library. In 1933 the Carnegie Library hit is highest yearly circulation of material: 315,630. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/1905-1950: Council Bluffs Free Public Library Pt.1, Pt.2) (See Documents: Carnegie Library/1905-1950: Depression Spurred Book Borrowing)

Mrs. Mary E. Dailey (1899-1912), Cora Hendee (1919-1922; Grace Switzer (1922-1923); Eva T. Canon (1923-1945), Eleanor A. Ferguson (1945-1948) and Germaine Kretteck (1948-1957) were Librarian during this time period.


After the Depression and World War II, the 1950s and 1960s saw innovation and growth as well. Following closely after the 1948 installation of modern lights,(See Documents: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: New Light For Library Readers)the Loan Desk was relocated in 1951.(See Documents: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: Library Installs New Central Desk)And 1951, just in time to move thousands of bound magazines threatened by the 1952 Flood from the basement to the second floor, an elevator was installed. Not long after, the Library acquired its first air conditioner.

In 1952 the Children's Department was moved from its first floor northwest corner location to a new room on the second floor in an area that previously had been an auditorium. By popular vote of fourth through eighth graders, it was named the Mark Twain Room. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: New Children's Library Is Gay and Bright Wonderland)(See Images: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: Mark Twain Room 1,2,3,4,5)Other building and grounds changes included the closing of the north entrance in 1953 and in the same year the installation of curb-side Book Return. A second floor Young Adult Room was opened in 1964 and was followed closely in 1966, with the donation of General Dodge's papers and books, with the opening of the Historical Room.(See Documents: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: Dodge Books, Papers to Public Library; Dodges Papers Go To Library)(See Images: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: Historical Room)

In 1955 pencil daters and hand written book loans were replaced by two photocharger machines and a photocopier was added in 1960. A memorial gift of a record player and LP recordings led to a circulating Music Library in 1953 and Art Prints began circulation in 1961. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: Library Eyes Photo Plan for Checking Out Books)(See Documents: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: Library to Speed Service With Photocharger Units)(See Images: Carnegie Library 1950-1970: Transaction Card)(See Images: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: Listening Center 1,2)(See Images: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: Art Collection)The Library also boasted of a Business Center.(See Images: Carnegie Library/1950-1970: Business Center).


Outreach was the theme of the 1970s. The passage of the Regional Library Services legislation brought free library service to the County's rural residents and allowed the Library to contract with incorporated towns without libraries to serve their residents as well. Free reciprocal borrowing between residents of Omaha and Council Bluffs was also established. The Library joined Iowa's Interlibrary Loan network in 1970 and became the Resource Center Library for 19 county regional system (SWIRLS later changed to SWILSA) in 1973.

In 1972 a Bookmobile arrived (Budget cuts ended Bookmobile service in 1985) (See Documents: Carnegie Library/1970-1980: Bookmobile Arrives for C.B. Library Pt. 1, Pt. 2)and the inauguration of Pre-School Story Time brought new services for the very young in 1973. (See Images: Carnegie Library/1970-1980: Pre-school Story Time, 1973)Other important 1970s dates were the organization of the Friends of the Council Bluffs Public Library in 1976 and the naming of the Library Iowa State Documents Depository in 1979.


In 1982 the Library celebrated its Centennial with a yearlong celebration. Much had, indeed, changed over the past 100 years with some of the greatest changes soon to come. The 1980s brought the Library into the Computer Age with an electronic ordering system in 1983 and the first on-line data base in 1989. It would not be until 1996, however, that the Library would finally replace its card catalog drawers with an electronic checkout and holdings system. (See Documents: Carnegie Library/1980-1998: System To Speed Library Checkout Pt. 1, Pt.2) (See Documents: Carnegie Library/1980-1998: Technological Advancement)(See Documents: Carnegie Library 1980-1998: Main Floor Card Catalogs)New media formats were also circulated to the public during the 1980s including VCRs beginning in 1986 and audio books in 1988. Library Story Times were taped and broadcasted on local Channel 17 in 1986. Mildred K. Smock (1957-1992) was Librarian during this time.(See Documents: Carnegie Library/1980-1998: Reflections on 50 Years At A Library)


Throughout all of the innovations the Carnegie building aged and the needs and wants of the public grew. The once spacious Carnegie Library of the earlier century now found itself overflowing with stacked books in windows, on radiators and in boxes, programs held in cramped offices or not at all, staff scrounging for an extra plug in a building built for different times, and only one public bathroom. (See Documents: Bond Issues/New Library: Library Has Parking Problem for Its Books; City Library Gets Too Big)(See Images: Reference Alcove)Two bond issues to build a new library were defeated . The first was in 1980. The second in 1992.(See Documents: Bond Issues/New Library: Bluffs Plans New Downtown Library)(See Documents: Bond Issues/New Library: It's Time For A New Library Pt.1, Pt.2)

It was not until 1998 that the Council Bluffs Public Library moved from 200 Pearl Street to its new home at 400 Willow Avenue.(See Documents: Bond Issues/New Library: Building Library Site Is Work in Progress)(See Documents: Bond Issues/New Library: Willow Avenue Floor Plan)(See Documents: Bond Issues/New Library: Library Called Shining Star)The Carnegie Library has been reborn as the Union Pacific Museum.(See Documents: Bond Issues/New Library: Library Declared Local Landmark)

This article was based on information found in:
The Origin and Development of the Council Bluffs Free Public Library (Council Bluffs Public Library Special Collections)
Council Bluffs Free Public Library (Omaha Bee 1902 Council Bluffs Public Library Special Collections)
City Library Has Length Legacy (Nonpareil July 7, 1996 Mildred K. Smock Council Bluffs Public Library Notebook: Library v. III)
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