Chapter Four: The Future of Library Services in La Porte City
Fourth in a Series by Mike Whittlesey

From its inception, public library service in La Porte City has existed in a near constant state of growing pains. The library’s first home, a room carved out of City Hall, placed limitations on the services the library could offer to the community. In the 1970s, when local government’s need for more space at City Hall prompted the library’s move to a new facility, a series of recommendations related to facility size were made by a professional library consultant. At that time, it was determined that a 4,700 square foot library would be large enough to meet the library’s needs for the next 20 years, to approximately the year 2000.

When the library eventually made the move to its present location at 308 Main Street, it was to occupy a new facility that measured 3,200 square feet. Thirty-five years later, Hawkins Memorial Library’s size remains the same. In 2013, the Library Board of Trustees commissioned another Space Needs Assessment. Conducted by George Lawson, one of two consultants the State Library of Iowa recommends for such assessments, the conclusions and recommendations of the study, released in January, were not surprising. Compared to 22 other nearby Iowa libraries or libraries serving communities of comparable size, La Porte City’s library is woefully undersized in a number of areas.

In Fiscal Year 2012, the most recent year data was available when the study was conducted, Hawkins Memorial Library had approximately half the number of computers and items in its collection compared to 22 other similar-sized libraries in the state. These figures are not surprising, as the average size of libraries in La Porte City’s peer group in the state measure in at just under 7,000 square feet. And one does not have to travel far for examples of this size disparity. Dysart’s library is over twice the size of Hawkins Memorial Library. Hudson’s library has nearly three times the space. Dunkerton, a community roughly one-third the size of La Porte City, has a larger library facility.

In Lawson’s 2014 Space Needs Assessment for Hawkins Memorial Library, the shortage of room casts a dark shadow over library operations, hampering the staff’s efforts to serve the community. In the Executive Summary, Lawson identifies key issues that will need to be addressed:

Demand for library and community-based programs exceeds the space available.
Core service areas such as the children’s department need additional space for improved and expanded services.
Important collections and services such as media and young adult services need higher visibility and a sense of identity.
Staff work is hampered by limited workstations.

Based on the data collected for the needs assessment, Lawson concludes that La Porte City’s library service needs through the year 2035 justify a library facility of approximately 9,000 square feet. The challenge before the Library Board of Trustees and the greater La Porte City community will be to develop a plan to address the need for more library space at a time when the City has other infrastructure needs that require attention.