Rosemary Earl joined the Hiawatha Public Library as a librarian when it was little more than a small, narrow space in the Hiawatha City Hall building. Her career as a librarian spanned from the 70s until 2003, and libraries have changed in a myriad of ways throughout her tenure. Still, the core mission of libraries has remained the same, and it is one that Rosemary has always recognized as essential – to connect community members with information and knowledge.
As a career-long librarian, Rosemary has always recognized the importance of the Hiawatha Public Library to the community. She incorporated programming where she could and worked tirelessly to obtain the land and funds to build a standalone facility.
“We formed a building committee of community leaders, and I convinced the gentleman who owned this property to donate the land,” Rosemary explains. “It wasn’t easy. At the time, his daughter owned the Dairy Queen. I told him it would be financially good for them to have the library next door.”
The Hiawatha Public Library raised about a million dollars to construct the building on the donated land, which is how the facility as we know it today came to be.
Since opening in 1998, circulation of materials has drastically increased, with about three-fourths of the circulation involving people who live outside Hiawatha.
In fact, the library is the home library for many neighborhoods in northeast Cedar Rapids.
The library’s programming also serves populations significantly higher than those in Hiawatha. Summer reading and afterschool programs have proven essential, and the Hiawatha Public Library has earned a reputation as the “small and friendly” library, attracting visitors from throughout the community.
“Hiawatha residents certainly use our library, but most of the people coming here are not from Hiawatha,” says Jeaneal Weeks, the library’s current Director. “They choose to come here for a variety of reasons. The state has cut workforce development, and some of that work has fallen to libraries. We just helped a guy find a job that he got yesterday, so we’re very excited about that.”
People also use the library for study or meeting space, personal betterment activities and learning, as well as to gain access to popular materials. The Hiawatha Public Library estimates it provides a value to the community of about $4.4 million.
“Most libraries serve as a community center,” says Rosemary. “You need a place to research and, you would be surprised, but a lot of people don’t have computers or access to the internet, and in the early days they didn’t always know how to use them.”
Jeaneal Weeks agrees. “The library’s role is not just books, it’s also computers and teaching and making knowledge available for everyone,” she says. “A lot of former students come back after graduating from college and tell us how much we helped them.”
Today, the Hiawatha Public Library is an essential component of the Metro Library Network. To continue to meet the needs of the community, they have undertaken another expansion project.
The new project is an addition to the library’s current space. City government and voters have supported the project with a $1.2 million bond and $1 million in local-option sales tax funds, but a fundraising effort is currently underway to meet their $4.1 million goal. They hope to break ground on the new development at their current location in September.
As honorary chair of the new fundraising project, Rosemary opened the Hiawatha Public Library Earl Family Fund in 2017.
“I established the fund,” she explains, “because, if you’re going to go out and ask for donations you should have some of your own money in it yourself.” She hopes she can encourage others to give to help the building project. “This library has grown and grown and grown, and I think it is a big asset to the community,” she says.
For Rosemary, who turns 80 in April, the expansion of the Hiawatha Public Library will fulfill a lifelong vision. “It makes me feel very proud to be part of this,” she says. “I’ll be anxious to see the new building.”