Helmick: Libraries belong to the people. Let’s keep it that way

Iowa Library Association Past President Sam Helmick.

By Guest Post

February 8, 2024

In an era marked by digital transformation and societal polarization, the role of library boards in advocating for essential services is more crucial than ever. Library trustees serve as pillars of leadership within their communities, ensuring that libraries not only adapt but thrive in the face of evolving challenges.

Central to the effectiveness of library boards is the robust and specialized training they receive. These trustees undergo rigorous education to meet accreditation standards, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to address a myriad of issues, from privacy concerns to First Amendment rights and public access needs. Particularly in a state like Iowa, where communities vary greatly in their demographics and needs, this specialized training is indispensable.

Moreover, library boards play a vital role in representing and activating civically minded individuals. By engaging with diverse stakeholders and advocating for inclusive library services, these boards foster a sense of community cohesion and empowerment. This, in turn, eases the burdens of policy review, fiscal stewardship, and legal liabilities for local governments.

It is imperative that libraries maintain their local governance structures. While uniformity may seem appealing on a statewide level, local nuances and preferences must be respected. Enforcing a statewide remedy for issues that can be resolved locally risks undermining the autonomy and efficacy of Iowa communities. 

Referendums already empower local communities to determine the shape and scope of their library boards. The legislator should not oblige over 540 Iowa library communities to forgo these successful structures. It is through local library board leadership that libraries continue to thrive as vital hubs of knowledge and community engagement in Iowa and beyond.


Sam Helmick is the Iowa Library Association Past President and Iowa City Public Library Community & Access Services Coordinator. You may reach them at [email protected].



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