Kalbach: Our libraries are under attack at the Iowa Statehouse

Kalbach: Our libraries are under attack at the Iowa Statehouse

Barb Kalbach. Photo submitted

By Guest Post

February 16, 2024

I love my local public library. Lots of people use our libraries regularly, whether to check out books and movies, use the internet, or make copies of important documents. Iowa’s small-town public libraries are anchor institutions.  They make our lives so much richer.

And in addition to books, libraries provide many other services and programs. Just take a look at what the Stuart Library is offering: two cribbage get-togethers, educational programming with kids about what police do in our communities, cookbook club, social time for homeschoolers, Toastmasters (a public speaking and career development club), poetry club, and even yoga class.

Or check out what the Winterset Library had on its list of events in January: a class on winter illness prevention, embroidery club, chair yoga, a caregiver support group, story time for preschoolers, fitness clubs, teen gaming clubs, chess club, acoustic music jam sessions, and much more.

Imagine life in rural Iowa without our libraries. We’d be much more isolated and our communities would be poorer places to live. Public libraries are also small-d “democratic” institutions governed by local library boards.  

But some statehouse politicians are attacking libraries. State Representative Carter Nordman of Panora is offering a bill that would tear down the existing local control of libraries by library boards and shift governance to city councils (House Study Bill 678).  There’s a similar bill in the Senate (SSB 3168), supported by State Senator Jesse Green of Boone County, that would go even further by allowing politicians to de-fund libraries by taking away their local government funding.

Iowa writer Robert Leonard wrote a recent column about this mess on his Deep Midwest website. Here’s how he summed it up: “Carter Nordman, R-Panora, Dismisses the Concerns of Thousands of Iowa Public Library Supporters. In an authoritarian move, he uses his legislative power to undermine our libraries and democracy.”

Leonard quoted Wade Dooley, chair of the Albion library board, who called Nordman’s bill a “train wreck.” Dooley explained the bill “opens up all sorts of possibilities for very disastrous consequences if you get an activist city council that starts see-sawing on what they believe for a library to be or not be. Our city council has barely any training to be a city council. Now you also want them to run a library? I’m sorry, but that’s not a good idea.”

I agree 100% with Dooley and Leonard. And so do Iowa librarians, who are organizing and working hard to stop these bad bills. That’s why members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are joining the fight to stop this attack on our public libraries.

I have to wonder what’s behind this anti-library crusade. Who’s pushing for this top-down power grab? This isn’t an issue in my hometown. We back our libraries and understand how important they are in rural Iowa.

Instead of bashing public institutions we depend on, maybe statehouse legislators like Nordman and Green could be spending their time protecting our land and property rights from CO2 pipeline companies that want to use eminent domain for private gain.  Or maybe they could be advancing legislation that actually improves our water quality and holds corporate factory farms accountable for the pollution they create.  Or maybe they could be making sure our public schools and AEAs have the resources and support they need to do right for our kids and grandkids.

During this mid-February season, while we’re thinking about Valentine’s Day and all of the things we hold dear, let’s take a stand for the public libraries – and librarians – we love. Let’s protect our freedom to read and learn, and let’s tell statehouse politicians to stop attacking the public institutions we love and rely on.

Barb Kalbach is a fourth-generation family farmer, registered nurse, and board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Barb can be reached at [email protected].

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