Beyond the Bookends

Des Moines Public Library expands its offerings to serve the public.

Writer: Michael Morain
Photos: Des Moines Public Library

In most American cities and towns, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more democratic institution than the public library. They serve everybody who walks in the door.

That’s especially true at the Des Moines Public Library, where former director Forest Spaulding wrote the Library Bill of Rights in 1938, a year before the American Library Association adopted it nationwide. At a library foundation banquet last fall, another former director, Elaine Estes, got the whole crowd to read the bill aloud — all 200 words of it.

Several lines prompted applause, especially this one: “Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

Staffers at the library’s six branches work to uphold the bill’s first charge to provide resources “for the interest, information and enlightenment of all people of the community.” And they take “all people” literally: The public library is truly public.

“As long as they follow the rules, we’re a welcoming space for anybody, anytime,” said Tim Paluch, the library’s marketing and communications supervisor.

Since the library welcomes folks from all walks of life, librarians often spot needs in the neighborhood and develop creative solutions. “You get 10 or 12 of them together, and they’ll come up with all kinds of ideas,” Paluch said.

Many programs are homegrown, but some are adapted from other libraries where they’ve succeeded. And sometimes the library simply offers an access point, a neutral venue where nonprofit groups can interact with the people they serve.

Here’s just a sampling of programs the library offers its diverse patrons, regardless of …

Age. Young visitors enjoy programs like “Baby Rhyme Time” and “Wiggles and Giggles,” and the Rosie Reader Outreach team visits kids at parks, schools and day cares to bring the library to them. At the other end of the spectrum, Generation Rx workshops help folks navigate decisions about Medicare and prescription drugs.

Education. Colored stickers on the library’s special collection of “Reader” books help kids find books at their reading level. Other programs promote financial and computer literacy.

Income. Through its Outreach Project, the Central Library hosts representatives from Central Iowa Shelter and Services, Hope Ministries, Primary Health Care and other organizations that help people in need. The library also distributes a “Street Card” directory to local shelters, food pantries, mental health resources and more.

Language. Many materials and programs are available in other languages, especially Spanish. One-on-one sessions help new English learners write resumes and apply for jobs.

Mobility. The library delivers materials to patrons who are homebound due to visual impairment, physical disability, prolonged illness or advanced age. They also mail materials to residents of Des Moines, Windsor Heights and rural Polk County who can’t visit the library in person.

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