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Library History

Read how the Mason City Public Library was established and how it has evolved to become such an important part of our community.

Early Library HistoryLibrary at Night

Mason City’s first library started in 1871 and was not a free public service but rather a subscription library.  Only paid subscribers were allowed to borrow books.  The project did not last very long and in 1888, a second library opened as a reading room.  That ended when, in 1892, the city’s voters decided to levy a one mill tax on property to support a free public library.  The earliest locations were on South Federal but in 1893 the library moved to East State Street.  That building burned and the library then moved to a large house, originally owned by D.M. Tiffany, on East State Street.  A few years later when money became available from local effort and the Carnegie foundation, the Tiffany house was demolished to make way for a new structure. 

Existing Library is Built

By the late 1930’s the city had outgrown the Carnegie library and had applied for and received a grant from the Federal Government program, the Public Works Administration (PWA) to build an extension onto the library.  However, when the MacNider family offered the seven acres of property on Second and Pennsylvania to the city for purposes of building a new library, the city was able to negotiate and deal with the PWA to allow the city to use the already agreed upon grant, for a new library instead of remodeling the old one.  Chicago architects, Holabird and Root were hired to design the new structure.  The cornerstone was laid in 1939 and the doors opened to the public in January 1940. 

Changes to the Library Building

There have been few changes to the actual building plan over the years.  A grant from the Denison family in 1959 allowed the library to add the “Denison Room” overlooking the garden and Willow Creek, which opened in 1961 along with an adjacent patio which was donated by the Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation.  In 1965 and 1966 the library built a 4000 square foot space on the west side of the building to provide a location for the Iowa State Library Extension Service.  Money for the construction came from a variety of local, state and federal sources.  In 1981 when it was no longer needed for the state extension service, the Mason City Community Theatre leased the area and remained there until 1997 when another remodeling occurred.  The west wing became the Mason City Room which was completed in 1998. At the same time, the second floor auditorium was remodeled and became the Life Long Learning Center.

I go into my library and all history unrolls before me. ~Alexander Smith

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