The Library and the Community


To the outside visitor, one of the most striking facts about Cedar Falls is the extent to which it is aware of and refers to itself as a “community.” It has invested in community institutions to an unusual extent. For example, the local hospital is publicly owned and operated, and the Cedar Falls Utilities have been publicly owned since 1888, the result of the Populist and Progressive movements at the end of the nineteenth century. Several people mentioned that one generally does not feel competition among various groups in the city, and that the university, led by a new president who places a great deal of emphasis on outreach, is increasingly becoming a part of the community.

The city has just completed its second ten-year strategic plan–the objectives of the first having been accomplished ahead of schedule–which involved a great deal of community input. It is not sitting on the shelf, but is being used as a living document to move forward into the next century. The library has made a commitment to carry out significant responsibilities as part of the plan. One of the plan’s broad aims is to provide city-wide quality education and training; to that end, the library is charged with enhancing the accessibility of library services. It is the lead agency designated to “tap the educational potential of broad-band telecommunications,” under the city-wide aim to develop effective, accessible information-sharing technological applications and relationships.

The strategic plan has provided the city a framework for understanding itself. Community members are aware that, as a community, Cedar Falls can either thrive and prosper or stagnate. It is now a stable, fairly homogeneous community, with a few worrisome trends, trying to make the best use of what it has. One of the frequently cited attributes of Cedar Falls is that it is safe. It is a good place to bring up a family. Ironically, however, not only has the total population dropped slightly in recent years, but the school-age population is dropping, and the community is aging: 11 percent are over the age of 65. The mayor recognizes the need for different demographics if the city is to continue to prosper. The challenge, he says, is to increase household formation by attracting new businesses and jobs to the city, and by diversifying and increasing the supply of affordable housing in this upscale community. The city’s economic development campaign scored a recent success with the relocation to Cedar Falls of Team Technologies, a high technology firm, which was attracted by the partnership between the city and the local community college.

Library statistics reflect the change in the community. Although use of the library building is up each year, circulation of library materials is down. The library director notes that fewer youths participate in library programs and that, at some point, the library may have to think about restructuring to provide special services to seniors. She says that one way of attracting more users might be to increase the number of work stations with access to the Internet, and she believes the library could use five more. However, in the old Carnegie building it would be difficult to run the wire required for more networked workstations, and, in any case, there is simply no room for more.

Despite lagging statistics in some areas, the library is clearly a major player in the Cedar Falls community. In addition to viewing the library as a symbolic center of the community, today people are beginning to regard it as a “trendsetter.” People from various sectors of the community attribute this reputation to the library director. At a time when “lots of people don’t know quite what to do [with computers], although they’re excited about them,” the library director is an energetic speaker who is able to get people excited about her vision for the library as an information provider. She publicizes the library and works at integrating it into the fabric of the community. The director has just completed a year as chair of the Cedar Falls Chamber of Commerce, where she helped develop the City of Cedar Falls’ strategic planning document for the next ten years. She also serves as secretary to CedarNet, and she and other library staff are involved with additional community groups. The director states that her service to municipal and community groups is an integral and important part of her job. Everything she does is with the intent of promoting the library, and she does so as a forward thinking, innovative, community citizen.