A DAY IN THE LIFE — Rural librarian
Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series spotlighting various professionals in our community, highlighting the impact of their work. Have an idea for the series? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
STATE CENTER — Gutekunst Public Library Director Mara Edler said her goal is to ensure the library feels like “the living room of the community.”
The original library structure was built in 1924, as the home of John and Angie Gutekunst. In 1972, the couple bequeathed the house and three farms to the City of State Center. In 1974, the Gutekunst Public Library opened its doors. In May 2018, the library’s grand expansion was unveiled, which doubled the space to 8,600 square feet.
“I feel like we asked people for support and for money to do something really hard (renovate) and they stepped up, so we want to provide for them,” Edler said.
She is aided in her efforts by three other staff members. However, all four employees only work part-time. The library, 309 Second St. SE, is open 9 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
“We’re constantly trying to reinvent what we’re doing and meet changing needs,” Edler said.
Indeed, library patrons can check out a lot more than books, movies and magazines. They can attend painting parties, join a book club that features a monthly potluck, get computer/technology assistance or rent space to hold an event. Rosie, the library’s cat in residence, joined the staff in February, gaining a national following.
“I think libraries have always tried to be in-tune with what communities need,” Edler said. “We offer a library of things such as being able to check out cake pans, electronic keyboards, a ukulele, a food dehydrator and canning supplies. All these things have been donated.”
Gutekunst serves not only the residents of State Center, but it is also the contracting library for the cities of Clemons and St. Anthony.
Edler, who is a native of Des Moines, said she never set out to be a rural librarian. She previously served as the library’s director in the late 90s. She then left to raise her children, and spent three years working as the K-8 librarian at West Marshall, before returning to the library in March 2015.
While Edler doesn’t have a master’s degree in library science like many other library directors do, she has been certified through the State of Iowa.
“I think it’s typical of most small-town librarians to not have a library science degree,” Edler said. “There’s a certification protocol in place because there are over 500 libraries in the State of Iowa — most of which are in small towns.”
She did complete a public library management program, consisting of two courses. All staff do continuing education.
Edler said the most challenging aspect of the job is also the most exciting: being a master multitasker.
“People have large library expectations of a small staff, but by golly we want to be a great library,” she said.
An afternoon may be spent preparing for an evening book club, helping a child on the computer and doing research for someone seeking his or her birth parents.
“When someone comes to you looking for their family, you want to be able to give them your attention,” she said.
One day, a man traveling across the country stopped at the Gutekunst to sign up for a library card.
“He was collecting library cards on every stop and got one here,” Edler said. “There are some limitations, but you can really get a library card at any library.”
Around 100 children attended summer reading events, put on by Children’s Librarian Linda Good, who helps out at the circulation desk. She also hosts storytime for several different age groups.
“The job duties depend on the day,” Good said.
Edler said the library provides anywhere from 25-40 programs each month. She noted the teen market is the “Holy Grail” in her line of work. The library recently launched a Dungeons & Dragons group open to those age 13 and older.
Libraries must adjust to the needs of the community. Edler said in her experience, they have always done a good job of this.
“I remember as a child going to the Urbandale Public Library learning how to cross-country ski with my mom on this little tiny hill behind the library,” Edler said. “I remember when my little border collie entered the pet show at the library and won for the most spots on her nose.”
Edler said she loves when patrons extend generosity to one another.
“Someone recently brought in 50 pounds of grapes, just to share. Probably within three hours the grapes went out the door,” she said. “I love that when people think about ways they can reach someone, they think of the library.”
Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at