Nine free, public libraries serve the people of Tama County. Most of them were established between 75 and 90 years ago. Each was started by caring and visionary citizens who believed in the importance of providing information and education to the people of their communities. They began in modest ways often little more than a few books gathered from the citizenry, shelved on homemade bookshelves located in the back room of some public building. From those humble beginnings, the libraries of Tama County have come a long way!
Today, the libraries of Tama County serve multiple, vital roles in their communities. They are information hubs, providing electronic eyes and ears to the world. They are community centers, where people know they can meet their neighbors and friends and enjoy a friendly visit. They light the fires of imagination, as children learn to enjoy books and media. They serve families by providing meaningful activities for all ages. They are open houses, where latch-key kids know they'll be safe and community meetings of all types can be held. The libraries of Tama County are a stable source of community vitality.
Funding for the libraries comes from city, county, and state governments. But, as tax revenue budgets are always pressed for resources, there is an ongoing need for the "extras" that can mean the difference between surviving and thriving. The Tama County Community Foundation (TCCF), an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, is pleased to be able to assist a number of the libraries through its grants program. Librarians have successfully written funding requests for very innovative programs.
For instance, Jenny Bledsoe, director of the Toledo Public Library, describes a "Puppet Bag" program that has been very successful in enhancing the children's book collection. This program, funded by TCCF, has a number of book bags, each containing several books and a related puppet that are circulated to families with young children. The puppet bags have proven to be extremely popular with families, as children learn the joy of reading with the enhancement of puppet play. Bledsoe emphasizes that families have been very caring and responsible in the use of the bags.
State "Enrich Iowa" funding for libraries is applied for and received by libraries according to their Tier level. Enrich Iowa funding encompasses three components: Direct State Aid, Open Access, and Access Plus. A library can participate in one or all three programs to receive funding. Libraries participating in the program will meet standards requirements of Tier 1,2 or 3, and can be accredited at these levels. Presently, five of the nine libraries in the county have met accreditation standards, with the library in Elberon being the most recent in achieving this goal.
A recent visit to the Elberon Library was informative in helping this writer understand the significance of the library to its community. The library occupies the west side of a community center building in Elberon. The building's plain exterior gives way to a bright, inviting space, where bright colors and attractive signage provides an immediate welcome. An antique curio cabinet holds items of Elberon's history, and the top shelf holds a display of Boy Scouts' craft projects. The medium oak shelves hold a great variety of books for every age, as well as DVDs, videos, and other media items. Five computers are ready for use by teens and adults who are seeking that electronic window to the world.
Dysart, Traer, Tama and Toledo libraries have met accreditation measures of a Tier 3 level, meaning that they have met all desired and additional measures, and are ready to serve the needs of their larger communities. In these communities, the libraries are either new, or recently renovated. Broad community support has been vital in making these major improvements a reality. For instance, Bledsoe remarks that the Toledo Library Foundation was formed in 1999 to help provide the library with additional funding for projects through fund raising and community support. This foundation was instrumental in moving forward with the expansion and renovation of the Toledo Library, which was completed in 2005. The project was funded through generous grants, trusts, fund raising efforts and the donations of many. Jenny concludes, "support from the community is so essential to the library's continuing success."
Volunteers are one key to the successful operation of each of the county's libraries. Volunteers provide governance and oversight through community library boards. Linn Snell, a member of Elberon's library board, states that it was the work of one committed volunteer, Pat Daniels, that saw the organization of that community's library. He sees himself now in that same position able to give back to his community through his service on the library board. In each of the county's libraries, adult and youth volunteers help with children's story hours, with shelving books and with arranging displays. The libraries of the county simply couldn't thrive without the commitment of community volunteers.
Another key to the ongoing success of the county's libraries is the grant funding support that TCCF is able to offer. Whether it is a project to enhance computer technology, one to buy non-fiction reference books for youth, or one to add "puppet bags" for children, TCCF is pleased to be able to partner with such strong community initiatives. TCCF is able to assist 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, schools, and governmental entities with grant funding to support important projects and needed programs in Tama County. The Foundation's primary goals are to support charitable projects and programs, to attract additional funds, and to assist donors in creating lasting legacies through a variety of giving options within Tama County. For more information about the TCCF, contact the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa at (319) 287-9106 or Rick Krug, Chair of the Tama County Community Foundation at (319) 478-2148.