WASHINGTON — The Washington Public Library was not a quiet place on Thursday and the librarians could not have been happier. More than 650 people walked through the doors to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the library on the square.
According to its website, the library was founded in 1877 and housed in an upstairs room in the Stone Mill building and later an extra room in the McCreedy building. As the popularity of the library grew, it moved to different buildings until 2005 when the library foundation released designs to the public to show the plan for moving the library onto the square. The new site, at 115 West Washington Street, was opened to the public on Oct. 1, 2009.
Ten years later and the library still is growing, said current director Bryna Walker. She spoke to the crowd during the anniversary party on Thursday, Oct. 17, and said although she has only been the director for a short while, big changes have been made. Walker said thanks to grants from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation, she has been able to purchase security cameras and upgrade the technology in the building.
Ellen Hampe Alexander, the library director from 1997-1999, said when she was in charge, her big goal was to bring internet to the library. Hampe Alexander, who now works as the assistant director at the Coralville Public Library, said being back in the library felt like home.
When Hampe Alexander first interviewed for the job more than 20 years ago, she had to sit on tiny chairs used for the children’s programs. To see the library able to accommodate so many people and thrive in the new building is a testament to the hard work of the staff, she said.
Patrick Finney, the former director from 2000-2011, said it was the staff who really pushed for the new building and much needed additional room. He said when he came on as director, there was a space needs assessment on his desk and through the contributions of many people, the new building was able to be secured.
“So many people sitting in this room all pulled together and shared their ideas, talked to their neighbors, opened their checkbook and we were able to get this swell of support and get all of the momentum moving forward,” he said. “So many things came together to make this happen. We are lucky and we worked hard. It’s to this day the crowning achievement of my career.”
Once Finney left the library, Debbie Stanton became the director in 2011. She said she felt like it was a tough act to follow but was excited to come work in a brand-new building and create new memories.
Although not originally from Washington, Stanton said she considers it her hometown because its where she felt like she came into her own. One memory that sticks out to her, she said, was in 2016 when the Modine plant in town closed. She said the workers came in to get help with their resumes and utilized the library as a place to start over.
“It was the library that was here for people,” she said.
One of her favorite memories was when RAGBRAI came through the area. Stanton said she stayed overnight in the library with three teams who also used the space to sleep. Helping tackle the homeless problem in Washington, also sticks out to her she said.
Stanton said a task force of people came together to help find homes for everyone before the winter weather kicked in. Seeing how a community would choose to come together and help out every member brought her to tears.
“That’s the amazing thing about Washington. People just pull together and they make it happen,” she said.