Mayor’s Memo (4/11/24)

"I am firmly convinced that the library system is the best anti-poverty program in our country."


I’m writing this on the evening of April 7, 2024. This date marks the beginning of National Library Week.

I have a story that is probably like lots of people’s experience. Saturdays were the day that we left our farm and went into the county seat town of Osceola, Iowa to do our “trading.” 

One Saturday morning, my mother announced that “today, we are going to go to the library so you can get library cards.”

Full of excitement on this adventure, my two older brothers and I almost ran into the library to get our cards.

My mother started to bring out her billfold to pay for the cards when the librarian said she had a series of questions to ask us so that she could determine whether we needed to pay for our cards.

I was anxious to be able to check out a book and her list seemed to go on forever. She asked about our address, what was the county where we lived, in what township our farm was located, and a variety of other questions.

Finally, she came to 4-H Clubs. My oldest brother was part of the Green Bay Gophers 4-H Club. A smile crossed the librarian’s face and she said these magic words, “then you receive free library cards.”

Our Saturday trips to Osceola often included spending our dime allowance on a “food” at the Rexall Drug: dollops of ice cream topped with a favored syrup and malted milk power. 

This was followed by some shopping and finally grocery shopping before heading back the farm.

After that fateful day at the library, our trips started including returning books that we’d read and checking out new ones. To say a new world was opened would be an understatement: new worlds were opened. 

A few years later, tragedy struck our family with the death of my oldest brother. Since he was an avid reader, my parents made a memorial of books so that others could enjoy reading what he would have liked.

I’m in my 50th year as an Iowa social worker. Over the years, I have worked with many different antipoverty programs.

I am firmly convinced that the library system is the best antipoverty program in our country. From stretching your family’s income, constructing a variety of things, using proper language, learning histories, to exercising self-care, and so many other tools are available in libraries.

The works of Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Jules Verne and so many others line the shelves with worlds past, present, future, real, and imagined in Spanish and English are there for your enjoyment.

It is wonderful to see so many young people use the West Liberty Library. Especially on Wednesday, when the “early out” occurs, many children flock to the library.

If I have the time, I will go to the children’s area and start shuffling a deck of Uno cards. Soon, I have a group of young people involved in a game.

This is something I would encourage retired members of our community to do. It gives you the opportunity to provide encouragement to the children of our community. It also gives you the opportunity to encourage reading and learning.

I often meet at the library with community members who are studying to pass their citizenship classes.

One of the questions the citizenship students need to be prepared to answer is: “Name one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for?”

He invented eyeglasses, stoves, dabbled with electricity, and started the first public library in America.

Thank you, libraries, and thank you Benjamin Franklin.

Mark Smith is Mayor of West Liberty. He can be reached at 641-750-9278 or by email at