Read how this library was established and how it has evolved to become such an important part of our community.
How it all Started
Traer was a library-minded town early in its history. The Star-Clipper in April, 1880, reported formation of a library association to buy and maintain a collection of books in the basement of the Congregational Church. Membership was $1.00; quarterly dues 25 cents. The first officers were: C.H. Bissell, president; W.H. Brinkerhoff, vice-resident; L.H. Edwards, secretary; G. Canfield treasurer. The librarian was W.H. Bowen. This library functioned until the first real public library was established and its books were turned over to this institution.
The idea of a free public library was first proposed at a community meeting in April, 1906. F.E. Shortess, mayor, presided. Only 12 persons attended, but their sincere interest and tireless effort culminated in the erection of the present building ten years later. While money to finance a building was being accumulated by various means, the first public library was opened with 600 books in February, 1911, in rooms above the Dawson Hardware (now NuCara Pharmacy.) Marian Hutt was the first librarian.
Efforts of the Traer Federated Women’s Clubs were largely responsible for the growth of the library fund over the next few years; they had home talent shows, bake sales and donations. In March, 1913, the Federation purchased the old Kroeger frame hotel building for $2,800, located where the library now stands. In the same month of that year the library, with about 1000 volumes, was moved into the Kroeger building. In March, 1914, the federation turned ownership over to the town and the first library board of nine members was appointed. A special election to levy a tax for the support of the library carried by a vote of more than 5 to 1.
The Traer Library was one of the 2,800 across the country receiving a gift of $10,000 from the steel industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, who began his contribution of funds for public libraries by giving money for a free library in his home town in Scotland in 1881. In March, 1915, the Traer Fair Association sold the fairgrounds area northwest of town, the money to be used for the library. The old Kroeger building was sold for $230.00
A contract to erect the present library was awarded to C.W. Endicott of Toledo for $9050, not including plumbing and heating. The cornerstone of the new library building was laid on October 15, 1915, with the ceremonies being witnessed by nearly 1,000 people. Mary H.M. Woolley presided. “Tama Jim” Wilson, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, then living in retirement in Traer, was one of the speakers, along with Dr. C.H. Brown, president of the library trustees, an office he held many years.
The new library was completed and formally opened at a dedication service March 31, 1916. After 16 years in the cabinet, “Tama Jim” Wilson was given two busts, one of which was to remain in Washington. Mr. Wilson, a personal friend of Andrew Carnegie, and a booster for Traer, chose the library as an appropriate permanent resting place for the second bust. Note: The bust is now at the Traer Museum.
The total cost of the new library, including books and fixtures, was something over $15,000. Many thousands more have been spent for improvements in the last years however, including closing in the outside basement stairway, for the building has always served as a community center as well as a library. Many public meetings and events are held here each year. While the library itself is maintained by tax funds and managed by the library trustees, the basement meeting rooms are maintained by the Traer Federation of Community Clubs. Although some tax money was paid for major improvements in the past years, this organization has maintained the basement without help of town funds, by dues from member organizations and fees paid by groups renting the rooms for meetings, parties, family reunions and regular meetings of the Traer Lions Club.
Ainslie Law became librarian October, 1918 and served until retirement in 1951. Mrs. Homer (Pearl) Street became librarian in March, 1951 until March, 1966. Mrs. Kenneth (Marcella) Wignall, served from then until July, 1984, moving to Iowa City. Mrs. Duane (Marlene) Ingle became librarian at this time, having been an assistant for a number of years; with Mrs. Max (Sandy) Nelsen, Jr. as assistant librarian. Marlene Ingle retired in 1994 and her assistant Mary O’Malley became director with Linda McDermott as assistant. In April 1998 Mary and her husband, Kevin O’Malley moved to Iowa City and Linda McDermott became Director with Carol Howey as Assistant Librarian. Heather Monthei, Angela Jacobs and Rosanne Foster are substitutes.
At the end of 25 years, in 1941, the library’s circulation was about 14,000 a year. On June 4-5, 1966, the library trustees held an open house in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the present building. In May, 1961 the library trustees voted to join a cooperative, the Seven Rivers Library System, part of a state organization.
Several years ago the County Supervisors started to give each library in Tama County a yearly amount of money, prorated on readership in the rural area. One township, Buckingham, also gives us a generous gift each year.
The Library Board Members in 1986 were: Mrs. Roger (Cindy) Butts, Marcella Esters, Mrs. Donald (Angie) Gates, Victor Kutin, George Roepke, Mrs. Dale (Jean) Ross, Ethel Taylor, Clarence Villont and Lillian Vorba.
The present building is 82 years old and serves the people in this community well. We now, however, have modern, up to date equipment, such as a fax machine, a copier, two computers with access to the internet and the Iowa locator, which makes available over 2 million books in over 500 Iowa libraries. There are over 17,000 items in the library collection which includes audio tapes, videos, and magazines, along with books. The library circulation for the past fiscal year has been over 28,000. All this is taking place in a library built for the needs of 1916.
The Library Board has now taken over the responsibility of the library basement which is still rented out to the community members for social gatherings and community meetings.
Times have changed considerably. Much more space is needed with up to date heating, air conditioning and especially electrical wiring for 1998 needs. Accessibility is another problem that needs to be addressed. We want to continue to be the modern library this community needs and uses, and construction has to happen.
Updated notes complied by Marlene Ingle and Roger Corbin 1998
Reaching the Future Together
Development of the Addition and Renovation Plan
How did the beautiful addition and renovation of the library become a formal plan? When did it begin? What was involved?
The Traer community and especially the Library Board of Trustees had recognized for several years the need for more space and improved conditions in the library. In 1998 Jean Ross, President of the Board, asked Mayor Russell Drinovsky to help move this project forward. He appointed a Liaison Committee in July 1998 to explore the options and develop a plan for an improved library for the Traer community. Members of the Liaison Committee represented Traer citizens as well as the primary city boards: Jack Bauch and Mark Mason from the City Council, Randy Magnussen and Bruce Overton from the board of the Traer Municipal Utilities, Victor Kutin and Barbara Novotny from the Library Board of Trustees, and members at-large were Dotta Hassman, Jean Kruse, and David McMillan.
The Liaison Committee began with the results of a space needs survey completed by George Lawson, a library building consultant. Early in 1999 committee members began visiting other libraries and learning how their communities had addressed similar library needs. After much discussion of the options, the committee agreed the best plan was to renovate and expand the existing library building. All architects who had been involved with an Iowa library project were invited to apply for the Traer library project. Three firms were interviewed and OPN Architects were hired in February 2000.
The design phase of the project was led by Bradd Brown and Terry Gebard of OPN Architects. By July the plans for the renovation and expansion were complete. While OPN was finalizing the details and creating a model, the Liaison Committee began considering how to present this plan to the community and how to fund the project. In September 2000 the Liaison Committee and the Board of Trustees decided that private donations could raise the $1.5 million, the projected cost of the project. David McMillan, Ellen Young, and Dotta Hassman agreed to create a brochure and mailing literature for the first attempt to raise funds.
On Sunday afternoon, November 5, 2000, the renovation and expansion plans for the Traer Library were unveiled at a public meeting. Over 100 persons attended this information session. David McMillan provided some history of library services in the Traer community. The architects presented the development and model of the project, including the problems with the current building, and the solutions this plan offered. The announcement was made of the first major donation, a $100,000 gift from Eleanor Slagel, who lived in Traer throughout her childhood. Thus began the public part of the Traer Public Library Addition and Renovation Project. It was the largest capital project in the history of Traer.
In December 2000 the first fundraising documents were mailed and a fundraising committee had begun to meet regularly. As the complexity of the fundraising task became more evident, the Traer Public Library Foundation was formed to accept the tax-deductible donations and to pay the many smaller costs associated with fundraising. Diane Panfil created the recording system and continues to keep all the financial records for the Traer Public Library Foundation.
During 2001 the promoting and fundraising began in earnest. Jean Kruse accepted the task of promoting the project by planning a special event for each month of the year. Projects ranged from a golf tournament to an elegant brunch to an antiques auction to a tea with Iowa First Lady, Christie Vilsack. Linda McDermott, library director, visited every community organization to explain her enthusiasm about the project and answer any questions. These activities educated the community about the project and raised awareness of the needed funds.
By the end of 2001 the amount raised through gifts and pledges was $953,000 – about two-thirds of the goal. Early in 2002 another public meeting was held to answer any questions from community members and garner community thoughts on developing the Cultural Center in the larger meeting room. The Cultural Center Committee began planning immediately after this meeting. Ray and Yvette Berner led the development of this area of the newly expanded library. The fundraising committee continued to apply for grant monies and seek commercial and private donations.
The fundraising goal of $1.5 million was reached in the fall of 2002. The project was ready for final decisions (light fixtures, plumbing and electrical details, floor coverings, etc.) and the letting of bids.
From the beginning the theme of “Reaching the Future Together” has been exemplified in every phase. Monetary donations were received from young children giving coins, creative 4-H projects, foundations, local organizations, state economic development funds, and from adults who recognized the value of a library in maintaining the vitality of a rural community like Traer. Nearly every member of the community has donated time or energy to support the completion of the addition and renovation of the Traer Public Library. Local residents together with past residents and friends have made this dream a reality.
Written by Dotta Hassman – July 2004
Traer Librarians through the years
1918-1951 Ainslie Law
1951-1966 Pearl Street
1966-1984 Marcella Wignall
1984-1994 Marlene Ingle
1994-1997 Mary O’Malley
1997-2008 Linda McDermott
2008-2021 Rosanne Foster