History of the Elkader Public Library
On September 19, 1899, a group of club women met and purchased $35.00 of books and placed them, along with many other donated books, in the parlor of Miss Martha Mentzel, a school teacher. The first librarians were Mary Hagensick and Maude Taylor.
The first Elkader Public Library was located in what was later the Minnie Meier home. From this location books were loaned out for one week only, and violators were fined the sum of ten cents. A book carnival was held by the Coterie (a local women’s group that de-banded in 2004) in April 1901 to raise funds for more books.
Before long the tiny Elkader library was associated with the State Library of Iowa and space became a problem. The library was subsequently moved into the local schoolhouse.
In 1903, the library moved again to the rear of the Louise Leibrock store on North Main. As time passed the store became crowded and the library found itself back at the school. The civic-minded club ladies continued to donate all money at the end of the year for books and opera records.
Three times the town voted for a public library and the issue was defeated each time. It seemed that Elkader would keep its dubious distinction of being one of only two county seats with no public library. But the women were persistent.
The state legislature had enacted legislation permitting towns to levy a tax for public libraries, and new life was put into the local effort. Finally in March of 1926 the local voters approved the library issue and the books were moved into the Cowie Building. The mayor appointed a library board composed of women of the Coterie and Proteus clubs. The first librarian was Marge Hyde. In December of 1939 Helen Niemeyer became librarian.
The Cowie building was used by the library until 1946 when the Elkader Opera House was remodeled and space was provided for the library upstairs. Because it was difficult for older persons to climb the stairs, it was necessary for the library board to seek a ground floor location. Discussions began with Interstate Power in 1963 regarding the possibility of using its old generator building as a site for a new library. In 1965 a lease for the building was signed and work began. The basic floor plan did not need to be changed, but the board felt it necessary to drop the ceiling, install new light fixtures, panel the walls, and install new windows and carpeting. A bequest from Miss Agnes Taken was used to buy shelving and furniture for the new library.
In 1962, Clayton County became one of the first counties in the state to take advantage of a new law allowing counties to levy a tax for library support. The Elkader library could now legally serve rural patrons and rural members were added to the library board. The Eastern Iowa Library Cooperative was formed with Monona and Fayette in February 1965, and the libraries worked together on ordering and processing.
A state law requiring all cities and counties in Iowa to levy a library tax was passed in 1973, and the old cooperatives were disbanded. Elkader became a part of the statewide regional library system. In 1985 Aldora Hustad retired as librarian, and Anita Cox was hired.
In 1998 the library began an expansion project and purchased the adjoining building belonging to Interstate Power. A bond referendum was passed which eventually resulted in a beautiful 5000-square-foot library.
When Anita Cox retired in 2002, Jill Sanders became the director until she left the position in 2013. In 2014, Lisa Wilke Pope took over the duties as the library director. After ten years of service, Lisa Wilke Pope retired, and Alexandra Bomhoff became the director in January of 2024.
Sources: Minutes, Elkader Library Board, Clayton County History 1882 and 1916, Clayton Co. Register, Feb. 16, 1967 and April 27, 1967.