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Library History

Read how this library was established and how it has evolved to become such an important part of our community.

The following is excerpted from the Ruthven Centennial Book published in 1984...

"Our library began as the Ruthven Women's Federated Club Library in 1951. The club members that year were: Agnes Christensen, Nadine Christensen, Gene Collins, Leona Conlon, Hazel Dana, Dorothy Drum, Alice Hansen, Erma Hansen, Vivian Kettelkamp, Naomi Kimberly, Agnes Linden, Hazel Logan, Phyllis McKimpson, Norma Morgan, La Live Pickett, Marcella Rustan, Lois Staker, Dorothy Vance, Eileen Whitman, Elsie Wigdahl and Lois Workman. These women saw a need for a library and worked hard to provide one.

The library was housed in the old Town Hall; a frame structure of one floor with two rooms. The back room was a jail and the front was used for city meetings, voting and commodity distribution. The furniture consisted of voting booths, a cabinet for the town records, a table and an oil burner. The club added some homemade book shelves and some plastic drapes. The city table was used as a check-out desk.

Each club member was asked to donate five books. Some gave more so we started the library with between 100 and 150 books. In a short time many used books were coming in from other sources.

The library was manned by club members with an occasional substitution of a high school girl, hired by the scheduled club member. It was open Saturday afternoon and evening. In winter the workers had to light the fire in the oil burner and sometimes fill it first.

In 1955 we started using the State Library Services. We had 100 books shipped to us every three months. The only new books were a few purchased as memorials, as we had no other funds. The fine money from overdue books was used to purchase supplies.

In 1962 we moved uptown to a small room in the front of the south side of the drug store in the old telephone building. Again the town council provided the space and, in addition, voted the sum of $200.00 a year to help pay a part-time librarian. Mrs. John Sandvig was hired at this time.

Two years later, in 1964, another move was made to the building next door to the south. This had been a bank, but now housed the Town Hall, so the library was once more back with the voting booths and the other city equipment. More homemade book shelves were added to hold the growing number of books, but not much else was added.

Later that year the town council voted to take the operation of the library over from the club. The library became The Ruthven Public Library with a Board of Trustees to oversee the operation. There was tax money to use for improvement and expansion when the library was city operated.

The members of the first board of trustees were: Dorothy Drum, Marie Rierson, Jeanette Barber, Larry Gardner and Bob Wigdahl. Sharon Gardner was hired as librarian. In 1965 Pat Peterson was librarian for a few months, then Lela Hodson took over the position. In 1966 contracts were drawn up and signed by the five libraries in the county (Palo Alto) and the County Supervisors for the libraries to receive financial assistance (by mileage levy) to provide county-wide free library services.

In 1969 the library discontinued the use of the services of the State Traveling Library. During this period Mrs. Hodson continued to add and catalogue books. In 1972 an inventory of books totaled 4,022.

Equipment had been acquired along with books over the years, but not much had been done to the room in which the library was housed. In 1975 a group of interested people decided to do something about it. A committee, chaired by Mr. and Mrs. Lester McMillin and Julie Souhrada (Mrs. David Nelson), was formed to conduct a fund drive. This committee, with with its many helpers, raised over $16,000.00. Then a committee in charge of remodeling went to work. These committee members were: Minnie Hermanson, Dana Gowans, Don Strub, Marie Rierson, Margaret Nelson and Dick Arndt. After many hours of planning the work was begun that fall.

In January 1976 the books were moved back into a beautifully carpeted, paneled room with new windows, doors, book shelves and some new furniture. A children's room was furnished with colorful plastic furniture in the old vault area and a restroom was added in the back.

A Kinney-Lindstrom Grant of $5,000.00 provided more new equipment and furnishings. Erma Johnson became the new librarian with Leona Conlon as assistant librarian.

In 1976 much weeding was done, but with new books being added each month the total number of books was 5,500 that year.

The library is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. in the afternoon and since 1980 on Saturday morning from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.

Fourteen magazines and three newspapers have been added to the shelves to be read in the library or to be checked out. A record collection was started in 1979, with records being added each month. A microreader is available to read the microfilmed copies of The Ruthven Free Press dating back to 1917. There is also a projector and screen which is used to show films for story hour.

At this writing the total number of hardback books is 6,500 and there are about 3,000 paperbacks. In 1981 the state required the use of numbers instead of names in checking out books. We have issued 204 family cards since that time.

The members of the Board of Trustees in 1983 are: Dorothy Drum, Lester McMillin, Nadine Christensen, Alan Puterbaugh and Margaret Halder."

The following is excerpted from the Ruthven Quasquicentennial Book,  published in 2009...

The Ruthven Public Library has seen many changes and improvements over the past twenty-five years.

"In the late eighties the library, still in its location on the east side of Gowrie Street next to Finnegan's gas station in a former bank (this building is no longer standing) provided some new services to its patrons. Interlibrary loan was now possible through some libraries in Northwest Iowa by viewing microfiche listing of holdings of Sioux City Public Library and others.

Ruthven joined the other four libraries in Palo Alto County to form a county library association in 1989. The association provided a booth at the county fair with free books and that advocated for the county contract for services to rural residents.

In the early 1990's, the library suffered extensive damage to the book collection from a leaking roof. The city made plans to build a library/social center complex at the northwest corner of Gowrie and Rolling Street. The library board was responsible for furnishing the new building. A Friends of the Library group was formed to raise funds for this purpose. This group has remained active and continues to be an important fund-raising organization today. Following completion of the new library, the ribbon cutting ceremony was held in April of 1992.

Volunteers, including library director Erma Johnson and assistant Margaret Halder and many others, put in many hours moving the library materials to their new home and setting up shelves. Johnson and Halder designed the new circulation desk, which was then built by Ray Ford.

The library's walls were partially decorated with numbered prints of paintings by Sandra Faulstich Harris, daughter of long-time library trustee Mary E. Faulstich.

The late 1990's saw the first computers in the library. Other additions included a video collection start up, a books on tape collection start up, and more large type books.

After many years of employment, Erma Johnson announced her retirement early in 2001. Nanthan R. E. Clark of rural Greenville was hired to take her place as the new library director. He has since moved to Spencer and also taken the job of director at the Emmetsburg Public Library but still retains his job at the Ruthven Public Library.

In 2002, Mr. Clark and assistant Marlys Jensen added all the library's holdings to the SILO Locator, the State of Iowa's online interlibrary loan database. This was a significant step for the library that allowed it to become more involved in borrowing and lending materials with the other libraries in the state.

The library was awarded a "Books for Children Grant" through the Libri Foundation of Eugene, Oregon in 2002, 2005, and 2008. With the Friends of the Library providing matching funds, the library was able to obtain 60-70 new children's books each time, which were given in memory of library employees or board members: Margaret Halder in 2002, Della Wichman in 2005, and Dick and Jan Cacek in 2008.

In 2006, participating in the State Library of Iowa's PLOW (Putting Libraries On the Web) project, the library obtained a stable website and email address. Although hosted offsite, the library staff has complete control over its content. The website, http://www.ruthven.lib.ia.us should remain stable and constant for the foreseeable future. This also holds for the general email address of info@ruthven.lib.ia.us, for it will be affected by neither changes in internet service providers nor by changes in staff.

In 2007, with assistance from grants through the Palo Alto County Gaming Development Corporation, the library automated its checkout system and put its catalog on the world wide web. Library Director Nathan Clark and Assistant Director Donna Johnson had been working for well over a year to automate by converting the catalog cards into electronic format before the grants came about.

Through the same set of grants, the library was also able to digitze its collection of newspapers on microfilm and have them also put on the web. The collection is accessible through the library's website or directly at http://ruthven.newspaperarchive.com.

In 2008, the library was able to greatly expand its hours open to the public. It accomplished this by adding Susan Roland as a worker paid by another agency in return for training in the operation of a public library. The name of the agency is the Experience Works program, which was formerly known as Green Thumb.

The library employees as of this printing are Nathan Clark, library director; Donna Johnson, assistant; Susan Roland, Experience Works aide; and Eva Nielsen, substitute.

The library Board of Trustees members as of this printing are: Barb Grandstaff, President; Judy Naber, Secretary; Becky Oppedal, Vice-President; John Niemann, trustee; and Phil Currans, trustee."