Library History

Read how this library was established and how it has evolved to become such an important part of our community.

In June of 1907 the Altoona Library Association was formed.  It began with about 100 books borrowed from the state traveling library and operated from the office of Dr. Lang, librarian.  Books were loaned to any "responsible party" who agreed to take care of the books and pay 50 cents to help defray expenses.

The Altoona Public Library has a unique history in that two maiden ladies, Miss Zilla Hick and Miss Faith Kurtzweil, played an important role in its origin.  Both were members of pioneer Altoona families. 

Miss Hick (1873-1968) bequeathed a property, which included a small bungalow of nine-hundred square feet, to be used as a library.  At the time of her death, Altoona did not have a public library.  It would be three years before her vision would materialize.

Zilla was the last surviving member of her immediate family, having lived with two bachelor brothers in the family home.  She donated the property to the Altoona Christian Church.

The bungalow was built by one of the brothers for his bride-to-be.  The wedding never materialized.  The house was rented until his sister moved to it in her later years.  Her education consisted of going to a country school.

Miss Kurtzweil (1902-1998) was a member of a large family.  There were eleven children and several received higher education.  Faith acquired a masters degree.  As a teacher, one of the subjects she taught was Latin.  For 37 of her 45-year teaching career, she taught in a Waterloo high school and was one of the first certified student counselors in the state. 

She was a charter member of the library board and donated her services as the first librarian.  Faith served in that capacity until 1976 and on the Board until 1985.  Faith was an avid reader and at the time of her death, the family library consisted of more than 800 volumes.  She remembered the library financially in her will.

Other charter members were Bill Sander, chairman, Jack Johnson, Anne Sievers and Ron Veach.

Altoona's First LibraryWhen the library opened July 19, 1971 most of the books were donated by individuals and surrounding libraries.  Thirteen hundred library cards were issued the first year.  The library was open 24 hours per week.  The children's department became so popular that it was moved to the basement.  The arrangement was far less than adequate. 

By 1982, the library was loaning 1,200 books per month, excluding paperbacks.  The desire for a new library reached fruition in December of 1982 when a $175,000 bond issue was approved by 83 percent of the 487 votes cast.  The new library was to have room for about 31,000 books and would occupy 4,300 square feet of space.

The library opened July 1, 1984.  It was constructed around the original bungalow.  Lions Club members and Old Altoona Library (Police Station)others transferred the books in one night and the library never missed a day serving the public.  The bungalow was moved to 300 Sixth Street S.W. and again became a private residence.

As Altoona's population increased, so did the demands on the library.  A bond issue for $3.4 million, to build a new library and remodel the present building for the police department, was passed in May of 1996.  Ironically, 83 percent of the 1,108 votes cast were favorable. 
Altoona Public Library
The new library has 19,400 square feet of space.  It includes a children's area, computer room, reading area, several study/meeting rooms, staff facilities and a larger parking area.  The site overlooks the Prairie Heritage Trail and is convenient to the Campus, Altoona's health and fitness center.

Source: Historically Speaking Altoona's Various Libraries by Robert Thompson

This resource is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by State Library of Iowa.